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TFG staff member Catherine Martini presented a poster on behalf of TFG last week at the 22nd Annual International Society of Tropical Foresters Conference at Yale. The poster entitled “From REDD+ to Blue: Filling Gaps for the Inclusion of Coastal Blue Carbon in National Greenhouse Gas Inventories” is the product of ongoing research by TFG director emeritus Patrick Cage & Catherine Martini on Costal Blue Carbon (CBC).

Cage and Martini also presented their TFG CBC research at COP 21 in Paris. They gave a brief talk at Le Bourgette on December 2, 2015, presenting their research findings at a session entitled “Bridging the research gap: a discussion of new directions and research needs for climate policy”. The session was supported by the RINGOs Constituency, in conjunction with the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy (CIERP) of The Fletcher School, Tufts University.

Interest in Coastal Blue Carbon (CBC), sequestered in mangrove, seagrass, and tidal marsh ecosystems, has spiked in recent years. These ecosystems have carbon sequestration rates up to 55 times higher than tropical terrestrial forests, and are lost at a rate of about 1.5% per year. The coastal ecology community has begun to consider how a framework similar to REDD+ could both preserve coastal ecosystems and mitigate climate change, as well as deliver adaptive, livelihood, and sustainable development co-benefits to local communities.

Many gaps remain in this quickly growing field. With lessons learned from the development of the REDD+ framework for conserving forests, Cage & Martini identify one critical gap in particular: the lack of national default values for carbon stocks and carbon fluxes in mangrove ecosystems. Robust default values would allow countries to include estimates of CBC in national greenhouse gas inventories, a prerequisite for including CBC conservation and restoration projects in climate change mitigation policy. Following Gibbs et al. 2007 for tropical forest carbon, our research surveys the literature to compare existing values for regional coastal blue carbon stock and carbon sequestration estimates and to prioritize where further research is most needed to spur promising policy outcomes.

January 18, 2015

TFG has developed an interactive timeline for the new Paris Agreement at our ParisAgreement.org media project. Curious to know what comes after COP21? Click the image below to take a look, and check for updates over the next several weeks.

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January 4, 2015
ParisAgreement.org media coverage

All of us here at Tropical Forest Group are grateful to the media for covering our ParisAgreement.org media platform and are glad that our analytics proved useful. We are excited to move this platform forward in the new year.

Some of the press that covered the ParisAgreement.org analytics:

  • The New York Times: Andrew C. Revkin, “Behind the Brackets as Paris Negotiators Shape a Climate Change Deal,” Dot Earth, December 7, 2015.
  • The New York Times: Andrew C. Revkin, “The Destination in Paris Climate Talks was a Journey that Begins Now,” Dot Earth, December 12, 2015.
  • BBC: Jonathon Webb, Matt McGrath, Helen Briggs, and Mark Kinver, “While We Wait: Turning a Document into a Graph,” December 12, 2015, 17:46 GMT.
  • The Washington Post: Chris Mooney, “Major divides remain as final week of Paris climate meeting open,” December 7, 2015.
  • The Guardian: Lenore Taylor, “Paris climate change deal: new draft cuts through key sticking points,” December 11, 2015.
  • Reuters: Richard Valdmanis, “Before Paris climate deal, a landgrab on the web,” December 12, 2015.
  • Eurovision: interviews produced by Radoslav Minchev, broadcast in Morocco, Denmark, Germany, Bulgaria, December 10-11, 2015.
  • The Economist: “The Paris climate talks enter the home stretch showing signs of progress,” December 10, 2015.
  • Nature: Jeff Tollefson, “Six issues to watch at the Paris climate talks,” December 4, 2015.
  • Christian Science Monitor: David J. Unger, “Politics and science,” December 11, 2015.
  • Ecosystems Marketplace: Steve Zwick, “New Climate Text Is Lean, Clean, and REDD Ready,” December 9, 2015.
  • Santa Barbara Independent: Ethan Stewart, “The Paris Project: Day 12, Final Countdown is on as Plans for a Mega-Protest Percolate,” December 11, 2015.
  • Carbon Pulse: “COP-21 Roundup: Dec. 3 – Day 4,” December 3, 2015.
  • Carbon Brief: Simon Evans, “Analysis: How the draft Paris text has changed,” December 9, 2015.
  • Climate Home: Alex Pashly, Megan Darby, Ed King, “As it happened: Paris COP21 talks run into overtime,” December 12, 2015.
  • Sputnick News: “Paris Climate Change Negotiators Release Updated Draft of Final Deal,” December 9, 2015.
  • Slate France: Vincent Manilève, “Nombre de mots, points de désaccord… Comment le texte de l’accord de la COP21 a évolué, December 12, 2015.”
  • La Vanguardia: “La prueba gráfica de que el consenso en la Cumbre de París está cerca,” December 11, 2015.
  • El Espectador: Pablo Correa, “Aumenta optimismo por posible acuerdo en París,” December 9, 2015.
  • Mashable: Andrew Freedman, “New draft of Paris climate agreement would aim for global ‘carbon neutrality’ by 2100,” December 10, 2015.
  • Social Media Research Foundation: ranked 5th top influencer on Twitter, following four of the UNFCCC official accounts.

