When nations departed Kyoto in 1997 (the 3rd Conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP3), they left with dramatically different and unresolved questions about the role of forestry in meeting national greenhouse gas reduction targets. After years of acrimony, there is now growing consensus that tropical forest conservation must be integrated into the climate change framework.
In 1997 the Kyoto Protocol was drafted and approved by the UN as the “teeth” that would give the broader, less specific UNFCCC a real bite. This was a historic agreement. Industrialized nations of the world had agreed to limits on their greenhouse gas emissions. The wealthy countries were expected to take the lead as they had contributed most to global warming and also had the economic wherewithal to make cuts in emissions. Developing countries — even though their emissions were rising — were expected to take on quantitative reductions in the future, contingent on the industrialized countries keeping their promise to make real reductions first.
The Kyoto Protocol set GHG reduction targets for the period 2008-2012 for wealthy countries and then allowed countries significant flexibility in meeting the self-imposed targets. From 1997 to 2000, the Kyoto Protocol’s implementing rules were developed, debated, and painstakingly negotiated. At the end of 2000, at COP6, the whole process looked like it could collapse. One of the key stumbling blocks was whether emissions reductions achieved by developing nations that reduced rates of deforestation would be entitled to carbon trading. This issue pitted Europeans against Americans, Brazilians against other Latin American countries, and environmental groups against environmental groups. The treatment of tropical forests in the Protocol reached the highest levels of government and environmental activism. For instance, in the final negotiating days of COP6 in November 2000, before the George Bush administration abandoned the Kyoto process, President Clinton is rumored to have called President Cardoso of Brazil to discuss the matter. Also at COP6, forest activist Julia Butterfly Hill announced her support for including rain forest conservation in the Protocol. Other indigenous groups issued press releases for and against including tropical forest conservation in the Protocol. Because of forestry and other sticking points, a package of rules to implement that Kyoto Protocol could not gain approval from the UN and the meeting ended in failure. Things did not look good for the historic global warming agreement.
And then shortly after taking office in early 2001, George Bush casually noted that the United States had no intention of ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. This slap-in-the-face had an unexpected impact. Instead of killing the Kyoto Protocol, the US position marshaled other countries to action. The UN re-convened itself at a round of talks called COP6b (the second attempt at the 6th round of negotiations to the UNFCCC!) and passed a rule book with the US largely sitting on the sidelines. At COP6b, blocs opposed to including tropical forest conservation in the treaty prevailed and the Kyoto Protocol excluded tropical forest conservation from its first commitment period (2008-2012).
World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which opposed inclusion of tropical forest conservation in the 1st Commitment Period, announced victory in their press statement on the July 22, 2001, “Avoided deforestation – which would have provided a particularly destructive loophole – has been excluded from the [Kyoto Protocol]”. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) came to the opposite conclusion and said, “Today’s agreement represents the worst possible outcome for those interested in international biodiversity conservation. It excludes projects that reduce emission from tropical deforestation, the source of over 20 percent of annual emissions”.
For the subsequent 4-5 years, the 20% of global GHG emissions from tropical deforestation was all but forgotten. A few people and groups continued to argue that any serious attempt at tackling climate had to include measures to save tropical forests. But for the most part, UN diplomats and participants considered the issue decided and behind them. As more time passed, the UN began developing rules for what would replace the Kyoto Protocol after its 2012 expiration date.
COP11 (Montreal, 2005)
Then, at COP11 in Montreal in 2005, the Coalition for Rainforest Nations (CfRN) reintroduced the issue of compensating countries with carbon finance for reducing national rates of deforestation. The CfRN, which at the time was made up of nine countries, now includes more than 30 rainforest countries.
At COP11 in 2005, the idea of saving forests to prevent GHG emissions got a new title- REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing countries). REDD was formally put on the agenda on behalf of the CfRN by the government of Papua New Guinea (PNG). It was contained in an official document from PNG and Costa Rica to the Secretariat of the UNFCCC. In this document, the CfRN made the following points about deforestation in developing countries:
- Deforestation in developing countries accounts for a significant amount of global greenhouse gas emissions;
- “The UNFCCC … provides neither a mandate nor an incentive for reducing emissions from tropical deforestation”;
- “For developing countries, there is …no way to engage the Kyoto Protocol for emissions reductions generated through reducing … deforestation rates”;
- “In the absence of revenue streams for standing forests, communities and governments in developing nations have little incentive to prevent deforestation”;
- “As developing nations, we are prepared to stand accountable for our contributions to global climate stability, provided international frameworks are appropriately modified, namely through fair and equitable access to carbon emissions markets”;
- “Lasting climate stability will depend on the equitable expansion of the market systems initiated following the Kyoto Protocol that actively facilitate and integrate developing nation participation”.
