POZNAN, Poland – Negotiators broke an impasse Wednesday on including forest conservation in a new climate change agreement, guaranteeing a voice for native peoples who live in forests and rewarding India and China for replanting depleted lands.
Environmentalists said the compromise text, agreed in a committee at the U.N. climate talks, was an important step that cleared the way to discuss politically sensitive questions on how countries will be compensated for protecting their woodlands.
Though activists said they were disappointed that four countries, including the United States, deleted any specific reference to the "rights" of indigenous people, the agreement recognizes, "the full and effective participation" of local communities.
Activists hope the reference will give indigenous people a say in the way forests are managed.
The draft text also made no mention of biodiversity, which could allow countries to uproot natural forests to plant palm oil or fruit plantations, said Nils Hermann Ranum, of Rainforest Foundation Norway.
"More than 50 percent of the planet's species are found in tropical rain forests," he said, and may not fall under the protection of the climate agreement.
A deal on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, known as REDD, has been tied up in a technical committee since the conference opened Dec. 1, frustrating environmentalists who said some countries were backtracking on understandings reached four months ago at the last climate change conference in Ghana.
"It is a good text to go forward, though we didn't get everything we wanted," said Gustavo Silva-Chavez, a deforestation specialist for the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund.
The draft will be adopted by the convention before it closes on Friday.
Scientists say the destruction of rain forests, which consume carbon dioxide and release it into the air when they are obliterated, is responsible for 20 percent of the man-made emissions of the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.
Nearly 190 countries are negotiating a climate treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which required industrial countries to cut emissions by an average 5 percent from 1990 levels. That agreement expires in 2012, and its a successor accord is due to be finished next December in Copenhagen, Denmark. It will then be submitted to the countries for ratification.
The U.N. Climate Change secretariat, hosting the talks of more than 10,000 delegates, said a separate committee had reached agreement on a work plan for next year calling for a negotiating text to be put on the table next June.
Although a final treaty need not be completed in all its details in Copenhagen, "we must have a politically ratifiable outcome that can enter into force in 2013," said Yvo de Boer, the top U.N. climate change official.
The focus of efforts to contain global warming has been on slashing pollution in the industrial West from energy generation, heavy industries and vehicles.
Three years ago, delegates agreed to discuss forest conservation as a way to fight climate change, seeking to stop the clearing or burning of 32 million acres (13 million hectares) of forests a year.
The idea was to make it more financially worthwhile to preserve forests than to destroy them for their timber or agricultural land.
A group of countries like India and China, which don't have massive deforestation problems and are trying to regenerate lands that were stripped long ago, said they also deserved to benefit from a forestry agreement. Beyond rewarding countries for curbing deforestation, it also should pay countries for planting new forests or replenishing depleted land. That proposal was blocked until Wednesday by Brazil and other countries.
But it was the issue of indigenous people that attracted the most attention and prompted noisy demonstrations. Representatives from northern Canada to Borneo and the Amazon demanded recognition of their land rights and formal status as an "expert group" at the talks.