December 14, 2015
How did we get here? One media campaign that no doubt helped.

This piece about TFG’s ParisAgreement.org media platform was thoughtfully written by Molly White, Educational Program Associate and Registrar at the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute (GHGMI).

Path To Agreement Chart 300x191 HomeIn Paris, the world witnessed the birth of the most potentially consequential international environmental agreement. Media attention of the event played an instrumental role in building momentum towards reaching an agreement between almost 200 nations.

One player on this stage was a campaign spearheaded by GHGMI’s Director of the Carbon Institute, John-O Niles, and GHGMI’s Research Fellow, Patrick Cage, and supported by a team of fellow delegates and colleagues. Under the banner of the Tropical Forest Group, what started as a “land grab” quickly morphed into not only a media platform, but a source of analysis of the agreement’s two-week evolution. The URL ParisAgreement.org overnight became a “go-to” source for understanding and tracking progress in the negotiations for journalists from around the world. The negotiating analytics provided by ParisAgreement.org provided uniquely objective metrics on the momentum and setbacks of an enormously complex international negotiations process. And as you know, we here at GHGMI do love our climate change performance metrics.

Social scientists take note, when you look back at @parisagreement or review the laundry list of reporters who picked-up this beat, you’ll likely come up with some thought provoking questions which warrant a closer look:

  • Does the agreement process benefit from the media’s coverage of un-biased technical detailsduring negotiation periods?
  • Does 3rd party tracking of progress help negotiators?
  • Does the public’s understanding of the UN civic process improve their ability to advocate for what is at stake?

The last decade has now had a chance to see how seemingly minor social media campaigns can create enormous change in comparison – be it in a courtroom, a revolution, or conservation efforts. What Niles, Cage, and the rest of the ParisAgreement.org team were able to pull off was not minor; they tracked the agreement’s text from start to finish. This week I’ve watched the media pieces roll in, and whether the stories are overtly positive or rightfully cautionary, one thing, regardless of your take on the text, is that we have an Agreement.

Time will only tell what intricacies of human behavior allowed us to reach an agreement last week. For now, I’d like to thank my colleagues – you brought a new angle and story to the COP process, for what had historically been an exceedingly technical and wonky topic to cover. Future negotiators take note, civil society will be watching and paying close attention to the degree of progress made inside the negotiating halls.

December 12, 2015

TFG staff and affiliates have been tracking updates throughout COP21, providing breaking news on our Paris Roadmap and sharing objective analysis on new draft texts, focused on quantifying the process of moving from disagreement towards consensus. The press have honed in our attempt to share the facts of the ongoing negotiations with media coverage in Nature, Washington Post, the Economist, the New York Times dot Earth blog, and other outlets across the world.

For this last morning of negotiations, see the ParisAgreement.org team in action at COP21:

COP21 from CJ on Vimeo.

Music by TKZee / Images by Chris Jenkins.

November 10, 2015

Launching the ParisAgreement.org media platform

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Tropical Forest Group is proud to announce the Paris Agreement media platform.

We have obtained ParisAgreement.org and ten variants. We are collaborating with web developers to launch a non-partisan environmental democracy platform to cover COP21 and future UNFCCC negotiations pertaining to the Paris Agreement. We believe ParisAgreement.org to be the only source covering just the facts of the emerging Paris Agreement: the negotiations, the text, and Party stances. Our goal is progress on climate change in Paris, facilitating an ambitious and political possible Paris Agreement through transparency and collaboration. See our pilot page at ParisAgreement.org and follow us on Twitter and Facebook to help publicize this initiative before COP and to follow developments to-the-minute from Paris.

