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The Cancun agreement on REDD: Four questions and four answers

In Cancun, after two weeks of tense UN climate meetings, negotiators came up with a firm agreement. They decided unequivocally to meet again next year in Durban.

There are, of course, over 100 pages of mind-numbingly dull text in the Cancun Agreements, including an agreement on REDD.

But many key decisions are postponed until COP-17 in Durban (or later).

The “REDD text” is part of the Outcome of the Ad Hoc Working Group on long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention. Here are four questions and REDD-Monitor’s attempt at some answers.

REDD-Monitor welcomes comments, more questions and further clarification and discussion of these issues.

1. Will the Cancun Agreements help address climate change?

No. The UN negotiators behave as if the problem of addressing climate change can be postponed from one year to the next, without the problem becoming more serious in the meantime. Paragraph 4 of the AWG/LCA outcome explains that it recognises that “deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required according to science” in order to limit global warming to less than 2°C and that “Parties should take urgent action”. But no “urgent action” on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels is agreed to in the LCA text.

Paragraph 4 also recognises that a review is needed “on the basis of the best available scientific knowledge, including in relation to a global average temperature rise of 1.5°C.” Further details of this review are available in paragraph 138.

When I read paragraph 4, my first reaction was to ask when the review would be carried out. After all, if “urgent action” is needed to meet the 2°C goal, the necessary action will be considerably more urgent if the goal is 1.5°C. Paragraph 138 explains that a periodical review is to be carried out to “review the adequacy of the long-term global goal referred to in paragraph 4 above”. Paragraph 139 (b) explains that “The first review should start in 2013 and should be concluded by 2015.”

So, in five years time, we will know whether the UNFCCC thinks that its target for “acceptable” global warming is out by a factor of 25%. By which time the action will presumably be so urgent that we should have already taken it.

The current non-legally binding commitments to emissions reductions under the Cancun Agreements leave us with pratically no chance of limiting global warming to 2°C. As Professor Kevin Anderson, the director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the UK points out in a viewpoint article for BBC News, in the climate negotiations,

“it is assumed the problem will be the same next year as this. The science, however, tells a very different story. Next year, the problem will have become worse – as it has done each and every day that we have failed to reduce emissions since the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992… There is currently nothing substantive to suggest we are heading for anything other than a 4°C rise in temperature, possibly as early as the 2060s.”

The warm welcome that the Cancun agreement on REDD received seems particularly inappropriate in the context of this failure to address climate change. A 4°C rise in temperature would be disastrous for the Amazon forests and deforestation in the Amazon could create a tipping point that would result in yet more warming.

Back to questions ^^

2. What is REDD, as agreed in Cancun, and how has this changed since Bali?

REDD is described in paragraph 70 of the AWG/LCA outcome:

70. Encourages developing country Parties to contribute to mitigation actions in the forest sector by undertaking the following activities, as deemed appropriate by each Party and in accordance with their respective capabilities and national circumstances:
(a) Reducing emissions from deforestation;
(b) Reducing emissions from forest degradation;
(c) Conservation of forest carbon stocks;
(d) Sustainable management of forest;
(e) Enhancement of forest carbon stocks;

Although “REDD-plus” is not mentioned anywhere in the REDD text, the “plus” part of REDD-plus is included. Points (a) and (b) refer to REDD. Points (c), (d) and (e) refer to the “plus” part of REDD-plus.

The only important difference between this text and that agreed in Bali is in point (c). The Bali Action Plan referred to “the role of conservation”. This has now been reduced to “conservation of forest carbon stocks”. At least in theory, biodiversity is included in “conservation”, but not necessarily in “conservation of forest carbon stocks”. The concern is that forests are viewed simply as “carbon sticks” rather than ecosystems. However, this may be addressed by a safeguard in annex 1 paragraph 2 (e) (see below).

