An update on the role of forests and REDD in the international climate negotiations.
[!]Note:[/!] This post has been updated. Read the most recent version here.
Background on REDD
Deforestation and forest degradation threaten the global climate system by removing one of the planet’s essential absorbers and storehouses of carbon. Currently, forest loss is thought to contribute between 12-17 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions. The United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations offer an opportunity to better recognize and protect forests’ contribution to the global climate system. It can do this in part by providing positive incentives to developing countries who take actions to reduce emissions from forest loss and degradation (known as “REDD”).
How this will be accomplished, however, is much more complicated. It requires figuring out what the rules would be, how efforts would be funded, and how success would be defined and measured. In Copenhagen, negotiators and heads of state made progress on the REDD+ issue, but ensuring this system goes forward will require further action throughout 2010.
REDD + in Copenhagen
The outcome of December’s climate meeting was a heads-of-state-negotiated “Copenhagen Accord,” a non-binding political statement outlining principles to keep global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. The Accord notes:
“We recognize the crucial role of reducing emission from deforestation and forest degradation and the need to enhance removals of greenhouse gas emission by forests and agree on the need to provide positive incentives to such actions through the immediate establishment of a mechanism including REDD-plus, to enable the mobilization of financial resources from developed countries”
This statement builds on the political support that has been stated in several different meetings since the Bali Conference of the Parties in 2007.
Prior to the development of the Accord, however, negotiators in Copenhagen worked on much more detailed REDD+ language (the REDD+ “decision text”) which they hoped the parties would adopt to further guide the REDD+ discussions. In this text, negotiators had fleshed out much more specific elements of a potential REDD+ decision.
Social and environmental safeguards were one of the main components of a REDD+ decision text discussed at length in Copenhagen – how to ensure the reductions from reduced deforestation and degradation are undertaken in a socially responsible and environmentally sound way. For instance, for any mechanism to be effective, it is essential that the communities (particularly indigenous communities) that rely on the forests for their livelihoods are brought into the decision-making process, and that transparent and effective governance structures are in place to help achieve this. Negotiators in Copenhagen came close to agreeing on language that would encourage this participation, a positive development.
Unanswered Questions on the Future of REDD
Still, there are some questions regarding safeguards that have not yet been fully resolved.
The question of whether and how countries receiving financing for REDD+ activities will be held accountable for the safeguards is still unknown. Making sure these safeguards are “measurable, reportable and verifiable” (“MRV” -- UN negotiations language that encourages accountability) is essential moving forward.
Deforestation in Madagascar. Photo credit: WRI
Developing countries will be charged with carrying out most of the REDD+ activities. To do this, many will need to build capacity, e.g. identifying the drivers of deforestation, collecting better forest and emissions data, and building transparent systems to track REDD+ financing. This capacity-building cannot take place without support from developed countries, and they will need to assure developing countries that this support will materialize. Tracking this support to ensure its delivery is also important.
Creating a REDD Goal
Many countries and civil society groups argue that a goal for REDD+ should be written into the preamble of the decision text, such as reducing emissions from deforestation by 50% by 2020. Such a statement would push both developing and developed countries to think more seriously about the resources that will need to be made available to achieve this goal – and define in a more concrete manner what success would look like. However, negotiators did not reach an agreement on this point and have left the discussion for a later date.
Scope: What Should REDD try to Achieve?
The type of activities recognized as part of a REDD+ decision is still in flux --varying depending on which elements of the text coming out of Copenhagen are considered. The REDD+ decision text includes references to:
- Reducing emissions from deforestation;
- Reducing emissions from forest degradation;
- Conservation of forest carbon stocks;
- Sustainable management of forest;
- Enhancement of forest carbon stocks;
The Accord, however, only mentions the first three. In order to clarify which activities will receive compensation, the definition of what constitutes REDD+ will need to be made consistent in the UN process.
Another open question concerns financing. The Copenhagen Accord, like the Bali Action Plan, states that there should be positive financial incentives for countries that take action to reduce deforestation and degradation. However, how countries would receive this money is still up in the air – this could be through a carbon market, a dedicated fund or something else. In the REDD+ decision text, this question is also left open.
Geographic Scale: National or Local?
A final unresolved issue is at what geographic scale REDD+ activities will be recognized. Most, if not all, negotiators seem to agree that ultimately REDD+ activities should occur at the national level to ensure that significant drivers of deforestation are being addressed and that efforts can be tracked in complete way.
Some argue, however, that there may be cases in which sub-national activities should also be considered, either as a gradual scaling up strategy or in cases where the national government has a significant hardship in managing forests in a given area. For example, some countries have expressed the need to exclude areas of forests – that is, they would not be held accountable for any deforestation, degradation, etc. -- where the national government cannot safely enter those areas to address the question of REDD+, such as where logging operations are operated criminally. There are various ways to consider these issues and depending on the type of positive incentives developed, these questions may be answered differently.
In addition to these questions, there continue to be significant methodological uncertainties in accounting for deforestation and degradation that need to be resolved moving forward. Negotiators sent text to the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) in Copenhagen, which was passed as a decision of the parties. The gives SBSTA the mandate to do more work on REDD+ methodologies, including identifying the drivers of deforestation; ensuring the effective engagement of indigenous peoples and local communities in monitoring and reporting; as well other methodological issues related to quantifying emissions and emission reductions for REDD+. This is a good step forward. In addition, the REDD+ decision text also mentions further work for SBSTA that – if parties agreed to it – could be passed on for SBSTA to consider.
Moving ahead: Venues and Key Decisions in 2010
Most countries hope that the high-level decisions on REDD+ will be made within the UNFCCC negotiations in order to guide the various pilot initiatives throughout the world.
Both negotiators’ and political leaders’ overall commitment to REDD+ issues in Copenhagen shows a willingness to continue the REDD+ discussions between now and Mexico. This is important considering that other issues will compete for negotiating space.
In general, most countries hope that the high-level decisions on REDD+ – e.g., on questions of safeguards and MRV-- will be made within the UNFCCC negotiations, preferably in Cancun, in order to guide the various pilot initiatives throughout the world. Methodological issues also would be best resolved at this level, to ensure standardization and consistency. However, some have questioned how far the REDD+ discussions can go in Cancun absent progress on other contentious issues, such as finance, that determine how REDD+ will be implemented.
Countries continue to discuss REDD+ and are working on REDD readiness on the assumption that parties will eventually agree to a REDD+ decision text in the UNFCCC. Many of these discussions and activities on REDD+, however, are happening in parallel to the UN process in programs like the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and Forest Investment Program, as well as other bilateral activities around the world. In addition, discussions about creating an interim political partnership among countries to formalize areas of agreement on REDD+ started in Paris in March and will continue in Oslo at the end of May. The partnership’s goals include sharing information and transparency about REDD+ activities and scaling up financing, in addition to reaffirming a commitment to a REDD+ mechanism.
These pilot programs and interim arrangements will not set the rules for REDD+, but they provide lessons learned and precedents that feed into the negotiations. Many stakeholders -- generally civil society and governments – engage in these processes to ensure that good precedents are set on issues such as transparency, local community engagement, and indigenous rights, and to ensure that REDD+ progress is tracked.
These multilateral programs will meet throughout 2010 and will continue to inform the UNFCCC discussions.
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