November 1, 2015

Seeing REDD in Bali

Reliving one of Tropical Forest Group’s most popular moments from COP 13. Here the Tri Hata Karana dance, a traditionally styled Balinese dance choreographed especially for the event, is presented to delegates from inside the delegation area, ending in applause from a veritable wall of reporters, representing media outlets across the globe.

Stay tuned for updates about our latest COP media initiative as COP21 in Paris approaches!

October 9, 2015

Sneak Peek into Paris: new climate change draft treaty revealed

Note: This commentary on the UNFCCC negotiating text of 5 October, 2015 was originally published on Mongabay.

Just a week after Shell scrapped its artic drilling plans, the climate has another reason to celebrate. Following the recent flood of national climate change commitments, or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), the United Nations uploaded the newest draft of the upcoming Paris Agreement. Unlike past installments, the new document resembles a proper draft treaty, rather than a tornado-wrecked brainstorming session. A far cry from the incremental, inch-worm-pace that critics feared, the new draft agreement shows that the Co-Chairs have been listening attentively, and have tried to accelerate negotiations by presenting something more streamlined. The new document could ramp up the negotiations, but only if countries see it as progress.

By way of a review: This December will bring the annual United Nations climate negotiations to Paris for the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21). The COP 21 meeting is the most widely anticipated climate change COP since the 2009 negotiations in Copenhagen, which began with eager expectation, and ended in teargas and frustration. Since then, a negotiating track called the ADP has met regularly with the mandate to draft a binding climate agreement that can receive worldwide adoption as a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. Currently, the draft text involves two pieces: the historic Paris Agreement and a lower-profile COP decision to operationalize the Agreement, together dubbed the “Paris climate package.” The absolute deadline for the final Paris package is December 11th, 2015.

The last session of ADP negotiations in September kicked up a mess of documents. To understand the momentum on a particular topic, say, climate finance, one must scrutinize four distinct pieces of text simultaneously. At countries’ behest, the ADP Co-Chairs, Ahmed Djoghlaf and Daniel Reifsnyder, scrapped the overworked draft and forged a transformed text.

In a metamorphosis reminiscent of the paradoxical frog, the new document is less than one-fourth the length of its previous life cycle. Only 23% of the new document contains text essentially identical to the last iteration. Gone are the immense walls of competing words to scale and the clauses like river deltas, splitting into ever-smaller options and a muck of brackets, utterly un-navigable. Instead, the new draft text is a set of short, clean points.

Overall, the text shows that the Co-Chairs have tried to balance the sentiments of various Parties, or constituent countries. The draft Agreement tips its hat to gender-sensitivity, indigenous knowledge, ecosystems, and the plight of Least Developed Countries. Loss and Damage, a controversial section concerning unpreventable climate change impacts, such as superstorms forcing massive resettlement, is now included in the Agreement. Honoring the sentiments of the G77/China, the developing country group, the new draft decision includes a detailed proposal for Workstream 2, the preparatory period before the Paris Agreement comes into effect in 2020. By recognizing the concerns and requests of Parties during the previous round of negotiations, the new draft text primes negotiators to wrestle over substance, instead of semantics.

In terms of the concrete and operational aspects of the draft Agreement, those looking solely for emissions reduction goals will not be impressed. In the first article on mitigation, both the level of emissions reductions and the deadline for reaching this level are still to be determined.

Rather, the work of the fresh draft Agreement is to iterate INDCs, the voluntary climate change targets submitted by countries in the lead up to Paris. In the new draft, these entities, currently termed ”nationally determined mitigation contributions,” are established as a means for countries to regularly share their plans for scaling back emissions. The new draft proposes that these will be communicated every five years in a public registry and will demonstrate enhanced efforts from those previously stated. In other words, countries will publically declare their new, stronger targets to each other every five years.

The draft Agreement establishes a new framework for transparency, aiming to clarify global progress towards a net zero carbon future. This framework will both consider political progress and the best science, placing the finger of negotiations on the pulse of climate change. We can imagine something like an official UN Climate Action Tracker factoring in to future negotiations, a way to keep Parties feeling the heat in coming years.

