Hilary Benn: We must lay down axes, pick up our shovels, and get tree-planting

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The Independent Online

Our ancient forests continue to fall at an alarming rate. Illegal logging and the international trade in illegal timber damage the environment, cost governments billions of dollars in lost revenue, encourage corruption, undermine the rule of law and fund armed conflict.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us that land conversion and deforestation causes nearly two billion tonnes of carbon to be emitted each year. That's around a fifth of all global emissions. And as each tree falls so does the earth's ability to heal itself and to adapt to the effects of our changing change.

So what can we do? We need to lay down our axes and pick up our shovels. We need to plant trees. We need to manage our forests so they can absorb huge amounts of carbon a year. We need to preserve the habitats of thousands of the world's animals and plants. And here in Copenhagen this week we can make the choice to make this happen.

At its heart REDD+ is a very simple idea – pay countries rich in forests not to cut down their trees so that the trees can go on eating up carbon. That's what trees do! And they do it very well.

Yes, there are lots of questions. Who will pay for it? How much public money and how much private money? How do we make sure it gets to the right people at the right time and doesn't get into the wrong hands? How do we make sure we back the right schemes? And once the system has been set up how can we include these forest projects in our emissions trading schemes, as surely we must?

Yes, they are important questions. But nothing like as important as our responsibility to find the right answers. So the first thing we must do here this week to help our forests is to agree REDD+.

We have five days left in which to get a climate deal. The UK Government, as all governments ,is making an all-out effort. We are not there yet. There is a lot of work to be done. But the progress we are making on deforestation shows that we can come together and we can achieve something that a generation ago would have seemed impossible.

This is an extract from a speech given by the Secretary of State for the Environment at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen yesterday