August 24, 2013

Activity Data

While it has been said before, it is worth repeating. In order to stem the tide of global warming, we need to find solid and sanctified ways to make REDD+ operable. In hopes of progress, the Terrestrial Carbon Accounting Course was created to train students in the advanced technologies and methodologies related to REDD+. For several years, this course has been in various stages of concept and design. As of August 12th, it is now being fully implemented for 24 willing students from all over the world. With gender equity and ethnic diversity, the country list for participants in this inaugural course includes Pakistan, Brazil, the UK, Malaysia, India, Tajikistan, Peru, Italy, USA, Colombia, Nicaragua, Portugal, Ghana, the Philippines, Cameroon, Indonesia, Paraguay, Pakistan, the Netherlands, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam.

Each student has arrived with distinct and informed backgrounds that relate from all angles to the necessary work of reducing emissions in the forestry sector. Their careers intersect with the world of REDD+ as forest auditors, GHG consultants, climate finance specialists, journalists, policy makers, academics and advocates for indigenous rights. Regardless of personal objectives, all have a vested interest in the weighty and specific work of terrestrial carbon accounting.

Before delving into the statistical and scientific underpinning of terrestrial carbon accounting, the course began with the relevant UNFCCC background – the origins and overarching frameworks upon which REDD+ policy and incentives for avoiding deforestation are predicated. Week One featured lectures from negotiators Peter Graham (Canada) and Thelma Krug (Brazil) presenting on the UNFCCC context of terrestrial carbon accounting including COP decisions, or lack of decisions.

In conversation with Peter Graham prior to the start of the course, he told TFG, “As a result of decisions on Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) accounting rules under the Kyoto Protocol, developed countries have made significant advancements in their understanding and ability to account for anthropogenic emissions and removals resulting from land sector activities. The development of an incentive mechanism for REDD+ has presented a demand for similar advancements in developing countries and this course will hopefully contribute to addressing the real need to improve the capacity for such advancements. Also, good policy decisions on REDD+ benefit from a good understanding of the technical aspects of carbon accounting in the land sector. By building up the global resource of experts in terrestrial carbon accounting, I expect that this course will be a valuable complement to various education and capacity building programs in developing countries and will be helpful in meeting the demand for such experts in the international review and assessment processes.”

Course Director, John O. Niles, prefaced his recent lecture with the notion that this is a complex and cutting edge field in which there are more questions than answers. He invited students to join in the dynamic conversation, to bring their background knowledge to bear on critical issues of reference levels and carbon accounting methodologies that have been stalled in negotiations for many years. The students in San Diego are learning relevant proficiencies but also the distinct skill of handling nuance with regard to the development of GHG inventories. Even the very definition of forests is still up for debate. In the arena of terrestrial carbon accounting, there are necessary skill sets but no clear formulas and plenty of uncertainty. In an age of remote education, it is exciting to see this class of students in a face-to-face learning environment. Given the dense nature of the material, the daily collaboration is intrinsic to their success.

Week Two included an overview of GIS and its practical application in regards to terrestrial carbon accounting. Professor Anup Joshi from the University of Minnesota had three objectives for the week – to convey the concept of baseline reference level emissions, to develop basic GIS and image processing skills necessary to generate emissions factors and activity data, and to produce a baseline reference level for a study area. It is only from a reference level that one can accurately and conservatively report on any increase or decrease in emissions from land use change in the forestry sector. The pivot upon which REDD+ turns. And turns.

In 2009, the Copenhagen Accord included a notably strong statement about REDD+. Paragraph six reads, “We recognize the crucial role of reducing emission from deforestation and forest degradation and the need to enhance removals of greenhouse gas emission by forests and agree on the need to provide positive incentives to such actions through the immediate establishment of a mechanism including REDD-plus, to enable the mobilization of financial resources from developed countries.”

In a text that is consistently measured and conservative, this is the only instance in countless drafts in which the words “crucial” and “immediate” appear. Theoretically, REDD+ has long been established as priority. Now we need to solidify the avenues of action. Together in residence in San Diego are 24 students who stand behind the words “crucial” and “immediate.” Together they will glean all they can from the course then disseminate knowledge to their home communities, “to slow, halt and reverse forest cover loss.”

April 24, 2013

Megan Byrn, Denielle Harrison, Gordon Tong, and Kate Ziemba, four graduate students at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) analyzed Tropical Forest Group’s US REDD Finance Database for their master’s thesis group project. Their research, entitled “Mitigating Climate Change Through Tropical Forests: An Analysis of US Bilateral REDD+ Finance,” focuses on the financial investments for US bilaterally-funded REDD projects and their resulting impacts captured in the database for 36 tropical countries between fiscal years 2008 and 2011.

