BALI, Indonesia - Delegates at the U.N. Climate Conference have agreed to include forest conservation in any future discussions about a new global warming pact, paving the way for billions of dollars in new spending to attack illegal logging, officials said.
With deforestation making up 20 percent of global emissions, world governments are desperate to find a solution to a problem that has been fueled by rising demand for timber and palm oil, widespread corruption and endemic poverty.
The program, Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Degradation, aims to pay mostly developing tropical countries enough money to keep their trees in the ground - and thus continue to absorb carbon - rather than allowing them to be chopped down for a profit.
The agreement will be part of negotiations for a successor accord to the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012 and is "a good balance between different countries views," EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said Friday.
"It is one of the substantial achievements of this conference."
Saving tropical rain forests, especially in the Amazon, Indonesia and Congo basin in Africa, has been marked by a series of failures the past three decades.
About 32 million acres of forest - or twice the size of Panama - are lost each year to logging, agriculture and other activities, according to the World Bank. Brazil and Indonesia - where 80 percent of carbon dioxide emissions come from deforestation - are the worst effected due to rampant illegal logging and the growing demand for biofuels and other commodities like soybeans.
But with as much as $23 billion - the amount of money that could be raised through the program - conservationists and governments from tropical countries say there is renewed hope that the trend can be reversed.
"This is an important agreement because we need to have emissions included in the Bali roadmap," said Greenpeace Brasil's Paulo Adario.
The agreement calls for providing assistance to countries in the tropics to reduce deforestation and what is called degradation - mostly farming and small scale logging that destroys the forest undergrowth. It also includes a reference to conservation, a demand of India and Costa Rica, which want financial assistance for the work already done to protect their forests.
Other projects would help develop mechanisms to determine the best way to verify a country's claims of reducing deforestation and the method of providing assistance.
Brazil, for example, would like Western governments to provide aid to a fund for countries that are reducing deforestation. Papua New Guinea and other developing nations want a system where countries could get credit for saving their forests, which eventually could be traded for money.