The draft COP decision floats the possibility of a new market mechanism with tradable credits, essentially a comeback tour for the Clean Development Mechanism and other Kyoto Protocol-era emissions trading tools. The new market mechanism would allow developed countries to reduce emissions by implementing sustainable development projects in developing countries, the lowest cost route for mitigation.

Alongside the above, the new draft Paris package establishes an array of procedures, technical examinations, and appointments whose details are too wonky for this article, but worth an honorable mention nonetheless.

Together, these functional pieces capture an emerging understanding of the UNFCCC (the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, comprised of the negotiations and agreements). The articles continue a paradigm shift begun with the INDC format: each country offers it own contributions to address climate change, aiming to move beyond unproductive squabbling over universal targets and standardized compliance formats. The new draft document further clarifies that the UNFCCC will not be a simple top-down process, where countries negotiate new commitments and states and localities later fulfill them. Rather, the negotiations come from the bottom-up, a process framing the realistic (and hopefully ambitious) possibilities for fighting climate change in states, regions and other non-national entities.

The worldwide hope for the COP in Paris is a “universal climate agreement,” binding for all countries. This new draft Agreement is binding, but its requirement is a process of mutual communication, rather than a precise target. It sets systems in place. At its core, the Co-Chairs’ proposed draft recognizes that political progress on climate change is built on good data, and a feedback loop of trust & verification.

Structural progress aside, many items are currently absent from the Agreement. Although REDD+, a payment system for reducing emissions from deforestation, is ready for launch after ten years of work, the new Paris package makes no reference to REDD+, and only one to forests at all. And although oceans absorb nearly half of the human-caused greenhouse gases and about 93% of the added heat on Earth from climate change, the word “ocean” is unmentioned. The text offers no process for defining “developing” and “developed” countries, or for updating these constituencies as times change.

Also missing is the emerging notion that funding to developing countries should pay equally for adaptation and for mitigation, instead replaced by a vague endorsement of “balance.” Likewise, there is no mention of specific finance targets, timelines, or mechanisms. The “climate change displacement coordination facility,” a provision for managing climate-induced refugee crises, is conspicuously absent, along with many other specific proposals.

These details and others will be debated at the end of October, during the last round of ADP negotiations before Paris. The ideas with sufficient country support will be included in the final draft Paris package, and the ideas that face substantial resistance will either be left out or will be some of the most contentious topics during the final COP negotiations in December.

On the whole, the new draft of October 5th is a beacon of possibility. The document does an impressive job of synthesizing previous concepts and cutting pages. Negotiators no longer need to hoist a hefty text and try to sail directly into the wind.

Whether or not this new tack is ultimately judged a move in the right direction, however, will depend on if each country feels that its positions have been adequately represented for one of humankind’s most pressing and complex challenges. But no one ever presumed that solving global climate change through the consensus-based approach of the United Nations would be easy.

If every nation on Earth does agree to a new Paris Agreement by the end of year, it will largely resemble this newest draft text. Such a Paris Agreement would also represent a major victory for the United Nations, for multilateralism, and for using science and frank international discussion to forge paths forward to avert grave harm. Alternatively, the world could also watch a different manner of historic moment unfold in Paris later this year, one where vanity and acrimony and rigidity triumph over reason and compromise and consensus.

Authored by: Patrick Cage and John-O Niles.


September 25, 2015

A pre-game analysis of what to expect, and not expect, at COP 21

Note: This commentary on the Co-Chairs’ Tool and the results of ADP 2.10 was originally published on Mongabay.

The climate change world is abuzz. If humankind burns all the fossil fuels we can currently get our hands on, all of Antarctica will melt. It’s a phrase that sounds like an inversion of “when hell freezes over,” but one recent, high-profile study indicates the world will lose most of its ice under the business-as-usual path of continuous fossil fuel burning. If we too long delay the transition to renewable energy and take too long to stop cutting and burning forests, the entirety of the Antarctic ice sheets will melt (as well as its little cousin Greenland). This would likely bring about 200 feet of sea level rise.

Enter the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to the rescue.

This December, Paris will host the twenty-first meeting of the Conference of the Parties (affectionately known as COP21). While an annual migration for climate hawks, hopes are especially high for this year’s COP in anticipation of the coming Paris Agreement, the post-2020 replacement for the Kyoto Protocol. The goal? That all countries will agree on a path forward to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Working towards this is the ADP, the negotiating track tasked in 2011 with drafting the new Agreement before COP21 in December 2015. (That is, the pre-negotiations series of negotiations.)

