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Post Durban Thoughts - Summary and Recommendations      

Post 2011 durban thoughts - Summary and recommendations

January 2012

By Alistair Graham, HSI representative at the UNFCCC

The big news is that the Durban COP agreed to negotiate a new agreement that would subsume the Kyoto Protocol while extending climate action obligations to all UNFCCC member countries. A Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (DPEA) has been created to facilitate such negotiations ' “ beginning immediately. NB a commitment to create an agreement with legal form is not the same thing as committing to binding obligations ' “ a binding outcome is possible but so is a rearticulation of the pledges made at the Copenhagen COP in 2009. Considerable strengthening of political will is needed if binding obligations sufficient to set the world on a path to avoiding dangerous climate change are to be agreed.

The bad news is that the DPEA has been set a goal of negotiating this new ' ˜obligations for all' agreement of ' ˜by the UNFCCC COP in December 2015' ' “ with an expectation that it won' t enter into force until 2020. The world cannot wait until 2020 for a new UNFCCC agreement to galvanise timely and effective global action ' “ that will have to be done by individuals, households, communities, companies and countries acting on their own accounts ' “ with the UNFCCC playing a crucial consolidating role ' “ but not a leading one.

It is now too late to negotiate a second Kyoto Protocol Commitment Period to avoid a gap when the first one runs out at the end of 2012. Instead, COP Decisions (which are non-binding) will almost certainly be used to play the gap-filling role ' “ such that the 2012 COP, in Qatar, will be particularly important in ensuring that an appropriately comprehensive and forward-looking package of commitments is in force at least until a new binding agreement replaces them. It' s possible that a new Commitment Period could be negotiated but this is unlikely ' “ and unnecessary.

Progress continues to be made in finalising creation of a voluntary REDD+ Mechanism (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) ' “ where HSI remains hopeful that money can be found within developed countries to help set developing countries on alternative development paths that obviates the need to degrade and destroy tropical forests ' “ and the biodiversity they sustain. Controversy over whether REDD should be or include ' ˜market' arrangements, however, means that a decision to finally establish a REDD+ mechanism may still be some years off. As for DPEA above, it will be up to those who want to save the world' s remaining tropical forests to take urgent REDD action themselves ahead of an eventual UNFCCC decision. We remain deeply concerned that focus on ' ˜deforestation' is allowing the degrading impacts of industrial logging to be overlooked (such logging is inevitably harmful not only to forest carbon stores but also to forest biodiversity ' “ by waiting until a forest has been totally destroyed, much of the damage has already been done).

The ' ˜markets' issue is important for HSI. We have always been supportive of the establishment of a REDD+ mechanism as a market mechanism or, at least, including, market-based arrangements. This is not for ideological reasons but simply because we expect that the growing realities of climate change will see public money diverted to emergency ' ˜adaptation' ' “ helping countries and communities prepare for and recover from the adverse impacts of climate change ' “ which are already upon us. The only realistic source of alternative funding to secure mitigation benefits associated with saving natural ecosystems is selling carbon credits, issued on the basis of such action, to companies with emissions reduction liabilities flowing from national ' ˜cap and trade' emissions reduction schemes.

It was agreed at the Cancun COP in 2010 to establish a ' ˜Green Carbon Fund' and intercessional work allowed the governance arrangements for the Fund to be agreed in Durban. The key issue is that developing/recipient countries have a 50:50 say in what happens to the money ' “ which is much better than the existing UNFCCC funding mechanism, the GEF (the World Bank-led Global Environment Facility), where donor governments are in control). There are no promises of ' ˜new and additional' financial contributions, however, such that there is a risk that not much will change.

Amidst unfortunate and unnecessary controversy, a Decision on ' ˜Agriculture' was adopted in Durban. This initiates a work programme of studies on different aspects of the rather broad-ranging issue of agriculture by the UNFCC' s principal advisory body, SBSTA (Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice) ' “ although COP endorsement of a preliminary scoping exercise is needed before technical work starts. The controversy is mainly over developing countries wanting the main focus to be on ' ˜adaptation' (developed countries ' “ which caused the problem - helping developing countries adapt to the adverse realities of climate change) while developed countries and international institutions like the World Bank want ' ˜climate smart agriculture' with equal emphasis on mitigation, with access to any REDD+ Mechanism, as well as ' ˜productivity' and ' ˜efficiency' (reducing the problem while growing more food for a nine-billion people world ' “ which lest developed countries see as a dastardly, neo-colonial plot to appropriate control of their prime agricultural land to feed the overconsumption of others).

At the moment, core finding for an ' ˜Adaptation Fund' comes from a small levy on sales of carbon credits from investments in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). This trickle of funds for adaptation purposes has all but dried up since the lingering global financial crisis and uncertainty over the future of the Kyoto Protocol (which established the CDM) have discouraged such investments. There is a massive funding hole, here.

' ˜Blue Carbon' is being heard more and more ' “ the idea of expanding a REDD+ mechanism to include carbon- sequestering coastal ecosystems: mangroves, seagrass beds and intertidal-wetlands (the net contribution of coral reefs is unclear). This idea dove-tails well with agreement to include a ' ˜blue economy' section as one of eight key elements of the ' ˜green economy' declaration being prepared for the Rio+20 Earth Summit in mid-2012.

The idea of developing special methodologies to allow peatlands/organic soils, regardless of whether they are forested, to be included in REDD+ are also being advanced strongly. Because peatlands continue to emit large amounts of greenhouse gases once they have been drained, stopping further drainage is necessary to prevent the situation getting worse while rewetting already drained areas is needed before things will get any better. It is really frustrating that negotiators have been so slow to appreciate the importance of containing the massive scale of emissions from drained peat despite the technical work having been done to reliably establish the nature and scale of such emissions and the implications of changes in peatland management. Draining more peat/organic oil is one of the most counter-productive things that can possibly done while rewetting drained peat is one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing the problem.