REDDGPMapPublic 1024x379 Home

The group aggregated all of the financial entries in TFG’s database and found that approximately 37% was given to three countries: Indonesia, Peru, and Brazil. They then ran linear regressions to determine if certain factors were statistically associated with investment decisions. Results suggest that countries with higher gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, larger forested area, and/or greater technical capacity to monitor and map carbon fluxes received more financial investments for REDD.

The group also evaluated the resulting impacts of these financial investments. To make better sense of the range of project impacts in the database, they categorized each impact according to USAID’s 2010 REDD+ Strategy objectives: Architecture, Readiness, and Demonstration. The majority of reported impacts (57%) can be categorized as “Readiness” for REDD+, suggesting that REDD in these countries is in an early phase. Readiness activities build capacity for a performance-based system ideally supported by carbon markets and would require that countries demonstrate emissions reductions before receiving payment. Since Readiness was the largest impact category, the group further broke these impacts down into seven categories.

The highlights of their larger report is contained in the four page brief below. The group will now work with TFG to submit their paper for scientific peer-review.

“Mitigating Climate Change Through Tropical Forests: An Analysis of US Bilateral REDD+ Finance” Brief

 

April 16, 2013

Improving the rigor of measuring emissions from deforestation and agriculture

To help address the technical issues that underpin carbon measurement, the University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have launched a new Certificate in Advanced Terrestrial Carbon Accounting.

Read more at Mongabay.

 

April 1, 2013

Forests for Life: TFG’s submission for the UN Forest Short Film Competition

The United Nations’ Forum on Forests, in partnership with the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, sponsored the first-ever international short film competition focused on forests. Check out Chris Jenkins’ entry on behalf of TFG entitled “Forests for Life” below. Chris says the short film is about “environmental leaders from around the world discussing the importance of forest conservation. Balinese dancers expressing the wonders of the rain forest and the profound emptiness brought on by deforestation.”

 

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December 2, 2012

REDD+ Progress & Setbacks at COP18 in Doha, Qatar 

As REDD+ progresses unevenly, capacity building for REDD+ reference levels and MRV is more important than ever. A recurring obstacle in the struggle to save tropical forests is the lack of technical capacity in forest nations to measure and report forest carbon levels. A study conducted last year (Romijn et al 2012) analyzed the forest monitoring capacity of 99 developing nations and found just four with adequate capacity. In nearly half of all countries analyzed, “very large gaps” were apparent. These chasms now stand in the way of billions of dollars committed to tropical forests. Since Copenhagen, The UNFCCC has been providing signals but can only make so much progress on specific guidance in the unwieldy negotiations of 180+ countries.

The Doha Gateway, as the latest climate agreement has been named, represents a three-part deal. The Kyoto Protocol has been extended to 2020; the LCA track has been wrapped up and closed; and a work plan has been created for the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) to be negotiated by 2015. The Doha Gateway will hopefully be just that, a gateway to walk through with all countries on a single track aimed at a new international climate agreement. But for the first time in seven years there was no official SBSTA decision adopted on REDD+.

In an informal conversation with SBSTA co-chair, Peter Graham, he acknowledged that at this COP, more so than usual, REDD+ was linked directly to the bigger issues of finance and Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR). These complications played out in position, strategy and substance, ultimately preventing a decision from going through. Perhaps this is a sign of growth that REDD+ now has inextricable hooks in the overarching concepts of the climate deal. The draft decision was actually an important advance for the technical machinery of REDD+. The text, for the first time, integrates REDD+ reference levels elegantly under the MRV systems and national forest monitoring platforms.

While we wait to see if developed and developing nations can bridge their differences, one thing is clear: we must advance MRV capacity if we want to save tropical forests.  What REDD+ and the entire planet needs right now is advanced training in terrestrial carbon accounting so we can begin to appropriately value and protect our forests. The good news is, the course now exists. To learn more click here.

Commit and Verify

Sunday, December 2, 2012 – 6:33pm (GMT +3)

Doha, Qatar

The major issues that prevented an agreement at the Doha REDD+ SBSTA meetings were finance and verification. Norway and other donor nations want robust verification. Brazil, Papua New Guinea, and other G77 nations want commitments of funding from these donor nations.

During the final REDD+ SBSTA session on December 1st, parties representing the G77, an intergovernmental organization of developing nations, made concessions regarding finance-related text. This effort resulted in short-lived exuberance that an agreement was close. The U.S. stated that it could work with the proposed changes, but shortly after, Norway stated that unless acceptable verification language was in the final text, the nation could not be part of an agreement. After a discussion between Norway and Brazil, the countries reported that their positions were too far apart and it became clear no agreement would be reached during the meeting. The session ended with the decision deferred to next week’s COP.

Both sides have legitimate positions. Donor nations want robust verification to ensure that the funds they provide result in real protection. The G77 nations do not see why they should commit to strong external verification requirements when the donor nations themselves are major greenhouse gas emitters and are not yet subject to similarly stringent verification. On November 29th, major REDD+ donor countries including the U.K., U.S., Germany, Norway, and Australia met in London and agreed to support the implementation of REDD+, but they only defined a small amount of funding. If donor nations want G77 nations to commit to verification, then they will likely need to make the first move and commit to funding REDD+ initiatives at scale. This could solve the current impasse.

