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Forestry Deal Is Key to Protecting the Planet

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Over the first week of the UN climate change negotiations in Poland we have seen the alarming results of studies showing increased decline of tropical forests. It is clear from newly available data from satellite monitoring stations that there are now growing areas being deforested as a result of illegal logging, agriculture and mining.

This is a very concerning development that underlines the paramount urgency for governments to agree a new mechanism to reduce deforestation and forest degradation. Or as the negotiators here at the Warsaw negotiations call it Redd.

Reducing emissions is vital with deforestation representing up to 20% of global carbon dioxide emissions -- more than that of the entire transport sector. Brazil and Indonesia alone account for more than 51% of the world's emissions from forest loss.

In the Amazon, for example, around 17% of forests have been lost in the last 50 years according to the WWF. It is critical to recognise that some 1.6 billion people rely directly on benefits that forests offer, including food, fresh water, clothing, traditional medicine and shelter.

Without Redd, ensuring sustainable forest management and limiting global warming to 2 degrees, the global target set under the UN talks, will be impossible to achieve.

Despite the urgency to agree an international mechanism that can facilitate the financing needed to reverse forest decline, the talks have become increasingly complex and slow. Even more concerning is that whilst the negotiations have continued internationally there has been little to no investment in creating the national legal frameworks that will enable Redd to be implemented.

In order to address this shortfall, a new study released today by Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE) underscores the magnitude of this national level task. Its main finding is that international efforts to tackle deforestation via Redd can only succeed if they involve national parliaments, which will lay the groundwork for a global deal in 2015.

The idea behind Redd is simple. Fundamentally, that developed economies with emission reduction obligations pay developing countries, where most of the world's major intact forests are found, for the service they provide in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locking it up. But to deliver this, national legal frameworks need to be in place.

GLOBE's report draws on experiences in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico -- four out of the six countries with the largest forest cover in the world. While Redd can make a huge positive step toward tackling deforestation, the potentially large international transfers of funds and wide range of stakeholders involved have left the process open to risks of fraud and corruption.

And progress towards national legislation, essential for Redd to work in practice has been achingly slow. By channelling more energy into boosting capacity and enabling parliaments to pass national legislation, governments and international institutions could help create the political space for a global forest deal in 2015.

As is increasingly recognised, it is only by implementing national and sub-national forest and climate change frameworks that the political conditions for a global agreement in 2015 will be created. There are four ways in which parliaments and legislators can make Redd work.

Firstly, legislators should develop national legal frameworks for Redd. To this end, the GLOBE study outlines a number of legislative reforms that countries need to pursue over the coming few years.

However, creating a strong legal framework is only the first step. Secondly, all good legislation on the books is worth nothing without good implementation.

That is why national legislators must also use their oversight power to ensure that laws are properly enforced and that funds are properly managed. If Redd is to generate the billions of dollars that have been promised in international negotiations so far, strict financial management and anti-corruption safeguards will be required. Parliaments through their oversight can provide transparency, accountability and scrutiny of the management of such funds and increase investor and donor confidence.

Thirdly, alongside their legislative and oversight roles, parliamentarians can also support Redd goals in national budget debates. Where parliaments are actively engaged in determining the national budget, legislators can request that sufficient climate-related forest expenditure is allocated to support the implementation of Redd.

Often the institutions responsible for managing countries' forestry reserves have inadequate resources to effectively enforce the laws and address illegal activity. So parliamentary pressure to call for greater implementation capacity would support Redd goals.

Fourthly, and probably most importantly, legislators have responsibility of representing the rights of their constituents. This is of particular importance for Redd as it is critical that the views of forest communities are heard in national policy debates about addressing deforestation.

Therefore, legislators who represent tropical forested constituencies must play an active role in both listening to the people who live in and around the forests. And also championing their cause in order to ensure Redd delivers pro-poor development solutions.

It is a matter of major concern that there are very few Redd initiatives supported by multilateral organisations and governments engaging with legislators. Given the importance of legislators for creating political acceptance and legitimacy of Redd, this is quite astounding.

Even if negotiators manage to design a flawless Redd mechanism, ahead of the crucial Paris negotiations in 2015, even this will not succeed unless it is done in parallel with supporting national legislation which will make Redd work. Engagement with parliaments will help countries move from the drawing board to delivering real results: including reduction of emissions from deforestation; sustainable forest management; and respect of the rights of people who depend on forests for their livelihoods.

This is the rationale for launching the GLOBE Forest Legislation Initiative in May 2011. This innovative programme works directly with legislators in Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Mexico, and has recently expanded to cover Colombia and Peru. The initiative aims to strengthen the role of legislators in achieving Redd's goals.

Without this, Redd will only remain a dream of UN negotiators.