The CfRN proposal suggested two possible avenues for deliberations: 1) modifying the current Kyoto Protocol, or 2) devising a new optional “protocol” for bring in so-called REDD credits for after 2012. Under either of these approaches, countries that reduced their deforestation rates could sell carbon credits equal to the amount of avoided emissions. The Coalition has maintained that so-called REDD emission reductions should be fungible with other Kyoto-derived credits. The CfRN also listed steps UNFCCC Parties should take to REDD address deforestation and degradation from developing countries.
To many people’s surprise, Parties to COP11 approved the main components of the CfRN proposal with slight modifications. (One important change was that the timeline for developing REDD policy solutions was extended from a one-year process to a two-year process.) In general, the REDD concept was greeted with enthusiasm and goodwill. Parties agreed to a timeline for dialogue. COP11 asked Parties, the UNFCCC Secretariat and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA) to dig deeper into the issue and to try and reach a first decision on the issue in two years time (the deadline is the upcoming COP13 in Bali 2007). The process was kicked off by an invitation for Parties to submit their thoughts and ideas on the issue, and for a series of workshops.
COP 11 also was the first time ordinary people and conservationists took to the streets to support the Coalition’s proposal to save tropical forests using carbon finance.
Subsidiary Body of Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA) 24
Leading up to SBSTA 24, the UNFCCC Secretariat received a total of 21 national views, or submissions. Incredibly, SBSTA 24 was dominated by lengthy and arduous debate on the Terms of Reference for the upcoming Rome Workshop. The workshop would be an opportunity for Parties to share experience and discuss relevant aspects of reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries. SBSTA decided on specific topics to be discussed, including:
- Scientific, socio-economic, technical, and methodological issues
- Policy approaches and positive incentives
- Identification of links between (a) and (b) above.
The Rome Workshop
The three day workshop was well attended, including an impressive 74 representatives from 42 non-Annex Parties. For the workshop, the UNFCCC Secretariat provided a set of background papers for Parties to consider in their deliberations. The papers covered scientific and technical issues, positive incentives and policy approaches. The UNFCCC secretariat also provided a synthesis of information from the REDD submissions by Parties and accredited observers.
The three day workshop started with presentations by world experts who noted that technical, scientific and socio-economic challenges are substantial, but can be resolved. The expert presentations accentuated the rapid pace of progress over the past decade in estimating carbon in biomass and biomass change (notably in the areas of allometry, forest inventories, and satellite imagery). Several presentations noted new technologies and standards that will help drive down the costs of estimating and monitoring carbon stocks and fluxes. Since there is still no widely-accepted satellite system to directly estimate forest biomass and carbon, several presentations noted a need to link space-based information (from satellites and planes) with ground-based (inventory and allometry) information. Forest degradation was also a research area where more work was clearly needed. In Rome, there was a sense that “things are possible” even if some key operational details for a REDD proposal still needed to be debated.
The second day of the Rome workshop was spent hearing country experiences and opinions from Parties. Parties from Latin America, the United States, Europe, Africa, and Asia spoke about the lessons they’ve learned from previous efforts to control deforestation in their lands.
Parties gave opinions about policy options and other items related to policy needs and developments. Many developing countries emphasized the critical need for early and robust capacity building on REDD. Tuvalu suggested leakage and other concerns about forests limited REDD’s effectiveness as a tool to fight climate change. Costa Rica gave an overview of its successful payment for ecosystem service program that contributed to a dramatic reversal in country-wide deforestation. Papua New Guinea (PNG) said that multiple policy options exist, each with its own attributes, and said new Annexes to the Kyoto Protocol could be one way forward – for example by developing countries taking on a voluntary national sectoral target for deforestation in their countries. PNG also supported credit for early action and urged that policy discussions move forward rapidly. Brazil presented new ideas on possible funds to reward countries that demonstrate sustained reductions in national rates of deforestation. Brazil also noted that reference scenarios and additionality can be designed for changes in forest carbon. It proposed that any incentives of payments would be based on the amount of demonstrated avoided emissions although Brazil remained opposed to using REDD credits for Annex 1 commitments. Most other Latin American countries supported market-access for REDD credits.
