Will uncertainty over new climate agreement prolong the REDD+ stalemate?

As negotiators thresh out the finer details of the Durban Platform in Doha, with no meaningful emissions reductions targets until 2015, what will happen to climate mitigation programs that are currently underway, such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+)? Will decisions on forests continue to move forward, or will negotiators keep REDD+ in its current stalemate?

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BOGOR, Indonesia (23 November, 2012)_At the upcoming U.N. international climate change conference (COP18) in Doha, 193 heads of state will meet to discuss the very future of our planet. The ‘Durban Platform,’ one of the few successes of the COP17 conference in Durban, was a potential first step to a more solid agreement that would see both the world’s major emitters and developing countries agree to set emissions reductions targets by 2015 (to take effect in 2020).

However, it remains to be seen whether all 193 countries will take the leap and commit to form a new legally binding climate agreement, especially when support for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol is apparently waning.

As negotiators thresh out the finer details of the Durban Platform in Doha, with no meaningful emissions reductions targets until 2015, what will happen to climate mitigation programs that are currently underway, such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+)?  Will decisions on forests continue to move forward at Doha, or will negotiators keep REDD+ in its current stalemate?

REDD+ at Doha and beyond

An internationally-backed climate mitigation scheme that pays developing countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by reducing deforestation and forest degradation, or REDD+, is moving forward — but slowly. The concern is that without any meaningful commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2015, REDD+ may be hostage to other key decisions at Doha and beyond.

The first is finance. Finding funds to support such a scheme is proving to be a huge undertaking, especially as tackling the economic recession will remain a top priority for many countries in years to come. While many options exist, investors seem unlikely to commit the cash needed in this preliminary stage.  However, as we outline below, with the Green Climate Fund still empty and negotiators no nearer to deciding which countries should make the payments, REDD+ countries are likely to feel nervous about moving forward without the reassurance of long term funding.

The second is impact. REDD+ is designed as a performance-based mechanism, as developing countries will receive financial support contingent on achieving emissions reductions. Going forward, international donors will need to support forest-rich nations as they build their capacity to measure, report and verify (MRV) their carbon emissions reductions — vital to demonstrate impact.  With a consensus on emissions targets still three years away, and the question of long-term financing still unresolved, decisions over the modalities of the system will be vital at Doha to keep REDD ticking along.

The future of climate change financing                                         

REDD+ is being touted as one of the best ways to protect forests and mitigate climate change, yet the long-term financing of this scheme remains uncertain. At this year’s COP18, forest-rich countries will need a clearer signal from the international community that the $30 billion pledged for REDD+ activities between 2010–2012 and the $100 billion pledged annually by 2020 will actually be met.

This places climate change financing at an inflection point: while short-term finance is available, (including for REDD readiness activities), disbursements are slow, and without the guarantee of long-term financing, investment opportunities are scarce. At the same time, there is no adequate and predictable long-term strategy to meet the financial needs of current mitigation policies.

So what are the options going forward? In the near future, most finance for climate change mitigation strategies will be probably be mobilised by the public sector through development aid and other bilateral funds. Financing is therefore likely to be fragmented, and channelled through various agencies. It is also likely to be tied to multiple objectives, in addition to the goal of climate change mitigation, including such issues as poverty alleviation and rural development..

Wealthier forest countries with stronger social and political institutions may opt to self-finance portions of national and international climate change mitigation strategies. Some countries may choose to engage in performance-based agreements with donors and international agencies, such as Norway’s emissions reduction agreementswith Indonesia.

While negotiators decide on a clear long-term strategy, the question over ‘who pays?’ for climate change solutions, here and now, will continue to cause controversy. Should it be developing countries currently undergoing huge economic growth and industrial expansion, or developed countries that have been historically responsible for climate change? Despite the bickering, the continued exploitation of resources is not an option for either party.

A transparent and accountable climate finance mechanism could help break this stalemate — the accurate measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of emissions reductions would reassure REDD+ investors that payments were based on real emissions reduction impacts, while developing countries would gain financial or technical support for their emissions reduction activities. However, MRV is not without its challenges.

Counting carbon to guarantee REDD+ impact

One of the biggest technical challenges facing forested-nations making the leap into climate change mitigation strategies, such as REDD+, is how to accurately monitordeforestation, forest degradation and carbon stocks. Central to the debate has been how to monitor carbon emissions and establishreference emissions levels (RELs);the reference point from which countries can measure their success in reducing carbon emissions. However, to establish RELs, countries must have detailed information on the past, present and potential future state of their forests.

At the UNFCCC negotiations in Durban last December, it was agreed that the stepwise approach — developed by CIFOR and partners — would support countries that lacked detailed forest inventories to participate in REDD+ by allowing them to use simple monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) methods to set their RELs, enabling them to develop more sophisticated and accurate measuring systems over time.

Building on this, negotiators at COP18 in Doha, will hopefully make some key decisions to provide financial and technical support to countries as they try to meet the MRV requirements. The current SBSTA draft text to be submitted for discussion contains many references to the structure of a national system on which there is likely to be decisions at Doha, however decisions on the long term financing and MRV will help move the process move forward.  The question of how countries will report on measures taken to implement the safeguards also has implications for national MRV systems, yet according to a leading U.N negotiator who spoke to CIFOR last week, safeguards will barely make it to the table.

International negotiations on climate change are complex at the best of times, but we have learned since Copenhagen that the world is not likely to achieve a breakthrough in any one meeting. Progress will take time.

Where would REDD+ possibly fit under a new climate agreement? It is far too early to tell.  But in spite of the uncertainty over emissions reductions targets and long-term financing, some countries are still pushing forward with REDD+ in the hope of successfully implementing policies to reduce deforestation, independently of the UNFCCC process. Accelerating the pace of REDD+ negotiations would be one way that the international community could signal that it is serious about addressing the challenges of climate change, and serious about protecting the world’s forest.

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