A proposal aimed at saving the world's tropical forests suffered a setback Sunday, when negotiators at the U.N. climate talks ditched plans for faster action on the problem because of concerns that rich countries aren't willing to finance it.
Most of the headlines at climate talks have revolved around greenhouse gases that come from coal, oil and other fossil fuels. But the destruction of forests _ burning or cutting trees to clear land for plantations or cattle ranches _ is thought to account for about 20 percent of global emissions. That's as much carbon dioxide as all the world's cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships combined.
So a deal on deforestation is considered a key component of a larger pact on climate change being negotiated in Copenhagen.
On Sunday, language calling for reducing deforestation 50 percent by 2020 was struck from the text being considered. And the document only mentions financing without saying how much would go to the more than 40 developing nations in Latin America, Asia and Africa.
The Europeans want to put in a shorter-term goal, "and the rain forest nations are saying that we are happy to have a goal as long as it's balanced by appropriate funding ... which is missing from the text," said Federica Bietta, the deputy director of the Coalition for Rain Forest Nations. The group represents most of the countries that could take part in a forest scheme.
Antonio Gabriel La Vina, the lead negotiator in the forest talks and author of the latest draft, downplayed the changes and said it was a compromise between those who wanted hard targets and those who didn't.
Environmentalists earlier this month hailed the forest talks as one area where negotiations were progressing and some suggested they could serve as a catalyst to inking a larger climate deal here in Copenhagen.
But they have fallen victim to the same bickering between rich and poor nations which has slowed progress on the wider agreement. There are still no firm figures on financing or cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the larger agreement.
The program called REDD, for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, would be financed either by richer nations' taxpayers or by a carbon-trading mechanism _ a system in which each country would have an emissions ceiling, and those who undershoot it can sell their remainder to over-polluters.
Under carbon trading, the rich countries would pay the poor ones to keep their forests intact, and earn new carbon credits to cover their own emissions.
Policymakers see forest conservation as a cheap and easy way to start tackling global warming. It could end up reducing by 50 percent the cost of halving carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 2030, according to the Eliasch Review, a report sponsored by the British government.
Louis Verchot, who is following the forest talks for the Center for International Forest Research, said he was concerned that the weaker targets and lack of financing in the deforestation agreement could delay its implementation in some countries.
"Until you know how much money you have and what you are aiming at ... it's hard to get the ball rolling," Verchot said.
Environmentalists on Sunday also jumped on negotiators for weakening the deforestation targets and watering down some language on safeguards aimed at protecting biodiversity and the rights of native people.
Chief negotiator La Vina, of the Philippines, defended the text, insisting it was significant that any safeguards were in the agreement at all and that anyone who cares about human rights should "rejoice."
"I'm optimistic that we will get an agreement that is good for the forest, good for the climate and good for the people," he told an audience at a daylong event dedicated to forest issues.
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