After the session closed, Jeff Metcalfe, Executive Director of the Tropical Forest Group (TFG) stated that, “Getting agreement on REDD+ is critical for climate and forest protection efforts and now the ball is in the donor nations’ court.” Culley Thomas, also of TFG, stated that “The G77 representatives provided concessions in order to reach an agreement. The donor nations now need to step up and make explicit funding commitments or, at minimum, provide firm dates when such funding will be made available.”

Next week during the COP, we will see if the both the donor and G77 nations can make REDD+ become a reality. If so, it would be a major victory for tropical forests, COP 18, and the larger climate protection effort. Fingers crossed.

BREAKING NEWS

Saturday, December 1, 2012 – 5:10am (GMT +3)

Doha, Qatar

UNFCCC climate change negotiations in Doha, Qatar broke down early this morning as Brazil blocked progress in last minute discussions to provide billions of dollars in finance to save rainforests. This failure in the talks could potentially jeopardize the trajectory of the UNFCCC, an already wounded United Nations effort to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Brazil objected to the requests of many nations by refusing to allow verified emission reductions for reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries (REDD+). Earlier, other stubborn nations stalled talks for hours based on a different interpretation of the word “the”.

Culley Thomas of the Tropical Forest Group, a leading US research and conservation organization stated “Donor nations sent the signal loud and clear that finance to save forests would require verification. Catastrophically for our planet, Brazil refused to listen.” These key environmental talks broke down despite a promising agreement yesterday between major REDD+ donor countries: the U.K., U.S., Germany, Norway, and Australia. These five wealthy countries have invested billions of dollars in efforts to save rainforests despite a global recession, key elections and record unemployment. In London yesterday, during talks headed by HRH Prince Charles, these large donors privately resolved to maintain momentum for the UN efforts on REDD+. The donors made it clear that if rainforest countries want help, they will need to go through some form of international verification process.

Some parties suggested that Brazil’s obstinance during SBSTA resulted from its objections to REDD+ text in a separate track, the AWG-LCA (Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action). Since SBSTA is set to close today, December 1st, negotiations on key provisions including monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) and reference levels will be punted to next week’s ministerial negotiations or the intercessional SBSTA meeting in Bonn in midyear 2013.

What will result of yesterday’s major donors’ joint statement remains unknown. However, REDD financing could potentially collapse as countries lose faith in the UNFCCC’s ability to limit the increase in global temperature to 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.

The Tropical Forest Group is a US-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that catalyzes policy, science and advocacy to conserve and restore the planet’s remaining tropical forests and is an accredited observer to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

A Crash of Rhinos

No, there are no rhinos in Qatar, but TFG has sent a few of their own to the Arabian Peninsula. As always, there is a lot to accomplish in a limited amount of time. TFG affiliate spoke with REDD+ SBSTA co-chair, Peter Graham, prior to the conference’s inception. Based on that conversation it seems that the Parties are keen to maintain progress on REDD in Doha and send a positive signal to sustain interest and political will outside the process. However, there appears to be a formidable amount of work needed to finish what was begun in Bonn in May. Negotiators will start where they left off and try to deliver a COP decision that includes guidance for national forest monitoring systems as well as modalities for MRV of results of REDD+ actions. We are hopeful that this will also include a process for technical review of reference levels. Doha is not an endpoint, but the next two weeks should mark the closure of the AWG-LCA and the beginning of the AWG-ADP that emerged out of Durban. Further work will be needed post-Doha on safeguards and drivers as well elements of the MRV modalities, particularly where there are dependencies on the outcome of the greater finance discussions. Bring on the megafauna.

 

October 9, 2012

REDD Funding: The Horror Story That Isn’t

A recent article in Ecosystem Marketplace, co-authored by John-O Niles and Jeff Metcalfe, elaborates on the tracking of REDD+ financing. It’s a political, economic and cinematic quagmire. But at least it is not going unnoticed. “Rich countries say they’re spending almost $5 billion to save tropical rainforests in poor countries under the UN REDD program, but poor countries say they’ve gotten a fraction of that.” Read all about it here. “The check’s in the mail,” he explains. “It might just need a few years to clear.”

January 5, 2012

Dr. David Woodruff, John Niles and others discuss terrestrial carbon at the University of California San Diego’s Sustainability Solutions Institute Greenovation Forum. Watch the video here.

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The Tropical Forest Group (TFG) supports humanitarian carbon projects predominantly in conflict and post-conflict areas of the tropics. We combine technical project support with policy, science and advocacy to conserve and restore the planet’s remaining tropical forests, fight climate change, and improve the lives of people.

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