What next for REDD+ following Doha disappointment?

By Tierney Smith

Efforts to promote REDD+ as the main mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation are still on track, according to experts RTCC has spoken to, despite negotiations collapsing at the recent UN climate talks.

Brazil is understood to have objected to calls from international donors such as Norway for an international verification system of emissions reductions for REDD+, leading to the suspension of discussions in Doha.

While this did not knock Kyoto off the headlines, it was a major blow as deforestation generates 15-20% of global emissions.

Launched in 2008, the REDD+ scheme has always had the full backing of most parties, both developed and developing, and has less of the polarised positions that have plagued some of the more contentious negotiations.

“What is different about REDD is that it was proposed by developing countries,” Emily Brickell, a research officer at the Overseas Development Institute told RTCC. “It was a group of developing countries saying ‘look, this is what we can bring to the table.”

“In other negotiating tracks you often have the developed world asking for the developing world to do more, or the developing world demanding more from the developed world. REDD has a different feel to it, which is why it has traditionally moved on more constructively in negotiations.”

Countries were able to agree on how emissions reductions from forest conservation should be monitored

What went wrong?

REED+ was discussed in the first week of the negotiations when the UNFCCC’s technical advisory body met. While some issues were signed off an overall agreement could not be reached.

The crucial issue was around the measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) and monitoring of carbon stocks in forests.

The division was reported to be between Brazil, one of the potential beneficiaries of the REDD+ programme, and Norway, the largest funders of tropical forest conservation.

“I don’t think these were the only countries,” said Brickell. “These were the two that were digging their heels in the most but I think there were other countries that were hiding behind them.”

For example, the Coalition of Rainforest Nations (CfRN) and Papua New Guinea put their weight behind Brazil’s position, according to Matt Leggett, Head of the Policy at the Global Canopy Programme.

Norway, which has spent almost $1bn to support the development of REDD+, pushed for an independent, international process to be undertaken by experts to ensure the verification of deforestation-related emissions reductions.

Brazil and other developing nations said they were unwilling to commit to such an external process and would prefer to monitor their own emissions.

Unable to agree on the issue of verification, the talks were pushed back another year leaving many countries frustrated.

In a blog post Leggett said: “The arguments have certainly tarnished Brazil’s reputation as the world leader on tackling deforestation, and have left delegates and observers angry with their tactics.”

What does this mean for the scheme?

Discussions will resume in the UNFCCC intersessional meeting in Bonn next May, with any decision now delayed to COP19 in Poland next November.

Josh Roberts, a Lawyer from ClientEarth told RTCC that we will have to wait to see how COP18’s text row will impact the process.

“I think we will start to see the implications as the discussions continue in Bonn,” he said. “There will probably be some back and forth talks between the parties concerned. They won’t want to spend a lot of time on the issue as they spend so much time on it in Doha.”

Brickell believes that the postponement of a decision in no way signals the end of the scheme.

“One negotiator told me that even though no decision was made, some progress has been made,” said Brickell. “They at least now have a draft text that they can work off, they are not having to start with a blank canvas.

“I don’t think in terms of momentum and the activity; that won’t be affected.”

Bruce Cabarle, Director of WWF’s Forest and Climate Initiative explained how the talks could progress over the coming year.

“REDD+ will continue to move forward, and perhaps even gain some momentum, despite the incremental progress coming out of Doha,” he said. “For example, Brazil continues to make significant progress at home with reducing deforestation and associated emissions from the Amazon even though they took a hard line during the REDD+ negotiations in Doha.”

Many countries are still coming out in support of REDD+. The UK, Norway, US, Germany and Australia issued a joint statement in Doha reinforcing their commitment to the scheme.

Bilateral partnerships are supporting REDD+ projects at local levels. Despite their row, last week Norway announced it would deposit another $180 million into Brazil’s Amazon Fund after the country reported a third annual drop in deforestation.

Roberts stresses that as the talks turn from the overall principles of the mechanism to the “nuts and bolts of it, we should expect that it will move a little slower.”

While in the interim period countries will continue to work on the scheme as they have been, without an agreement, a first for the negotiations, there is still a certain amount of guessing about where action on deforestation moves from here.

“No one really knows [where we stand] – we’re breaking new ground really,” said Leggett. “Our emphasis and the general momentum of many observers is to start moving the debate beyond the UNFCCC negotiations on REDD+ to try and tackle the broader questions related to drivers of deforestation.”

The drivers of deforestation were another contentious issue postponed to discussions at COP19, and Leggett stresses that cutting the demand for unsustainable commodities will need to be dealt with next year.

Experts say discussions on REDD+ are dependent on progress in wider negotiations process (Source: UNFCCC/Flickr)

Symptoms of a wider debate

Ultimately the REDD+ discussions are part of a wider process, and the divide between developed and the developing world surfaces in negotiations.

Developing countries are concerned that limiting their use of forestry could hamper their development opportunities – a similar argument that is used in many of the negotiation tracks.

And like so many other issues under the UNFCCC, the REDD+ scheme depends on reliable and sufficient funding from the developed world.

Without this, the incentive to conserve forests will simply not be there.

“It actually surprises me that developing countries are not losing interest,” said Brickell. “They are being asked to shift their development paradigm and yet they are not sure they are going to have the money on the table a couple of years down the line.”

Following a disappointing two weeks on finance, countries must now come up with a framework to scale climate finance up to the $100 billion a year by 2020, pledged at Copenhagen in 2009.

“The finance of REDD+ is tied into the larger discussions on finance, which anyone who follows the negotiations knows are moving very slowly,” said Roberts. “A lot of this is not the fault of the particular parties; it is the economic and political climate at the moment.

“It is not easy to commit to large amounts of money when you are facing economic issues at home. The Parties also need to come to an agreement over increased mitigation ambition, especially for developed country Parties. So far, little progress has been made on this.”

He added that negotiators could move as far forward as they want on the REDD+ discussions but unless progress is made on a global climate deal, there would be nothing for the scheme to feed into.

“We knew going into Doha that most of the low hanging fruit with REDD+ had been harvested already,” said Carbarle.

“Progress to date on REDD+ has outpaced perhaps all other tracks of the complex UNFCCC negotiation.  Future progress on REDD+ will now be much more dependent upon the progress on key issues within the overall UNFCCC negotiations.”

Read more on: Climate finance | Climate politics | COP18 | Nature | | | |