The concerns from the Bali Action Plan remain:

    (c). “conservation” may sound good, but the history of the establishment of national parks includes large scale evictions and loss of rights for indigenous peoples and local communities;
    (d) “sustainable management of forest” could include subsidies to commercial logging operations in old-growth forests, indigenous peoples’ territory or in villagers’ community forests;
    (e) “enhancement of forest carbon stocks” could result in conversion of land (including forests) to industrial tree plantations, with serious implications for biodiversity, forests and local communities.

For a discussion about whether indigenous peoples’ rights are adequately in the AWG/LCA outcome, see question 4, below.

The last of these concerns might be addressed, by a safeguard in annex 1 paragraph 2 (e) which states:

Actions are consistent with the conservation of natural forests and biological diversity, ensuring that actions referred to in paragraph 70 of this decision are not used for the conversion of natural forests, but are instead used to incentivize the protection and conservation of natural forests and their ecosystem services, and to enhance other social and environmental benefits; [1]

[1] Taking into account the need for sustainable livelihoods of indigenous peoples and local communities and their interdependence on forests in most countries, reflected in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as the International Mother Earth Day.

This text is buried in annex 1 and in a footnote. As with all the “safeguards” in annex 1 this paragraph is only to be “promoted and supported”. How this works in practice, and what happens if governments are in breach of this and other safeguards, remains to be seen.

Back to questions ^^

3. Is carbon trading included as a possible way of financing REDD?

Yes and no. There is no explicit text in the REDD text (Section III, part C, pages 10-12 of the AWG/LCA outcome) about using market mechanisms to finance REDD.

However, the REDD text is part of Section III, which looks at “Enhanced action on mitigation”. Section III is divided into five parts, as follows:

    A. Mitigation commitments or actions by developed countries
    B. NAMAs: Nationally appropriate mitigation actions by developing countries
    C. REDD
    D. Finance of mitigation actions – “including opportunities for using markets”
    E. Economic and social consequences of response measures

REDD is a mitigation action. As such, Section D would appear to apply to REDD. But a decision on financing and market mechanisms is postponed until COP-17 in Durban, 2011:

80. Decides to consider the establishment, at its seventeenth session, of one or more market-based mechanisms to enhance the cost-effectiveness of, and to promote, mitigation actions …

Paragraph 77 of the REDD text also refers to financing (and postpones any decision to COP-17). The LCA is requested to “explore financing options for the full implementation of the results-based actions” to be carried out under REDD.

The Cancun agreement has something for everyone. If you are opposed to financing REDD through carbon markets, then you can be happy that the REDD text makes no mention of carbon markets. If you are in favour of financing REDD through carbon markets, then you can be happy that the REDD text does not exclude carbon markets and remains open for a decision in favour of a potential REDD market mechanism next year.

Back to questions ^^

4. Are indigenous peoples’ rights recognised and protected in the agreement?

No. At least not adequately. “Safeguards” are demoted to annex I of the AWG/LCA outcome. Paragraph 69 (page 10) refers to safeguards but states only that they should be “promoted and supported”. These weasel words were introduced in Copenhagen and are woefully inadequate to protect indigenous peoples’ rights, as REDD-Monitor noted a year ago:

To meet the “safeguard”, and therefore qualify for REDD funding, a government can say that it is supporting respect for the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples. Holding a meeting in the capital city and inviting five indigenous representatives would probably qualify. The word “promoted” is even weaker.

The principle of free, prior and informed consent is not included in the text. Instead, the LCA “requests developing country Parties” to ensure the “full and effective participation of relevant stakeholders, inter alia indigenous peoples and local communities”.

Neither is there any mechanism for monitoring whether safeguards are being complied with, or what the consequences of breaching the safeguards might be. Instead, in paragraph 71 (d) governments are requested to develop

A system for providing information on how the safeguards referred to in annex I to this decision are being addressed and respected throughout the implementation of the activities referred to in paragraph 70, while respecting sovereignty;

Things do not improve when we look at annex 1. True, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is mentioned in the annex. But, it is a “safeguard” that “should be promoted and supported”, rather than it being obligatory for governments to comply with UNDRIPs. Even worse, the annex only notes that the UN General Assembly “has adopted” the UNDRIPs. While the REDD text refers to indigenous peoples rights, it does not protect those rights. A weaker way of referring to indigenous peoples rights would surely not be possible.

