DOHA, Qatar (4 December, 2012)_Negotiators at the UN climate talks in Doha this past week did not reach consensus to move the REDD+ mechanism forward, said Tony La Viña, who facilitates the talks, adding this was the first time there has been no progress on the climate-forestry mitigation scheme.
“The honeymoon period is over for REDD+, we are down to the nuts and bolts of the mechanism. The things that matter most on the ground: verification, how payments will be made, the inclusions of non-carbon benefits, the implementation of safeguards…continue to be discussed,” said La Viña, as he updated an audience of global leaders and forestry experts on the progress of the negotiations at Forest Day 6, held in Doha on 2 December.
“This is the first time in the whole process that the REDD+ group within SBSTA [the scientific advisory body to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC] has not reached a solution.”
REDD+ is a mechanism that sees money channelled to developing countries to incentivise them to adopt practices that reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation — estimated to account for 11-17 percent of global emissions. REDD+ was first agreed on at the 2007 UNFCCC climate summit in Bali and has been discussed and developed at subsequent meetings.
Last year, Norway’s Environment and Development Minister declared REDD+ to be the “biggest success in climate change talks”, but with decisions stalling on national forest monitoring systems and financing of the scheme, its success may be short lived.
Leaving REDD+ countries in the lurch
The lack of consensus on national forest monitoring systems, particularly on methods for countries to verify measurements of carbon stored and released from forests, could be a major setback for forest-rich countries already moving ahead with REDD+.
Many were expecting Doha to build on some of the robust decisions on monitoring, reporting and verifying (MRV) mechanisms agreed during the last round of talks in Durban, South Africa. This included a decision to take a “stepwise approach” which enables countries with low monitoring capacity to incrementally develop the technology and data to carry out more complex MRV and setting of reference levels. Subsequent discussions during May’s SBSTA meeting in Bonn also focused on how developed countries could support forest-rich countries to overcome many of the technical and financial MRV challenges.
The MRV impasse at Doha – reported to be between Brazil (a potential beneficiary of REDD+) and Norway (the largest funder of tropical forest conservation) — revolves around language governing the standards by which deforestation-related emissions would be verified. Norway has been pushing for an independent, international verification process undertaken by experts, whereas Brazil and other developing nations say they are not ready to commit to strong verification requirements.
“The feeling among developing countries is that they need to start getting something out of the program and there need to be fewer hoops to jump through before receiving the promised support,” said Louis Verchot, CIFOR scientist in an interview on MRV and safeguards last year.
Despite the setbacks, La Viña remains optimistic that a decision could still be reached in the dying hours.
“We still have a second week and Parties can always bring [MRV] up at the COP level…if we can nail down the MRV issue…the international policy framework on REDD+ is complete.”
REDD+ finance decisions delayed for three more years: investors told to “make do” with current policies
Over the course of international climate change negotiations on REDD+, private sector engagement has repeatedly been identified as a key component in moving forward, including the possibility of linking REDD+ finance from carbon markets. The long term ‘finance gap’ remains a pressing challenge for REDD+, as well as the appropriate means and scope of private sector involvement.
The European Union has been hesitant to recognise forest carbon credits through REDD+ as part of their emission trading scheme (ETS), which accounts for 97 percent of the worldwide market and is, by far, the single largest carbon market. Engagement of the private sector in REDD+ is currently limited to selling forest carbon in the voluntary markets (though forest carbon credits only represent 10 percent of this market) and contributing funds to forest conservation or tree planting as part of corporate social responsibility programs.
“The stronger emissions reductions commitments needed to make REDD+ work through private sector involvement in regulated markets is not going to come…until 2015,” said La Viña.
“You probably have to be satisfied with whatever signal we are getting from the international process and make do with it…you should not expect more at this stage.”
Although little has been explicitly stated in the Durban agreements developed last year, private sector engagement appears to be particularly needed as countries transition from REDD+ Phase I (readiness) and Phase II (demonstration) to Phase III (results-based actions), where payments and other forms of compensation are offered for verifiable emission reductions. These payments will require significant sums of additional funding.
However La Viña believes countries can continue to move forward in the current international policy framework.
“We are really down to national implementation level now – countries really have to put their money where their mouth is in order for REDD+ to be implemented,” he said.
REDD+ has momentum irrespective of what happens in the UN climate negotiations, said Arild Angelsen, Professor of Economics at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB) and a senior associate at CIFOR.
“International funding from aid budgets, private sector involvement in low-carbon development projects, and – not least – increasingly stronger commitments from national and local governments in REDD countries are encouraging signs.”
This will continue in spite of slow progress in Doha, he said, adding that a strong result would, of course, help speed up the activities on the ground. But many are also frustrated with the process, and are looking elsewhere for inspiration.
Another concern is expiration of the Ad-hoc Working group on Long-term Cooperative Action group (LCA) at the end of 2012. Without the LCA to push decisions on ‘who pays for climate mitigation activities’ and with no guarantee that REDD+ finance will be discussed under the new working group tasked with developing the post-2015 climate agreement, many REDD+ developers and investors are feeling nervous about moving into Phase II and III of REDD+ implementation.
“I’m worried from what I’ve heard. The science is strengthening, the value of REDD+ hasn’t gone away, [but if] we have to wait three more years…my worry is too many people will exit the market,” said Jonathan Shopley, Managing Director of the Carbon Neutral Company.
The future of forests is broadening
As the world’s global leaders and forestry experts convened at Forest Day 6, one of the recurring challenges voiced was how to meet the growing demands for food whilst protecting forests and meeting wider sustainable development goals.
A landscape-based approach has been hailed as a new way to bring together the agricultural, forestry, energy and fishery sectors to better manage the world’s resources while offering opportunities for climate adaptation and mitigation.
For La Viña, despite the opportunities presented by REDD+ to meet some of the current challenges in reducing deforestation, there was need for a much broader long-term focus on managing landscapes.
“As good as the REDD+ mechanism is and can be, it’s limited by its emphasis on forests,” he said.
“For me, it’s obvious that a landscape approach that combines forests, agriculture and other land uses…is the way forward.”
For more stories from the UN climate talks in Doha, click here.