Amidst the general confusion and bickering, Copenhagen negotiators appear to be reaching consensus on at least one issue – “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation” (REDD). Chairing the discussions, Philippines negotiator Tony La Vina announced yesterday he had a “more or less agreed text”, with agreement on protecting indigenous peoples’ rights and native forests.
The property sector is a big timber consumer – in the UK 60% of timber used is for construction – and awareness of the need to use sustainable sources is rising with many of our clients already requiring Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified timber for developments. REDD helps clarify the link between timber procurement choices and climate change.
Reaching a deforestation deal matters because current forest loss accounts for 20% of global emissions (though this is still only half the emissions associated with buildings). Australia, France, Japan, Norway, the UK and the US have pledged $3.5bn for REDD from the ‘fast-start’ fund (discussed in this blog’s 11th December post) which will initially be used for training countries to monitor levels of forest cover, growth and loss.
Still under discussion, though, is whether or not REDD schemes will be eligible for carbon credits and traded on the carbon market. The US favours this option, as protecting forests is one of the cheapest short-term ways of reducing carbon emissions (costing around $5 per tonne if the mechanisms and institutions are robust enough to ensure reductions really count), and has included REDD schemes in proposed climate change legislation.
US companies keen on achieving a ‘carbon neutral’ label may soon be able to invest in cost-effective forest protection schemes. However, in the long-term, these offset schemes may only be a delaying tactic. Deforestation needs to be halted, but the depth of total emissions cuts necessary will only be made if other sectors also improve efficiency and switch to cleaner sources of energy. The most enlightened property companies may do both – invest in carbon offsets in the short-term while also upgrading and future-proofing their own assets against rising fuel prices.