This September, ADP negotiators walked into the most recent meeting, ADP 2.10, facing ten negotiating days before Paris. Their mission: develop a concise but complete draft negotiating text for the COP in Paris. Their armament: the Co-Chairs’ Tool, a classification scheme for the official negotiating text, which contains every piece of text proposed by a country thus far. Their progress: uncertain.

Aspects of this tripartite Tool been elaborated upon elsewhere. A quick summary, as a microcosm of the climate negotiations as a whole: All Parties (UN-speak for constituent countries) want a universally accepted Paris Agreement. But they diverge on what the contents should be, and an agreement with legal force (like the Paris Agreement) is about as easy to edit as an inscribed stone tablet. To avoid a “lowest common denominator” outcome, COP decisions in Paris (distinct from the capital “a” Agreement), can help raise the level of ambition and still allow countries future flexibility. Hence, the Co-Chairs Tool has Part I, with text for the draft Agreement (the stone tablet), and Paris II, with text for the lower-profile COP decision. Part III of the Tool is either a waiting room for admission to Parts I or II, or a form of limbo, depending on the clause.

Now, with ADP 2.10 over, the Tool has served its purpose and observers are scratching their heads about the progress made. And while a stroll through Part III of the Tool reveals options to make even climate wonks’ heads spin, some (like Part III, paragraph 66.c) don’t have a snowball’s chance in RCP 8.5 of making it into the Paris outcome.

The primary signpost is the session’s Working Document, a compilation of anonymized stances from ADP 2.10. This points towards a dozen snippets of negotiation text that have been given the thumbs-up for inclusion in the draft Agreement or decision.

That’s progress, but at a glacial pace. Half of these dozen pieces are standard treaty provisions – that the document will be translated into the UN official languages, for example. The others are also fairly low-hanging fruit – clauses “anchoring” past institutions to apply to this agreement as well. Two sections now have concrete guidelines, but they’re still just guidelines.

In total, this approved text is enough to fill maybe two of the roughly 40+ pages likely to be on the negotiating tables of COP21 this December.

So what else is on the (negotiating) table for the remaining 38 or so pages? Based on the working document, most areas with momentum are conceptual and basically climate negotiations staples (e.g. differentiation between countries, the expectations for Sweden do not match those for Lesotho). But some areas of agreement are more palpable:

The draft Agreement will almost certainly allow countries to transfer mitigation units through market mechanisms, probably to fulfill their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to mitigation. In other words, a country will be able to buy carbon offsets from another and count this as reducing its emissions. This would be similar to the Clean Development Mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol, which spurred massive innovation.

Noting that REDD+, a payment system to slow tropical deforestation, is now fully ready for implementation, there will likely be direct recognition in the Agreement to spur future investment. (The major remaining question is whether and how much outgoing REDD+ payments will count towards countries’ emissions reductions.)

Several ideas gaining traction are: regular cycles of commitment (most likely at the scale of 5 years), global and national emissions budgets, and a principle that climate finance should pay equal attention to slowing climate change and adapting to climate change.

One drama to watch unfold will be the move by the G77/China (the developing country group) to establish the climate change displacement coordination facility, an institution to grapple with the upswing in refugees from climate change-related disasters. This proposal probably won’t move beyond bargaining chip status, but it’s also the main mechanism proposed for Loss and Damage, a contentious portion of the text covering climate events that cannot be adapted to (like megadroughts). Currently, Loss and Damage is unmentioned in Part I of the Co-Chairs’ Tool.

There will be a push to get compliance (and non-compliance) into the draft Agreement. Ultimately, any compliance arrangements will almost definitely be “facilitative in nature,” stopping short of the “international climate justice tribunal” proposal currently biding its time as paragraph 97 in Part III of the Co-Chairs’ Tool.

Yet another exciting area will be climate finance, though the entire section is still highly molten.

It is probable that there will be a new transparency framework in the Agreement to fact-check that countries’ emissions goals are definitively fulfilled. This will be flexible, but also prevent past snafus.

