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From Copenhagen to Cancun: Forests and REDD+

An update on the role of forests and REDD+ in the international climate negotiations.

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 Parties an opportunity to better recognize forests’ contribution to the global climate system and to protect them both for mitigation and adaptation purposes. Parties can do this in part by creating a system for positive incentives to developing countries who take actions to reduce emissions from forest loss and degradation and increase carbon storage (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 Cancun, negotiators will need to make several decisions to clarify rules around safeguards, finance, the scope of REDD+ and methodological issues.

REDD+ in 2010

The outcome of the last major UNFCCC meeting in Copenhagen 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 noted the important role of REDD+, building 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 a much more detailed REDD+ language (the “REDD+ decision text”) which they hoped the parties would adopt to further guide the development of actions for REDD+.

Since the Copenhagen negotiations, countries have reopened the REDD+ decision text, and some of the changes proposed may be significant, such as which activities to include in the REDD+ framework. Nevertheless, a REDD+ decision in Cancun is still being put forward as one of the most likely outcomes of the conference of the Parties (COP) in Cancun.

The details that will be agreed on, however, will depend on whether the Chair of overall negotiations (AWG-LCA) decides to only have one balanced text, or would allow the additional REDD+ decision text to be included as an annex.

REDD + in Cancun: Key Discussion Points

Assuming that a more complete REDD+ decision moves forward in Cancun, a number of important elements of the text need to be finalized and agreed to in Cancun decision, including:

Clarity around Safeguards
One important task for negotiators would be to agree to and clarify the rules around safeguards, even if only at a high level. Social and environmental safeguards 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.

Social and environmental safeguards for REDD+ were discussed at length before and during Copenhagen negotiations, but some final points need to be agreed on. Among the questions that need to be answered include:

  • Will developing countries be supported to put the processes and procedures in place to ensure that safeguards will be met?
  • Will recognition and support of REDD actions taken only occur if countries can demonstrate that safeguards were met?
  • How will developed countries be recognized for the finance they have provided to put in place such systems?

These questions were left open in the REDD+ text after Copenhagen, although some of the language put forward in subsequent meetings start to more clearly link safeguards to actions and finance.1

The question of whether and how countries providing and receiving financing for REDD+ activities will be held accountable for the safeguards is still unknown. Many are looking to non-UNFCCC multilateral initiatives like the UN-REDD Programme and the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility for guidance on this issue.

Clear language agreed in a REDD+ decision defining safeguards would help donors and multi-lateral programs answer these questions appropriately. Furthermore, clarifying rules around safeguards will help implement REDD+ activities and coordinate financial commitments.

REDD+ Finance
To date the discussions around REDD+ finance have mostly centered on the type of finance (markets or funds) to be used for REDD+ activities. In the Copenhagen decision text on REDD+, finance is mentioned only briefly and simply states all the options.

While some more specific language has come up in negotiations since Copenhagen – including a proposal that REDD+ activities not be financed through a carbon market approach – further thinking about what language to include on finance in an agreement is needed.

In the context of the broader negotiations, finance discussions have centered on creating a fund for all climate activities. Yet to date, REDD+ negotiators have not put forward language for how REDD+ finance – if included in such a fund – would be managed and what activities would be prioritized. For example, they might wish to provide principles around the distribution of finance between different REDD+ phases currently in the text.

As decisions are made in Cancun, negotiators will need to figure out if REDD+ finance questions are being handled within the finance text regarding the fund or if there are details needed in the REDD+ text.

Defining the Scope of REDD+
The type of activities recognized as part of a REDD+ decision is still in flux. The REDD+ decision text from Copenhagen includes references to:

  • Reducing emissions from deforestation;
  • Reducing emissions from forest degradation;
  • Conservation of forest carbon stocks;
  • Sustainable management of forests;
  • Enhancement of forest carbon stocks;

The Accord, however, only mentions the first three. In subsequent negotiations on the REDD+ decision, countries have proposed still other configurations, such as the first and the fourth. 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.

Giving SBSTA a Mandate
Regardless of whether one or all of the issues above are addressed in Cancun, one of the most important actions from a decision in Cancun would be to give the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) a mandate to continue to do more research on REDD+ methodologies. Through a mandate in the decision text, SBSTA could start the work identified in Copenhagen including:

  • identifying the drivers of deforestation
  • ensuring the effective engagement of indigenous peoples and local communities in monitoring and reporting
  • examining other methodological issues related to quantifying emissions and emission reductions for REDD+
  • considering how activities taken in Phase 1 and 2 should be tracked and recognized as part of the REDD+ framework.

In addressing these key issues in Cancun, negotiators will be one step closer to reducing emissions from forest activities in a meaningful way.


  1. See the language added in Option 1: projects that “allow industrial scale logging or that involve conversion of natural forests to plantations or other commercial or infrastructure activities and projects that damage the environment or violate the rights of local communities;” would not be considered for financing (pg 53). 

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