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Grinding Progress on Climate Change Framework in Nairobi

Amanda Hawn

The Ecosystem Marketplace reports on the early results of this year's UN Climate Change Conference.

The Ecosystem Marketplace reports on the early results of this year's UN Climate Change Conference. For background information on the conference and the issue of avoided deforestation, see Getting Paid to Keep Trees Standing: A Next Step in Nairobi. Each morning in November, purple jacaranda blossoms cover the lawn outside the United Nations (UN) compound here in Gigiri, Kenya. Workers pick up the petals one by one, collecting them in a box to take away. The process looks incredibly laborious and the casual observer wonders if it is really necessary. Many might wonder the same thing about the slow grinding process currently underway inside the compound, where over 100 government ministers and some 6000 participants have gathered for the UN Climate Change Conference to discuss next steps under the Kyoto Protocol. On November 6, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Yvo de Boer kicked off the meeting with the simple declaration: "The international climate change process is about building the future." One week later, de Boer told a crowded pressroom he did not think the moment had arrived to launch a review of Article 9, a process that would ultimately lead to discussions about a climate change framework for post-2012 when the Kyoto Protocol expires. "I do not think that a formal mandate to begin exploring the future should be given here," he said. And so it is with the ongoing climate change negotiations: bold declarations about the future are often followed up by not-so-bold decisions to leave the details for another time. Despite the dithering over a long-term plan, this year's conference looks set to produce some interesting agreements about where the Kyoto Protocol will head in the short-term. Instead of focusing on big picture arguments about the next incarnation of the Protocol, delegates have used the Kenyan setting to focus on how to make the treaty's mechanisms work better for developing countries.

On the Table

In particular, discussions have been underway about four topics: improving developing country access to the carbon market through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM); helping the world's poor adapt to the effects of climate change; increasing the transfer of clean technology from the world's richest nations to its poorest; and introducing avoided deforestation into the Protocol as an approved climate mitigation strategy. "The floods of Mozambique and the droughts of the Sahara, are fresh in our memory," said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan when he launched the high-level segment of the conference on November 15. The time, he said, had come for the world to act against climate change on behalf of its poorest citizens. Accordingly, he announced a new UN plan called the Nairobi Framework. The plan, backed by six UN agencies, will help developing countries in Africa participate in the CDM, a mechanism that allows industrialized countries to invest in emissions reductions in developing countries in exchange for tradable carbon credits. "The mechanism is an outstanding example of a UN-led partnership linking government action to the private sector in the developing world," said Annan. Real progress has also been made on the creation of an Adaptation Fund that would pool a share of the proceeds from the CDM together with voluntary contributions to help the world's poor adapt to climate change. According to de Boer, consensus on the need for such a fund was reached on November 14, and delegates expect to finalize a five-year work plan focused on adaptation by the end of the conference. Conversations about a new technology transfer mechanism were hung up earlier in the week on two issues: the creation of an executive board that would oversee technology transfer efforts and the capitalization of a fund to buy down intellectual property rights in order to speed the transfer of clean technology to the developing world. Late in the day on Tuesday November 14, however, de Boer said agreement had been reached on the issue. Last but not least, little concrete action has taken place around the issue of avoided deforestation. Several proposals for a new mechanism to reward actions that reduce deforestation rates in the developing world have been advanced in the past year (for more on these proposals click here), but the only real decision taken by the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice tasked with considering the issue last week was that they would consider the subject again at a workshop in February 2007.

Off the Record

Of course, not all negotiation at a meeting as big the UN Climate Change Conference takes place during the public sessions. In the hallways and around the side-events, those in the know suggest they are not at all discouraged by the ongoing discussions about avoided deforestation. And real movement on avoided deforestation, if it comes, will arrive in the final days of the conference. For their part, the Brazilians in attendance at this year's meeting say they are optimistic about the chances of progress on the issue of avoided deforestation. "My perspective is that we made a very important step several days ago when the Brazilian President [Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva] voiced his support for a compensated reduction proposal for avoided deforestation," said Paolo Moutinho, research coordinator for the Amazon Institute of Environmental Studies. The current proposal from the Brazilian government advances the idea of a fund that would pay countries that successfully reduce deforestation rates. Alternative proposals advocate a market-based approach that would allow avoided deforestation efforts to generate tradable carbon credits. "My hope is the next step is to increase the discussion about an alternative to a fund," said Moutinho. Benoit Bosquet, manager of the World Bank BioCarbon Fund, voiced agreement, saying the time had come to expand the list of activities eligible in the CDM to include avoided deforestation. "We could think of a way of expanding flexibility while at the same time lowering caps to increase demand," said Bosquet at a side-event hosted by the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance. A day later, the BioCarbon Fund announced it had signed an emissions reductions purchase agreement with the Kenya Green Belt Movement. The Kenya Green Belt Movement Reforestation Project will reforest 1,876 hectares within the Mount Kenya and Aberdares regions of Kenya in 2007 and 2008, selling 375,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emission reductions to the BioCarbon Fund between 2007 and 2017, with a call option to purchase an additional 150,000 tons. "I am happy to be working with the World Bank in a pilot project", said Green Belt Movement Founder Professor Maathai. "The project will inform grassroots movements and governments on the potential of the carbon market for community-based reforestation and forest protection. We have set some building blocks with this pilot project. We hope that we are showing the way for many more organizations in Africa and beyond to follow." Amanda Hawn is the managing editor of the Ecosystem Marketplace. She may be reached at First published: November 16, 2006 Please see our Reprint Guidelines for details on republishing our articles.

Please see our Reprint Guidelines for details on republishing our articles.