REDD in the spotlight as discussions enter "full negotiation mode"
With the seventh meeting of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex 1 Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) and the fifth meeting of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA) now under way in Bonn, it is critical that we understand the importance of these two bodies and how their outcomes will impact tropical forests. A quick glance at the side events at this week’s meeting reveals that there is a continued high interest in issues related to Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) but as we saw in Poznan this does not always translate into a successful outcome within the negotiations.
What are the different groups for?
The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) is arguably the most advanced of the negotiation tracks on REDD under the Convention. SBSTA was tasked in 2005 in Montreal to consider the information in the submissions on “issues relating to reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries, focusing on relevant scientific, technical and methodological issues”. This information was reported back to the Parties in Bali in December 2007 and Decision 2/CP.13 marks the first Decision on REDD under the Convention. Since Bali, however, agreement under SBSTA has been hampered by dependencies on the progress of discussions under AWG-LCA which relate to “policy approaches and positive incentives” within REDD.
The AWG-KP was established in 2005 in Montreal to discuss future commitments for industrialised countries under the Kyoto Protocol. It is due to conclude its programme of work in December 2009 at Copenhagen. At its seventh (and current) session, the AWG-KP will consider contributions of the scale of emissions reductions to be achieved by Annex I Parties (identified in paragraph 49 of document FCCC/KP/AWG/2008/8). Poznan saw no concrete outcomes under the AWG-KP and while the 2020 target for industrialised countries of between 25 - 40% below 1990 levels is still in the text the language falls short of a definitive commitment. It is critical that post-2012 commitments are ambitious and thereby generate sufficient demand for emissions reductions from forests in developing countries. Definitional issues under Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) will also be discussed under the AWG-KP; these definitions should avoid the potential for perverse behaviour under the Protocol.
The AWG-LCA was launched in Bali in 2007 “to enable the full, effective and sustained implementation of the Convention through long-term cooperative action, now, up to and beyond 2012”. The AWG-LCA is also scheduled to present the outcomes of its work at COP 15 in Copenhagen. At its fifth session the AWG-LCA will “have before it a document prepared to further focus the negotiating process on the fulfilment of the Bali Action Plan and on the components of the agreed outcome”. Historically, the AWG-LCA has been slow starting in negotiating policy issues related to REDD. One reason for this is the scale of the programme of work under the AWG-LCA which deals with all elements of the Bali Action Plan. The current session of the AWG-LCA is the first real opportunity for REDD to be discussed fully and, at face value, it appears that this might actually happen.
AWG-KP still in holding pattern
It remains to be seen whether the seventh (current) session of the AWG-KP will signify a revival for the AWG-KP. Unlike the AWG-LCA, the AWG-KP currently lacks any significant text from which to work from. The Note by the Chair indicates that texts on further commitments will be developed through 2009. The Chair has, however, compiled several other notes to aid with the development of a more formal text at this session. Of importance to forests is the note on LULUCF, which summarizes issues concerning the treatment of LULUCF and “options for how these might be translated into definitions, rules and modalities in future commitment periods”. This text provides a comprehensive overview of definitional issues relating to LULUCF and provides a number of options of how these options might be addressed. The key challenge within LULUCF will be moving forward on these key issues without a negotiating text in place.
A change of direction for the AWG-LCA
There is every reason to have high expectations for progress to be made on forests under the AWG-LCA this month in Bonn. Part I of the Note by the Chair on fulfilment of the Bali Action Plan signals a shift in this trend; the document stresses the importance of “REDD-plus” and its relation to mitigation and financing. REDD+, as it is normally written, refers to:
“policy approaches and positive incentives on issues relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries; and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries”
The importance of REDD in mitigating climate change
In relation to mitigation, Part II of the Note by the Chair highlights the consensus amongst Parties that REDD+ “could form an important part of the mitigation efforts of those developing countries that have mitigation potential in this area” and that “co-benefits, broad participation and sustainable forest management ... should be promoted, and the issues of permanence and leakage should be addressed”. Whilst it is recognised that policy approaches should be performance-based and aim at national level implementation, “further consideration is needed on the extent to which subnational approaches should be allowed in the initial phases of implementation”. The Chair also notes that Parties have converged on the view that reference levels need to be established and a common methodology based on remote sensing and on-the-ground verification should be used across all policy approaches.
Outstanding issues in financing REDD
Regarding financing and noting the diversity among different REDD proposals, the Chair’s request that negotiations focus on both “means of generating substantial new and additional finance” and “delivery of financial support for ... REDD-plus” is a further indication that the AWG-LCA is shifting attention towards REDD. These discussions should focus in particular on (i) the timing of voluntary funds and market based approaches (ii) the extent to which mitigation in developing countries should be offset against developed countries’ emissions and (iii) whether emissions reductions should have a sectoral dimension.
The US takes the lead
During the opening Plenary to the AWG-LCA many groups supported the Chair’s desire to enter “full negotiation mode” reflecting the need for urgent and significant action if we are to avoid dangerous climate change. Of particular importance was the address made by the US Special Climate Envoy, Todd Stern. Stern began:
“I want to say on behalf of President Obama and his entire team that we are very glad to be back, we want to make up for lost time and we are seized by the urgency of the task before us.”
Whilst it remains to be seen how the US address will influence negotiations, it will hopefully alleviate the deadlock which blighted negotiations in Poznan. The US appears to mirror this sentiment - with Stern pointing out that “stalemate is not an option”.
Creating a spaghetti junction of negotiation tracks
One outcome of the AWG-LCA text is that it has further subdivided negotiation streams on REDD. REDD is already being tracked under the AWG-LCA, AWG-KP and SBSTA, which are dealing respectively with policy approaches, definitions and modalities, and methodologies respectively. The Chair’s text now further subdivides REDD into the streams of mitigation, and finance and technology. This can only lead to more dependencies between negotiation tracks and as we have already highlighted the potential for deadlocks as one track waits upon outcomes for another. One other potential downside to the increased complexity in negotiations is that certain areas of REDD fall through the gaps between the groups. To address this concern some Parties have called for a focus group on REDD within the mitigation sub-stream of the AWG-LCA which would be specifically tasked with unravelling the various strands of policy approaches within the REDD debate.
Some gaps in the text
Whilst the focus text provides a clear starting point for negotiations, there are some elements which are clearly missing from this text. Most notably, biodiversity and the rights and participation of Indigenous Peoples seem to only gain a passing reference in the term co-benefits. Other shortfalls are the lack of discussion around international equity and leakage and how a mechanism might be designed to address these concerns and the role of REDD in helping developing countries adapt to climate change. These elements (in addition to the key elements already proposed within the text) are critical to the overall success of a future REDD mechanism.
Ensuring a path to success
Bonn marks the first step on what is an ambitious and involved year for negotiations under the UNFCCC. If we are to achieve a successful outcome on climate change at Copenhagen - which includes an equitable and effective REDD mechanism - it is critical that negotiations are both focussed and coordinated. The issues outlined here are not insurmountable and there is reason to be positive that an agreement on REDD can be reached. The signal we send from Bonn will be crucial in setting us on a path that leads to success in Copenhagen.