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Warsaw Forest Agreement, But What About Deserts?

The UNFCCC COP-19 meeting that concluded last week in Warsaw arrived at important agreement on the REDD+ program (see the as-yet unofficial documents here).  REDD stands for Reducing Emissions from Degradation and Deforestation.  REDD+ functions, to be very brief, as a means of enabling the preservation of tropical forests.  These forests are largely in less developed countries (for example: Brazil, Peru, Indonesia).  Industrialized countries can essentially buy up the forests as carbon sinks and then claim the amount of carbon absorbed by the forests as part of the reduction in green house gas emissions they have pledged to meet.  In essence, the less developed countries sell the right to develop on their forested lands, and industrialized countries maintain their high emissions by relying on this lack of development in the global south.

In order to get less developed countries to agree to the REDD+ program…

Meanwhile, objections that those who live in and depend on the forests will lose their livelihoods and cultures if the forests are cordoned-off as carbon sinks are addressed via the good governance provisions in REDD+.

It is easy to see why forests have generated attention in the UNFCCC processes.  Forests and the lands they occupy are valuable.  They are valuable now as carbon sinks.  Previously they were valuable both for their timber and as potential sites for cattle ranches or palm oil plantations.   (Nothing in REDD+ seems to prohibit oil or gas extraction in the forests, provided the trees are left largely in tact).

Deserts, however, present a less attractive proposition for the global policy makers and the global economy.  Deserts have little economic value– no trees, no fertile soil, no water.  True, underneath the parched sands might lie minerals, oil or even water, but largely the deserts lands are not attractive to industrialized countries seeking carbon offsets.

Desertification, however, is a major facet of anthropogenic climate change.  The human suffering from desertification is already significant.  For example, the desertification of Mauritania has compounded the suffering the Haratine and Negro-African Mauritanians.

Mauritania has the dubious distinction of topping the list of countries with enslaved populations, according to the Global Slavery Index.

While the national government of Mauritania has received funds for climate change adaptation and mitigation, relief for these extreme victims of climate change thus far is not provided via the UNFCCC processes or protocols.

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