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December 19, 2008

Tropical Deforestation Dominates Talks

Negotiations in Poland (COP14) for a new climate change treaty wrapped up on December 12, 2008. After two weeks of talks, it was clear the still-being-negotiated treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol will include
some new international scheme to reward tropical countries that slow down rates of deforestation. While there were no major concrete decisions on deforestation made in Poland, none were expected. Instead, diplomats continued to move the issue of REDD (the UN acronym for “Reducing Emissions
from Deforestation
in Developing Countries”) forward incrementally.Notably, diplomats passed a series of small decisions about tropical deforestation. Taken together, these decisions mean a fairly high certainty that saving tropical forests will be a key part of international climate
mitigation efforts. Said Cara Peace, Tropical Forest Group’s Associate Director “REDD decisions in Poznan were OK. Not great, but the issues of tropical deforestation and what to do about it is clearly moving forward. We think the Poznan REDD decision ensures that the next year of intense negotiations will definitely lead to a fundamental shift in global conservation finance.”

The main REDD decision from COP14 comes from one of the UN bodies called SBSTA (Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice)This decision, (FCC/SBSTA/2008/L.23 for now) has the following key components:

*    It provided guidance on how a new financial instrument to drive money to conserve tropical forests would be built. There were no major surprises in this part of the text, but a clear reference to the 1996 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Inventories This is actually the older version of guidelines, as the 2006 AFOLU  updated guidelines have not yet been formally approved. This guidance is important as it limits the debate on technical matters over the next year.

*    It clarified that good national forest monitoring systems will be needed to implement REDD. Importantly, the decision also left open the door for sub-national forest monitoring. This implies that there could be new financial resources to conserve tropical forests that don’t always go through federal capitols.

*    The decision encouraged independent review of country’s national forest monitoring plans. This is an important technical development and the text approved was watered down from previous version. Earlier versions of the Poznan REDD decision would have forced independent expert reviews of
monitoring systems that estimate changes in forest carbon stocks. The Tropical Forest Group supported the earlier text as it would have done more to firmly establish rates of deforestation in developing countries. This in turn would have helped catalyze REDD negotiations and led to more money, quicker for developing countries that stem deforestation rates.

*    Most critically, the REDD decision from Poland required another, more powerful UN body to guide future negotiations. This other body, the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention  (AWG-LCA) is responsible for developing the final new treaty.  See also the note below on the AWG-LCA.

In a separate decision, UN negotiators agreed to a work plan for the AWG LCA. In this separate decision (FCCC/AWGLCA/2008/L.10), UN diplomats agreed that specific draft language for a new treaty must be prepared and distributed by the middle of May 2009. This is probably going to be one of the most important, debated and cataclysmic documents in the history of the universe. No seriously, it will be a very important document as it will be the starting point of 6 frantic months of diplomacy (leading up to COP15 in December 2009). In this negotiating text, the first real sense of what a new international financial instrument to save tropical forests might look like.