All this talk about expanding the scope of a REDD+ Mechanism away from the original idea of simply saving forests to embrace almost every aspect of terrestrial (and coastal) carbon management is raising questions about where to draw the line. In particular, some within the agricultural development community feel that the REDD+ mechanism is being created as an unnecessarily complex and bureaucratic monster when something quick and easy is needed to deal with the reality that land management always involves meeting multiple objectives and that ' ˜carbon' cannot sensibly be singled out. This argument has a lot of merit ' “ in reality, the ' ˜additionality' requirement developed for the energy sector (that carbon-based benefits should only flow for carbon management decisions that would not otherwise have been taken) does not work in the land sector. Far better to develop the concept of ' ˜ecosystem services' ' “ where benefits can justified for any number of services wherever they happen to exist, including carbon store protection or enhancement, regardless of relative priority or importance and availability of multiple benefits from a single location ' “ as is to be expected.

There are four aspects of a REDD+ mechanism still under discussion: (i) markets ' “ this is the ' ˜big ticket' political issue that looks like it will take years to resolve in the UNFCCC negotiating space; (ii) finalising arrangements for the ' ˜safeguards information systems' (SIS) arrangement agreed in Cancun ' “ just how do parties report to each other on how agreed safeguards are being applied and working; (iii) measurement, reporting and verification (MRV ' “ monitoring of the mechanism at work) ' “ does it just cover carbon or other issues/values recognised in the safeguards; and (iv) reference levels ' “ UNFCCC still needs to agree on how baselines will be set so that benefit entitlements can be calculated. Reference levels will be the subject of SBSTA deliberations in 2012.

The issue of ' ˜drivers' (underlying causes of deforestation and forest degradation) is also due for technical consideration by SBSTA in 2012. All countries ' “ both developing hosts of REDD projects and developed hosts of commodity markets acting as ' ˜drivers' ' “ are obliged to address drivers although developing countries are keen to see this done in a way that does not disrupt access to developed country markets. The scene is thus set for designing relevant demand reduction strategies that are not in breach of trade rules. Success in dealing with drives will be critical for the success of REDD ' “ strong demand for tropical timber, for instance, will make it very expensive to buy up logging rights while subsidising bioenergy use will exacerbate deforestation.

While it is obvious from observing UNFCCC negotiations that governments are generally happy with a ' ˜quick and dirty' REDD+ mechanism (ironically, developed countries with scruples feel bound not to impose them on developing countries), private investors are much more interested in ' ˜authentic' REDD. Those exposed to ' ˜reputational risk' are particularly sensitive. This is another key reason why HSI is supportive of REDD as a market mechanism ' “ financial investors with brands to protect are far more sensitive to their customers' views than governments are to those of their electors (the latter are far more in thrall to their primary industry sectors).

The UNFCCC' s inappropriate use of ' ˜forest definitions' remains a key difficulty. For emissions accounting purposes, countries with binding emissions reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol are only obliged to account for emissions attributable to ' ˜deforestation' ' “ not forest degradation ' “ while ' ˜deforestation' is defined as permanent loss of ' ˜forest land' to another use. In other words, pristine natural forests can be logged, natural forest can be clearfelled if there is an intention to re-establish them, and natural forests can be converted to ' ˜planted forests' (plantations) ' “ all with zero emissions having to appear in the accounts. This is a huge scam that provides a huge perverse incentive for logging forests.

Perverse UNFCCC accounting rules are also driving increasing forest biomass burning within the energy sector. This is because emissions from burning wood in developed countries are assumed to be zero (when they obviously are not) on the obviously invalid assumption that all emissions have already been accounted for in the LULUCF (land use, land use change and forestry) sector. To make matters worse, the carbon footprint of burning natural forests or agricultural crops for energy (or using them as biofuels) is often larger than burning the fossil fuels they are replacing ' “ an iatrogenic perversity ' “ especially if organic/peat soils or natural forests are involved. There is a role for biomass burning, where it is genuine ' ˜waste' from an industrial plant or agricultural crop, but these are very limited circumstances in both scale and location. New LULUCF accounting rules agreed in Durban are even more perverse and pose a dire threat to the integrity of any REDD+ mechanism should equivalent rules be adopted.

The REDD+ Partnership, an informal gathering of more than 80 countries and stakeholders interested in the development of REDD+ mechanism, continues to meet back-to-back with UNFCCC meetings. While the conversations, free of the formalities of UNFCCC negotiations, are fascinating, the Partnership has yet to carve out an effective role ' “ although it' s database on REDD funding commitments that seeks to track flows between governments and NGO intermediaries is proving fascinating as everyone struggles to plug and explain gaps in the spreadsheets.

Finally, it is hard to escape the conclusion that further development of the concept of REDD will need to be pursued by like-minded stakeholders, independent of formal UNFCCC processes, rather than waiting for eventual adoption of a REDD+ mechanism by the UNFCCC. Indeed immediate encouragement of myriad REDD initiatives is likely to help develop the political will necessary to get the right kind of UNFCCC decision. Pointless ideological squabbling over whether the carbon value of natural forests should be commodified (while ignoring the long commodified wood and land values) is perversely delaying effective exploitation of the carbon value of standing forests to both mitigate climate change and protect intact forests. With the prospect of an emissions trading system starting in Australia in 2015, we are well placed to play a role in developing an authentic REDD initiative that sets expectations at the UNFCCC REDD+ Mechanism later on.

Web: AndreasLustig.com