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Bonn climate talks tackle emissions verification stumbling block

Should emissions reductions claimed by countries be verified by an independent international body?

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A compromise involving joint, international analysis of reported emission reductions is now on the table, providing draft text that could be decided at the next round of climate talks later this year in Warsaw. CIFOR/Marco Simola

A compromise involving joint, international analysis of reported emission reductions is now on the table, providing draft text that could be decided at the next round of climate talks later this year in Warsaw. CIFOR/Marco Simola

BONN, Germany (24 June, 2013) – Negotiators at Bonn climate talks have whittled away at controversial policy details related to verifying carbon emissions, paving the way for major progress on REDD+ at the U.N. climate summit in Warsaw in November.

Debates over verification under REDD+ – a U.N.-backed framework for reducing emissions caused by deforestation and forest degradation – stalled during international climate change negotiations in Doha, Qatar, last year.

Disagreement arose over whether emissions reductions claimed by countries should be verified by an independent international body or by individual countries. Since actions to reduce emissions in developing countries are voluntary, several countries argued that emissions reductions did not require independent verification.

However, because REDD+ is currently funded largely by official development assistance, donor countries need to assure civil society that public funds are being well spent.

A compromise involving joint, international analysis of reported emission reductions is now on the table, providing draft text that could be decided at the next round of climate talks later this year in Warsaw.

The decision will allow for international review by experts from both developed and developing countries on emission reduction reports when a developed country seeks funding from a developed country to support its emission reductions.


Governments also moved forward on an agreement over national forest monitoring systems and reporting requirements at the meeting of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) in Bonn.

Under the agreement, countries participating in REDD+ will eventually have to report emissions every two years using Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) guidelines, but there will be flexibility for least developed countries. Countries are encouraged to integrate REDD+ elements into current national reporting exercises.

For countries receiving external support for REDD+ activities, the technical contents of biannual reports were discussed. The current proposals include information on how benchmark reference emissions levels (RELs) against which emission reductions are to be measured were set.

RELs are estimates of emissions that would have occurred regardless of REDD+ activities in a country. The reports will also include estimates of forest emissions and removals for the reporting period, demonstrate that methodological approaches remain consistent, information showing consistency with national greenhouse gas inventories is undertaken periodically, provide a detailed account of methods used and a description of institutional roles and responsibilities in measuring, reporting and verifying the results.

A decision is also in the works on the technical review of reference emission levels. The RELs will be subject to international review, and proposals regarding the form the review should take are under consideration.

The proposal sets out the parameters for the review — in particular how transparency and consistency are to be assessed. The reviews will likely make recommendations about improvement of RELs, but will not make judgments or recommendations on domestic policies.

It also sets out procedures for technical assessment of RELs. This involves the composition of the assessment team made up of an expert from a developed country and a developing country.

Decision makers will address the timing and frequency of reviews (one to three times per year) and how to coordinate responses to points raised by the review team.

As yet, there is no clear method of settling disagreements, and at the moment it looks like a second external consultation will be used, but how final resolution will be achieved is uncertain.


Policymakers explored ways climate-focused finance could shift investment patterns towards a low carbon future, including reducing investment risks, the structure of public-private partnerships, the potential for a long-term legally binding agreement and strong domestic financing bodies in recipient countries.

The original intention was that REDD+ should be funded through a market mechanism, which includes carbon offsets (a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases made to compensate for an emission made elsewhere), but due to weak demand in carbon markets following the 2009 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, most funding for the scheme is now dependent on development aid budgets.

This ties aid funds to results-based verification, which must prove measurable improvements have been made — new territory for international development assistance, which poses challenges for both donor and recipient countries.

Under a results-based-verification formula, developing countries would agree to receive development assistance on a conditional basis. If performance falls below expected levels, donor countries that have committed to supply aid to developing countries would disburse less.

How best to govern REDD+ has been discussed for a number of years, and a number of countries argue regularly against markets, while others favor this option. The door is still very much open to a market mechanism, but other options are also being actively explored.

Both market and non-market financial mechanisms were discussed inconclusively. Although financial markets may offer the best option for large volumes of funds to be provided, and for sustainable funding for REDD+, negotiators face many technical hurdles that must be overcome for markets to become a viable choice.


Agriculture currently contributes about 15 to 18 percent of global emissions, and is the principal driver of deforestation. Emissions are rising faster in the developing world than in developed countries, where they are stable or declining.

At the same time, many developing countries rely on increasing agricultural outputs to improve the livelihoods of rural farmers, which have been compromised by increased climate-change related stress.

Food production systems generate high emissions, but reducing these emissions often comes at the cost of food production. International collaboration is required to strike a balance between food security and greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

In Bonn, governments agreed to define the scope of the role of agriculture in the fight against climate change. They have decided to conduct a survey of key stakeholders and concerned governments to assess opportunities for an international agreement that would support both adaptation and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions from the sector.

Countries and observer delegates have been asked to submit observations and to compile them into a document that will support a technical workshop at the Warsaw climate talks. The outcome of this workshop should lead to clearer ideas for actions and drafting text for future negotiations. At the moment, it is expected that this workshop will lead to international collaboration to reducing emissions while supporting improvements in food security.


Another emerging issue in the climate debate, is U.N. work on high-carbon ecosystems, which includes peatlands and mangroves. Efforts to consolidate scientific recommendations for managing ecosystems with high-cabon levels will be reviewed in Warsaw, building on previous workshops on “blue carbon”, or carbon associated with oceanic ecosystems.

Until recently, such high-carbon forests as mangroves and peatlands had not been considered specifically for discussion by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Deforestation rates in tropical peatlands and mangroves are among the highest of any tropical forest ecosystem. Prioritizing them creates opportunities for conservation and will raise awareness that threats to these ecosystems also pose threats to the atmosphere

Workshops are a first step to starting an important conversation on international collaboration to reduce these emissions. At the moment, the UNFCCC will collect technical information from experts to help formulate policies that can be taken to the international level. It is not yet clear how this will lead to decisions or outcomes.

For more information on the issues discussed in this article, please contact Lou Verchot at l.verchot@cgiar.org

This research is part of the Global Comparative Study on REDD+, which forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. It is supported by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, AusAid, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the European Commission.

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