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Saving the trees

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One of the most significant aspects of the UN climate meeting in Bali was an agreement to bring emissions from deforestation into the loop. It only makes sense, given that deforestation is estimated to cause as much as 20 percent of the global greenhouse emissions. There’s still debate about the exact figure, of course, but the point is that it’s an awfully large number to ignore.

We first covered the issue last fall, when environmental advocates and rainforest nations (as they are calling themselves these days) started gearing up for the meeting. With an eye toward Bonn, where the next deforestation discussions will take place in June, I decided to revisit the issue and figure out where we’re at. This week’s Nature features the first story in a two-part special report that runs this and next week.

As a reporter you often have a pretty good feeling for where a story might lead you – the trick is being prepared to be wrong. This was one of those cases where I was caught a little bit by surprise. I expected I would be writing about early-stage discussions on how to build a market that rewards countries for reducing emissions, but I ended up writing about whether this is, or should be, the route the world intends to take.

I thought this debate was pretty much resolved before Bali, or at least in Bali, but people started hammering on the issue the minute I picked up the phone. As it turns out, the European Commission had even issued a policy proposal last month that would close the door to deforestation credits in the European trading scheme, instead putting money in a pot for traditional government programmes.

One thing led to another and pretty soon I wound up back in Kyoto, where the debate between US negotiators, who were pushing the market-based approach, and their European counterparts began more than a decade earlier. The idea still has a strong foothold in the United States, and is being pushed by a diverse and powerful set of interests ranging from utilities to environmental groups. But the divide is still fairly wide and deep on this issue, so we’ll have to see where it goes from here.

I don’t want to give too much away regarding the piece that comes out next week, but I’ll give you a couple of hints: It centers on the world’s largest tropical forest, and I had the opportunity to practice my Portuguese while reporting it out.

Jeff Tollefson

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