Informal Talks Resume in Copenhagen: What Does it Mean for REDD?

Steve Zwick

Informal climate talks have resumed in Copenhagen after developing nations forced a temporary suspension of activities to protest what they see as growing support among rich nations for a completely new climate-change accord instead of a renegotiated Kyoto Protocol.   Negotiators say the REDD text is almost ready for the next phase, but a few sticking points remain.

14 December 2009 | Negotiators and observers tell Ecosystem Marketplace that this afternoon’s temporary breakdown in talks will not negatively impact the portions of the negotiating text dealing with the creation of carbon credits for saving rainforests — or reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) — when high-level climate-change talks begin Tuesday at 5:30pm Copenhagen time (4:30pm GMT).

That, they say, is because civil sevants had taken the text as far as they could within the narrow mandates given to them by their home countries.   As always at these meetings, higher-level negotiators will have more room for compromise, which is why preliminary talks often move at a snail’s pace, while high-level talks are subject to quick reversals and dramatic compromise.

The Sticking Points

The latest negotiating text devotes only four pages to REDD – down from 20 just a few months back — and every negotiator contacted by EM believes REDD will make the final cut.   Several issues, however, remain to be cleared up. Some of these will be more clear when an official negotiating text is released, but others will be left open for the big bosses to wrestle with.

As of now, (Monday afternoon), here are the issues still in limbo:

Safeguards Against Perverse Incentives: The Bali Action Plan (see below) expanded REDD to include not only avoided deforestation and degradation, but “enhancement of carbon stocks and sustainable management of forests”, which in laymen’s terms means planting trees and blending agriculture with forestry. This expansion was made to prevent the perfect from being the enemy of the good by acknowledging the right of rainforest people to earn a living off the land and accepting that carbon credits will be granted for activities that fall short of preserving virgin rainforest.

The danger, however, is that carbon credits might be granted for activities that have a net negative impact on the environment. Some fear, for example, that REDD credits could be rewarded for projects that destroy virgin rainforest and replace it with monoculture plantations. This has sparked a debate over which safeguards should explicitly be embedded in a REDD regime.

“Unnecessary safeguards will overload the convention, but weak ones will undermine it,” says Rane Cortez, Forest Carbon Policy Advisor for The Nature Conservancy (TNC), who adds that the differences are often quite nuanced. “Safeguards against conversion to plantation are important, but the most important thing is to get the carbon accounting right because plantations automatically capture less carbon – so if you’re accounting for emissions, you’ve eliminated that incentive.”

She also believes there should be a broader safeguard against the conversion of natural ecosystems like the Cerrado grasslands of the Brazilian Amazon.

“Here, you could plant a whole bunch of eucalyptus trees, and have a carbon gain and get a credit for it,” she says. “The trouble is that you could have adverse biodiversity and ecosystem services impact.”

Deforestation Targets: Everyone wants to see deforestation slowed, but rich and poor countries are divided over how to embed that in the new agreement. As a result, targets for reduced deforestation have been removed from the most recent text.

Generally, rich countries want to set an explicit target of cutting the global rate of deforestation in half by 2020 and reducing it to zero by 2030, but poor countries – especially those with standing forests, for obvious reasons – don’t want any such provision in the text unless it’s explicitly tied to financing. The current text makes reference to parties working together to reduce emissions and enhance removals subject to finance, but the text is vague.

Indigenous Rights Safeguard: This has been a contentious issue, in part because the concept of who represents an indigenous person and who doesn’t changes from region to region. A protection does exist in the preamble, but some would like to see it moved into the operational text.

National vs Sub-National Accounting for Emissions: Here, again, everyone seems to agree that the long-term target should be national accounting to avoid leakage, but some countries have been pushing for sub-national accounting. The US, for example, argues that sub-national accounting on an interim basis would help build capacity locally – and, indeed, the text only makes reference to sub-national accounting on an interim basis, and not as a permanent way of doing business. Columbia, however, argues that it does not have control over all of its territory, and Brazil wants to see accounting done along ownership lines – with state forests subject to state-level accounting, and national forests subject to national accounting. Smaller nations, however, have pushed back.

