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REDD+ best chance for progress on climate change at Durban, says scientist

“REDD+ offers a better chance for progress than other proposed climate initiatives being discussed at COP17.”

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Photo by Tim Cronin/CIFOR

BOGOR, Indonesia (23 November, 2011)_There is a clear consensus around the forest preserving scheme REDD+ and it offers the best chance for progress on U.N. climate change negotiations to be held in Durban next week, said Louis Verchot, scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research.

“REDD+ offers a better chance for progress than other proposed climate initiatives being discussed at COP17,” said Verchot in an interview (watch the video below).

“Certainly there is a clear consensus around REDD – we’ve been discussing it for 7 years now and we’ve got a number of decisions that are already in place that will allow that to move forward.”

REDD+ is a set of steps designed to use financial incentives in order to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from deforestation and forest degradation. It was first proposed at COP11 in 2005 as a way to tackle issues associated with land use change emissions which, due to their complexity, the Kyoto Protocol could not address.

Many countries including the United States, Japan and Russia have stated that they will not sign up to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol – a scheme focused on emissions reductions – leaving the door wide open for decisions on REDD+ to progress at the negotiations.

While many countries are already implementing REDD+ pilot projects, a number of issues still need to be addressed, such as how REDD will be financed, how carbon emissions will be reported and verified, and how safeguards will be reported and enforced. These will be the focus of negotiations to advance with REDD+ at next week’s meetings.


Countries need long-term funds they can count on

“As it now stands,” said Verchot, “there is an agreement on the part of developing countries to implement REDD+ and reduce emissions, and on the part of the developed countries to provide financial and technical assistance to achieve this. But there is not yet an agreement on the mechanisms for how that’s going to happen – whether it will be market based or publicly financed – and there is no agreement on the magnitude of the assistance or the goal for emissions reductions.

“A number of countries are putting in place REDD actions…they want to know what sort of funds they can count on and what’s the plan for the long term.”

“At Durban we would like to [see an agreement on] how the money is going to get into the hands of governments and communities to implement the program and how we are going to ensure the sustainability of the financial stream so this is not just a 5 year project, but a long-term component of the solution to climate change. “

There is also some concern that, in the absence of a second phase of the Kyoto protocol, market mechanisms may not work in a world where there are no emissions reductions obligations. Verchot assures however, that there are legally binding emissions reductions agreements already in place.

“Europe already has legally binding unilateral decisions about emissions reduction, the North-eastern states of the US have committed to emissions reductions and California will allow credits from REDD into their emissions reductions scheme. The question is whether we use markets to help implement (emissions reductions) and whether REDD can tap into those markets and benefit from them.”

How do you measure something that does not happen?

Quantifying carbon emissions has been an ongoing area of research – in the case of REDD+, carbon emissions refer to those that do not happen i.e. emissions that would have happened in a business-as-usual scenario without REDD+.

This can then be calculated in two different ways: one focused on total carbon dioxide emitted due to deforestation, not counting any uptake by trees that continue to grow; or as the net balance between carbon dioxide that is currently being emitted by deforestation and forest degradation and that which is being taken up by the forests.  While this might seem like an arcane difference, it affects how you set up accounting systems and how you reward emissions reductions.

“We would like to see some clarity on this issue,” says Verchot, “and we have put on the table an idea about a tiered approach which is already in the draft text that’s going to the negotiators.”

The idea behind a tiered approach is that there is a simple means to estimating business as usual emissions that all countries could do with existing data, but this approach is not particularly accurate,” explains Verchot.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization is already collecting deforestation data from countries but those data are not as actively updated as would be required for a compliance mechanism.

“But as countries put in place national forest inventories and begin collecting spatial data on their forests, they could start simply and progressively set their reference emissions level with greater certainty and less error, which would then allow them to get into the REDD+ mechanism, said Verchot.

“We would like to see a minimum standard of what would be required for a country to enter into the REDD+ mechanism as well as the steps that countries could go through to get up to what’s considered good practice for this carbon accounting.”

Safeguards must be reported and enforced

Safeguards are a series of conditions that REDD+ must respect so community rights, biodiversity conservation and governance are not compromised under this mechanism. “While all these safeguards have been agreed upon, there is still disagreement as to how they are going to be reported and enforced”, says Verchot.

“Countries have agreed that they actually need to report to the UNFCCC on how they are implementing these safeguards, but there is no agreement on what that reporting consists of. How will it be monitored, does it need to be quantitative and do remediated measures need to be foreseen if we find we are not achieving a certain level of performance?”

Will Durban be a “summit of small steps”?

What seems to be most important, says Verchot, is ensuring that countries who are already implementing REDD+ will see some progress on these issues at the forthcoming negotiations.

“Countries are implementing REDD+ already. They need some assurance that this is not going to all disappear in the rhetoric and discussions.

While we may not get full closure on all of these issues, we at least need to have some concrete proposals on the table and a deadline for these activities to start being functional on the ground.”

CIFOR will have a team of experienced writers covering the climate change negotiations and events of COP17 to be held in Durban, South Africa from November 28 to December 9. Follow stories related to forests, REDD+, food security and climate change on CIFOR’s Forests Blog and @CIFOR_forests on twitter. Get involved in Forest Day 5, the biggest global platform on forestry and climate change, by tracking the hashtag #FD5 on twitter

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