Because Paris will probably bring a soft agreement, with a minimum of dramatic new commitments, we should expect technology development and transfer and capacity-building to have significant stage time. Together, these areas enhance the resourcing and training necessary for low-carbon leadership, laying solid foundations for future emissions reductions. That might not be the most satisfying outcome, but it’s a good start, considering political realities.

Coming out of ADP 2.10, we have a better handle on which areas to watch for in the release of the Co-Chairs’ forthcoming document. Due out the first week of October, this paper will position countries for ADP 2.11, the last negotiating session before the COP in Paris. After that, the final draft negotiating text for Paris will emerge, giving both Parties and the public the full picture of the final possibilities for the Paris Agreement in December – and whether we might make progress faster than our melting ice sheets.

The standing question is: Will the negotiators at the COP in Paris this December be overwhelmed by the current buffet of possibilities? Or will cooperation prevail at ADP 2.11?

Only time (namely, the five remaining ADP negotiating days) will tell. After that, of course, countries will have ten days at the Paris negotiations. But by then, countries will have crystalized their positions and it will be hard (though not impossible) to take a divergent text and turn it into an Agreement that, among other things, is strong enough to hold Antarctic ice sheets in place and prevent unfathomable sea level rise.

Authored by: Patrick Cage and John-O Niles.


July 2, 2015

REDD+ Update 

There have been great strides forward in the forestry sector since our last update. All the technical work on REDD+ was finished in Bonn this past month at the forty-second SBSTA session (SBSTA 42). A more than ten-year journey to codify highly technical aspects of terrestrial carbon monitoring has reached completion. Forest Trend’s Program Manager for Forest Trade and Finance, Gustavo Silva-Chávez, remarked that, “While REDD+ is finished on paper, the Paris global deal must provide the policy certainty to implement REDD+ on the ground.”

The SBSTA session in Bonn wrapped up technicalities in three areas: alternative policy approaches such as Joint Mitigation Adaptation (JMA) or non-market approaches, non-carbon benefits, and additional safeguard guidance. The resolution of the few last remaining technical details for REDD+ was an unexpected surprise for negotiators. Many thought there wouldn’t be agreement until December. As the Bonn text contains no brackets, all that remains is operationalizing the mechanism, and financing the program in Paris. This issue, where money to fund REDD+ programs and how REDD+ programs and emissions reductions will be included in a new agreement, is still a major topic of debate. Some countries (mostly developed) want to see all the financing and coordination done by the Green Climate Fund and bilateral and multilateral programs (such as UN REDD and the World Bank). Other countries (some developing) want to see an actual REDD+ Mechanism to actually bring together the technical parts and the finance and possible emissions reductions.

Nonetheless, the news from Bonn carries great optimism and momentum leading up to COP21. The successful culmination of ten-years of technical policy work in the REDD+ arena may encourage negotiators and nations to increase their political will and commitments in Paris.

The upcoming agreement represents a paradigm shift for international climate policy. The ADP has designed a protocol that directs the negotiations away from the previous top down approach and towards a bottom up approach. Nations have been asked to submit INDCs, or Intended Nationally Determined Commitments, in advance of COP21.

A nation’s INDC serves as its respective pledge toward attaining collective global emission reductions sufficient to keep temperature increase within 2°C above pre-industrial levels. An INDC may contain a myriad of domestic policy prescriptions in an attempt to meet this goal. The submissions thus far contain a great deal of variance in their ambition and policy avenues.

A point of contention remains regarding INDCs. The contention surrounds the idea of cultivating broad vs. narrow commitments. This notion involves the idea stated by Michael Grubb, editor-in-chief of the journal Climate Policy, that “‘bottom up’ intentions do not remotely match the ‘top-down’ ambition.” If the international community wants broad participation, nations’ ambition may be low. However, the hope is to create a flexible mechanism in which a nation’s commitment could be ‘ratcheted up’ as time progresses.

What is yet to be determined is how much of a role REDD+ projects will play in parties’ current, or future, INDC submissions. The inclusion of REDD+ as an emissions reduction strategy in an INDC remains contingent upon REDD+ being operationalized through the successful culmination of a treaty at COP21. Now all eyes look towards Paris, and whether the international community will be able to attain an overall climate agreement.

Authored by: Catherine Martini


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.

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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.


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.


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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TFG’s 2012-2013 Initiatives


Reference Levels

Tracking US REDD+ Finance

Agriculture/REDD+ Linkages

Humanitarian Carbon Portfolio


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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