Market vs. Public Funding: Most parties favor a “phased approach” to building up a global REDD regime, but there is wide disagreement over how to fund REDD  in the interim phase. The US favors a period where individual projects can be paid for as offsets, but accounted for without regard to what happens in the rest of a country within which the project lies.   During this period, the US argues, public funds raised from the auctioning of offsets can also be used to fund capacity building.

The EU, on the other hand, believes no REDD offsets should be recognized from countries until those countries demonstrate a capacity for national accounting. They favor an intermim period during which the only payments are from the public sector, and go towards capacity-building.

At this point, the only word in the REDD text to where market funding is eligible and where it is not is a vague reference to higher levels of monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) being required for market eligibility.

NAMA or Offset The Bali Action Plan avoids imposing mandatory caps on developing countries, but does give them the right to voluntarily undertake “nationally-appropriate mitigation activities” (NAMAs).   It doesn’t really define what a NAMA is, and this has been one of the fuzzier aspects of the negotiations.

The current iteration of the text contains a provision that would consider REDD a NAMA, which might remove it from offsetting – although even that isn’t certain, since no one really knows at this point what a NAMA is.

The Bali Action Plan

Today’s walk-out represents unresolved conflicts from two years ago in Bali, Indonesia, when high-level negotiators sidestepped a schism between wealthy and poor nations to the back-burner by creating the Advanced Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA), which considers any actions that had not been included in the Kyoto Protocol.

That tract was created after poor nations balked at calls for them to take on binding targets without being given financial rewards for achieving them. Keep in mind that a “protocol” is simply an implementing agreement within a larger framework convention.

The Kyoto Protocol, for example, is an agreement among parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate change (UNFCCC). Countries that joined the UNFCCC agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but did not lay out any targets or means of doing so. The Kyoto Protocol did that, and now negotiators are trying to hammer out a new protocol, which will also operate under the UNFCCC.

The Bali Action Plan may have split the problem into two parts, but it did not solve them. Indeed, it was a perceived growing preference for the newer tract that led to Monday’s walk-out by developing nations. (We have covered the Bali Action Plan in great detail over the past year – you can find some stories here and here.)

REDD in the Negotiating Text

REDD was not recognized as an offset source under the Kyoto Protocol, so it falls under the AWG-LCA.

When high-level negotiators show up tomorrow, they will be handed two negotiating texts – one on the KP, and one on the LCA. Then they’ll have to decide whether to mash the two texts together, or to adopt one as a new protocol and toss the other. Most poor countries want to extend the KP, with the LCA text providing a “COP Decision”, like the Bali Action Plan. Most rich countries want to turn the LCA into a new protocol.

Steve Zwick is a freelance writer and produces the Bionic Planet podcast. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Ecosystem Marketplace, and prior to that he covered European business for Time Magazine and Fortune Magazine and produced the award-winning program Money Talks on Deutsche Welle Radio in Bonn, Germany.

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The Bali Action Plan

At the end of the 2007 COP in Bali, Indonesia, climate-change negotiations under the UNFCCC were split into two tracts: one that focuses on updating the existing Kyoto Protocol, and one that focuses on creating a whole new protocol.

Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex 1 Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP)

This working group is primarily charged with negotiating future commitments from industrialized nations in the Kyoto Protocol, which are the only countries obligated to make reductions under that agreement.

Ad Hoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA)

This group focuses on developing a plan of long-term cooperation between developing and industrialized countries, focusing on the following issues: mitigation, adaptation, technology transfer and financial provision.

Because Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) was not included in the Kyoto Protocol, its role in policy is discussed in the AWG-LCA, which formed a “subsidiary body”, the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), to discuss the technical aspects of REDD.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, industrial countries can write off emissions captured through Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry (LULUCF) against their industrial emissions. For this reason, LULUCF talks take place in the AWG-KP track.