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Forests lose out in Doha stalemate

Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 13 Dec 2012 14:35 GMT
Author: Stephen Leonard
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By Stephen Leonard

Despite clear agreement among the international community on the urgent need to increase efforts to tackle climate change, the latest Doha talks delivered no more than a complete failure on the part of rich, high-emitting nations to show the necessary leadership, commit to serious emissions reductions, and provide adequate financial support to the developing world to mitigate and adapt to very real climate impacts.

The 18th Conference of Parties (COP18) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) ran well into overtime in a high-level, desperate effort to reach agreement and maintain the momentum set in Durban in 2011. With what has been termed a “face saving” agreement, the Doha Climate Gateway establishes the mere potential of compensation for loss and damage in developing countries and extends the Kyoto Protocol for a further eight years without the support of the United States, Japan, Russia and Canada.

The final outcome does no more than create a series of work programmes, including for REDD+, the U.N. mechanism to provide incentives to developing countries to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Important decisions have been put off for further discussions going into 2013 and well beyond. 

These continued failures and consistent slow progress of the international political process are giving rise to an increase in global activism, including protests, campaigns and litigation - a trend we can expect to see intensify in coming years.

Negotiations on ways for developing countries to reduce deforestation and forest degradation, which have been ongoing since 2007, were held throughout the two-week period of the Doha conference. It was hoped that COP 18 would provide a strong signal to potential sources of REDD+ finance and increase the insufficient level of funding dedicated to saving the world’s forests. Current estimates suggest REDD+ will cost around $30 billion per year, but financial pledges by rich nations to date, with Norway leading the way, have not come close to this figure.

After some progress during the first week of the negotiations, discussions ended in complete collapse due to an impasse over verification of forest carbon emissions. Norway sought a high level of international verification, while Brazil pressed for verification of carbon at a national level only. This stalemate - the first of its kind in the REDD+ negotiations - set a negative and unhelpful tone for talks in the second week, and guaranteed a weaker signal than hoped for in relation to the important finance discussions.

Efforts in Doha were not helped by a last-minute proposal from Papua New Guinea (PNG), on behalf of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, for a new institution established under the UNFCCC to govern REDD+. PNG advocated for a new “REDD+ Committee” to replace current multilateral funding institutions, including the World Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and the collaborative UN-REDD initiative.

Discussions on this proposal consumed crucial time and energy, detracting from issues of far greater importance, including provision of finance for carbon and non-carbon results, addressing drivers of deforestation, and guidance for international reporting of the REDD+ safeguards.

PNG took a hard negotiating line on the establishment of the committee, only to then back down in the final hours and agree on a process to consider the need for and functions of any new institutional arrangement during 2013.


As a result of the Doha failings, more and more work has been pushed into the already full REDD+ work programmes under UNFCCC subsidiary bodies.

Outstanding issues to be considered next year include verification of carbon, further guidance for the safeguards’ information system, drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, and the emerging new and significant concept of non-carbon benefits. Each of these will be central to the success or otherwise of REDD+, and will require significant attention.

Of particular importance are non-carbon benefits and the formation of ways in which developing countries should receive financial incentives for the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, ecosystem resilience and biodiversity improvements, as well as the strengthening of forest governance. Recognition of non-carbon benefits was one of the few steps forward in Doha.

Emissions caused by deforestation and forest degradation are second only to the energy sector, contributing between 12 and 17 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. In the wake of the Doha conference, REDD+ - once considered “low hanging fruit” as a potential effective and short-term action - slips further out of reach.

Discussions will now continue at a slow pace while forests are decimated at an unacceptable rate in developing countries such as Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Brazil and the Congo Basin nations, causing massive losses in biodiversity and in many cases infringing the rights of indigenous peoples.

Due to the inability of the international community to agree on priorities and make crucial decisions to secure a brighter future for forests and their inhabitants, it seems highly unlikely that the world will see any significant implementation of a REDD+ mechanism within the next two to three years.

Doha had the potential to send a strong message on sources of finance and scale up the necessary funding to save the world’s forests and to secure their existence. It unfortunately failed to deliver. 

Stephen Leonard is president of the Climate Justice Programme, which is a member organisation of the REDD+ Safeguards Working Group.


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