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Countries draft “global business plan” for planet at climate summit, Figueres says

The UNFCCC described climate negotiations as a 'mammoth undertaking'.

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Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary at the UNFCCC. Photo courtesy of Neil Palmer/CIAT

DURBAN, South Africa (5 December, 2011)_The chief of the U.N. agency on climate change described the annual global warming summit as a giant effort to write “a global business plan for the planet”.

“That is a mammoth undertaking,” Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary at the UNFCCC, said yesterday at the closing plenary of Forest Day 5, held alongside the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP) in Durban, South Africa. The task at hand is to “bring down mitigation (costs) quickly, increase adaptation and resilience quickly and accept that the existence of poverty around the world is completely unacceptable in this day and age,” she said.

Countries under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which now number 194 countries, have met annually since 1995 to discuss ways to reduce greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere and slow global warming. This year, negotiators have struggled to determine what will happen after the Kyoto Protocol, the existing climate treaty that exempts developing countries from having legally-binding emission cut targets, expires in 2012.

“The good news is yes they agree that there is going to be a second commitment period (of Kyoto), yes they agree that they don’t want a gap” between the two periods, said Figueres, updating Forest Day 5 participants on COP progress after a week of negotiations. The discussions now revolve around how to put the second commitment period in place.

The European Union has said that they would only agree for a second commitment period under Kyoto if Durban delivered a road map to draw the next legally-binding climate framework that will include all countries, albeit with different commitments and timelines for developing countries (see video here). Other countries, such as Japan and Canada, have said they won’t agree to a second commitment of Kyoto.

The future climate agreement is expected to include Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, or REDD+, which aims to reward developing countries that protect their forests. A latest draft text on financing that will go forward to a plenary session for approval have postponed a decision on REDD+ financing to next year, calling for a review on the sources of funding for specific activities under the scheme.

Another draft text from the scientific sub-committee SBSTA was “very weak” on safeguards to protect local communities, indigenous peoples and biodiversity, said Louis Verchot, leading climate change scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). The guidance reduces countries’ safeguards requirements from collecting data and measuring impacts of REDD+ to merely reporting how developers implement measures, he said in an earlier interview.

The text was drafted that way as countries have very little experience on implementing safeguards specifically on REDD+ projects, which have only started to be implemented on the ground in the past few years, said Antonio La Viña, who facilitates REDD+ negotiations at the UN climate summits. “We’re flying blind into this,” he said, adding that it may take one year or longer to gather the experience before detailing the guidance.

This learning curve may be curtailed with lack of certainty on REDD+ financing. Currently, REDD+ developers are hesitant to inform local communities about the scheme, even if it’s part of the safeguards procedure, as they don’t want to raise expectations that could not be fulfilled if long-term financing fails to materialise, experts have said.

The SBSTA draft text also mentions the drivers of deforestation, said La Viña. The sub-committee agreed to hold a broad agenda-setting discussion on agriculture, whose expansion has been identified as putting pressures on forests, in the next COP in Qatar, he said.

For other reports from COP17, visit the blogs of these organizations:
The Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC)

CIFOR Director General Frances Seymour and UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres deliver closing remarks to conclude Forest Day 5. More Forest Day 5 videos

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