The Rome meeting resulted in UNFCCC Secretariat’s summary of the workshop, which outlined the key ideas and discussions that had emerged from the workshop. The report noted procedural steps that could be taken to strengthen the REDD dialogue. These included additional workshops, more submissions, other papers and continuing the political discussion in relevant upcoming meetings. This summary was forwarded to SBSTA 25 for consideration during COP12 in Nairobi.
COP12 & SBSTA 25 (Nairobi, 2006)
Based on the Rome workshop report, parties at SBSTA 25 took up the REDD issue again. At SBSTA Parties agreed to a series of conclusions:
- There would be a 2nd REDD workshop before SBSTA 26, to focus on policy approaches as well as on other topics;
- A second round of submissions by Parties on REDD topics, due to the secretariat no later than February 23, 2006;
- A voluntary call for new information from non-Annex Parties to update their information on emissions and trends in deforestation, data needs, policies and programs and root causes of deforestation;
- The next SBSTA meeting (SBSTA 26) could consider the need for background papers, a third workshop or other meetings and consultations.
In short, SBSTA 25 recognized that more concerted technical and diplomatic effort was needed to develop a viable REDD mechanism.
Other REDD developments in Nairobi included Brazil releasing a paper explaining more of it’s REDD proposal. Brazil noted that it envisioned the discussion for REDD would occur only in the UNFCCC, not the Kyoto Protocol. It re-stated its position that no new Annex would be allowed under the Kyoto Protocol to allow credits from REDD to be used by Annex 1 Parties to meet their Kyoto obligations. The Brazil proposal focused on a new fund to provide financing, capacity and technologies for countries that voluntarily reduce deforestation GHG emissions from a reference emission rate.
Also at COP12, there was a growing voice for more attention to peatlands and peat forests by several Asian governments and NGOs.
The Secretariat received a second round of REDD submissions by Parties, Intergovernmental Organizations and non-governmental organizations. The government of Australia hosted a three day workshop (March 7 to 9, 2007 in Cairns). A Chair’s summary of the workshop is available as are presentations from the meeting. FAO, IPCC, Australia’s National Carbon Accounting System (NCAS), GTZ, The Carbon Pool, CIFOR, and the World Bank also made presentations.
Countries presented their views on a range of topics. Of particular note, India introduced a proposed carbon conservation mechanism, the Congo Basin and Costa Rica supported a stabilization fund and early action, Europe supported early action before 2012, Brazil elaborated on its REDD proposal and PNG reiterated its belief in a basket of carbon funds (market and non-market) including an enabling fund, a stabilization fund, and a REDD mechanism to deliver fully-fungible credits.
Participants converged on a few key areas of common ground:
- Early action to reduce emissions from deforestation in developing countries is essential for battling climate change effectively;
- Technical challenges to establishing reference emissions scenarios can be met;
- Capacity developments should be addressed as soon as possible;
- COP13 can take a variety of decisions that could be initiated immediately.
Two key differences at the end of the Cairns workshop remained:
- Whether REDD credits could be used by Annex 1 Parties in meeting future commitments (there was agreement that REDD credits would not enter the Kyoto Protocol’s 1st commitment period).
- Whether a variety of funds or mechanisms should be employed (carbon conservation and stabilization, avoided emissions from degradation), or simply ones that reduce emissions from deforestation.
The meeting ended with contemplating possible policy procedures. A chair’s text was drafted and sent to the Secretariat for reporting at SBSTA 26, with a few concepts:
- No new element should be introduced
- The widest possible participation of countries should be encouraged through a variety of engagements and approaches
- Early action on capacity building and pilot testing are needed.
SBSTA 26 was the last chance for reaching agreements in formal sessions before COP13. SBSTA 26 ended up producing a draft decision with 21 sets of brackets. Where that leaves the process and what might happen at COP13 remain unknown. But signs do not look great ). What is clear from the decision is that serious issues have been forwarded to COP13 and SBSTA 27 for decision. These include:
- A series of timelines for possible decision making
- Solutions for reference emissions scenarios for REDD
- Including REDD in discussion about future commitment periods
- Pilot-activities and early action.
It is still too early to have a sense for how negotiations in Bali will go. Clearly, there is a need for some bold new framework to kick off serious post-2012 discussions. Whether the text of the draft [bracketed] REDD SBSTA 26 decision is the template for such agreement will be illuminated at COP13.