COP26: Hopes for saving the planet's rain forests are fading - Kevin Conrad interview

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As the UN Climate Change conference in Glasgow goes into its first overtime-day, delegates are anxiously negotiating to try and salvage a final document put into practice promises that were made at the outset of the gathering. One major stumbling block: rainforests and how to prevent their destruction.

RFI's Jan Van der Made speaks to Kevin Conrad, Special Envoy on Climate for Papua New Guinea and Executive Director of the Coalition of Rainforests.

Conrad fights for global recognition to have what he calls "ecosystem services" - the rain forests' capability to suck carbon out of the atmosphere and create clean air.

In his role at the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, Conrad was also instrumental in creating the World Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Facility.

Last Wednesday, China and the US announced that they struck a deal on fighting climate change - which stresses the importance of the 2015 Paris Agreement and promises to keep curb methane emissions, strive for 'carbon-free electricity," "pursue efforts to limit (global warming) to 1.5°C, try and live up to the promise to help mobilizing US$100billion a year for climate-change fighting needs of developing countries.

The 16-point statement US-China statement also welcomed this COP26 Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use that is aimed at preserving the lungs of the earth.

JVDM: At the 2011 Durban Climate Change Conference (Cop17), you accused China and the United States of "colluding" to delay any action over climate change until after 2020. How do you assess the deal they made last week?

KC: I think any time the big emitters jointly agree to do something, that's positive. However, there's a temptation by them to forget everybody else in the room. So they think the two of them can solve all problems, we really need an agreement here where the whole world is working towards the same goal.

And so that's what we're trying to help China and the US understand, is that in spite of their great agreement, we need a great agreement here.

JVDM: You represent the Rainforest Coalition. A major worry among many people in the world is that the rain forests in Brazil are decreasing in a high speed. What can we do to counter this.

KC: Well, forests have been lost due to market failure. So we value the wood, we value what we can plant on the land, and until we value forests for their eco services, like pulling carbon out of the athmosphere, helping stabilize our rain cycle, until forests are more valuable alive than dead, we are going to constantly lose our forests.

So that's why paying for the carbon in standing forests, to keep them standing, is an important part of the solution and that's what we are trying to accomplish here.

JVDM: How do you convince countries like Brazil to counter cutting forests in a speed we are shocked by?

KC: Brazil was very succesful in reducing the rate of deforestation. I can show you the data. If you look at they way their deforestation was in the 90s and the 00s and the way it is now, it was much, much higher.

So Brazil is probably one of the best countries in the world in slowing deforestation. The problem was: they signed the global agreement and they were never paid. So Bolsonaro made an important point. I have to help my farmers, I have to help my rural people. And if I have to do that myself, I have to let them farm. And so if we are going to value these ecosystem services, Brazil needs help, Papua New Guinea [PNG] needs help. If these are global assets, the globe needs to get together to save them.

JVDM: On the COP26, what are your expectations?

KC: I'm hoping we have a good outcome on Article 6, that includes rainforests, because we can't succeed without keeping rainforests standing. I hope we have a good outcome on adaptation finance; a lot of developing countries are really struggling with climate change, PNG is a good example of that.

And it is very important that we make progress on loss and damage, meaning how do we help countries that are destroyed by weather events that are directly correlated with climate change, climate change that they are not responsible for causing.

JVDM: You also represent PNG, how is the situation there, the rainforest situation and and the situation of the country as an island?

KC: PNG has dramatically diminished its rate of deforestation, ever since it signed the Paris Agreement. It is one of the few countries that has actually executed on its NDC (Nationally Determined Contributions) agressively.

But they are talking about not paying or giving PNG credit for that here at this COP and us that's egregious. PNG is suffering from climate change. The coastal areas that I grew up in are being destroyed by sealevel rise. Coconut trees thatve been up are falling into the sea. The islands are being swamped, and you can't live, you can't grow your food.

So climate change is impacting PNG and for us not to get credit for the hard work we've been doing to help, for us is something that we have to fight hard to correct.

JVDM: In all these 26 COPs we have seen one general theme, which is the north-south divide. Do you see any progress in there?

KC: Not enough. There has to be a set of values for humans to co-exist. And one of those is responsability and accountability. So whether or not you can hold a citizen of France, for example, responsible for what their father and grandfather did unknowingly, but the fact of the matter is that wealth has been accumulated as a result of that.

So how is it that we help the developing countries leapfrog and move to sustainable livelyhood. And that's the investment that we're asking for. We don't need a coal plant. What we need is wind farms and and hydro. So help us invest in that, so that we can grow and develop without causing atmospheric problems.

JVDM: The figure we hear all the time is the 100 billion per year and the adaptation fund should get a part of that. How is that developing, how much are we going to get for that, how much should you get for it?

KC: The 100billion a year is a totally arbitrary number. It is not measured at all against what we need to do and what we need to invest. We would argue: we probably need 100 billion a year just for forests. And forests are only 18 percent of the problem. So you do the math. But we need significantly more money to actually transition our global economy to meet a carbon neutral reality in time to "keep 1.5 alive". And that's going to be much more that 100 billion a year.

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