Leave a Reply


  1. @Teresa Flores – Thanks! You write that “REDD is not taken over by carbon markets,” which is true, but only sort of. The Cancun agreement on REDD just postpones the decision on how REDD is to be funded. And many of the key REDD actors (like the World Bank, for example) are heavily promoting REDD carbon trading.

  2. Chris ,it is obvious that most people are either so stupid or just are commonly blind to know what this fiasco REDD and now REDD+ is.
    Teresa god bless you REDD and + is a proposed formula to secure countries of forests , so the World Bank can calculate those countries and create a Global Carbon Market…with a World Carbon Bank.
    It has nothing to do with forest protection as its name suggests, it justs uses Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) as a sales pitch to con all the simple minds and virtually brain wash who ever is listening.The UNFCCC and World bank agendas are quiet clear to ever who takes time to understand it.

  3. As most serious experts in carbon mitigation financing know (and I am not talking here about the failed second-rate financiers that have inveigled their way into the management and boards of greedy self-seeking ‘NGOs’ like EDF, TNC and CI), inclusion of REDD in carbon markets would be the quickest way to destroy those markets, and make tens of billions of investment in carbon-related assets vanish into thin air, as the unit value of carbon would sink when all those dirt-cheap, ‘hot-air’, REDD credits came onto the market.

    Arguably, whilst this would probably cause some immediate harm, particularly in detracting from investment in renewable energy, it might nevertheless be in the best long term interests of the planet, as we would then HAVE to start looking at proper solutions, such as carbon taxes and government regulation of energy use.


  4. Here’s how John Vidal describes the carbon markets and REDD issue in the Guardian:

    a fundamental split remains between countries over whether to allow developed countries to buy forest credits as offsets rather than reducing their emissions at home. References to markets were struck out, but as one senior diplomat said: “Because it does not explicitly say ‘no markets’, in legal terms it is still open for them.”

  5. Hey Chris:

    Thanks for the article, it has a substantial and powerful critique. It is worth mentioning the Article of George Soros last Monday in the Guardian, ‘Grounds for hope for the Climate Change Agenda’. ‘Hope’, because the door of carbon markets was not shut and remains open. The threat of a real taken over from financial institutions and private interests over our forests is real and inminent.
    As you imply in your critique, forests are good but for the wrong reasons: not because the biodiversity they contain, and not because they produce life-sustaining processes; but because it happens that they store CO2. While the CBD struggles to survive and get the funding needed to implement mechanisms that are three times more important for the global south than the emission reductions targets, or the procrustean bed in which developed countries are trying to embroil developing ones… You know, if you ask a teenager in the U.S. to point in the map where are all these CO2 emissions coming from, he or she would point at China in the map; although the fact that U.S. per capita emissions stand at 19.2 versus the Chinese 4.9 metric tonnes.

  6. @ Mattia:

    I completely agree with you. My point regarding the teenager was to remark how the media portrays China as the biggest climatic threat, so public perceptions are certainly driven in the wrong direction intentionally; whereas the senator will claim the same out of political and electoral reasons.

  7. and if you were to ask a teenager in China he or she would declare the USA….the most important fact is that they are both on par.
    A important question is how would China and the USA be affected by Climate Change if say 10,000,000 hectares of rainforests would suddenly disappeard from the planet to moonscape?
    Why is this solution of a theoretical physic explanation not debated accuratley?

  8. @Don:

    I don’t think the teenager in China would answer the same, but in any case that is not the core issue.
    When you say they are both on par is not true; Chinese emissions started picking during the 90s, long time after the U.S.; you will probably suffer from them in 20 years; in the meantime, right now, we are all suffering the emissions accumulated during the 20th century, namely Europe and the U.S. Now everyone want to say China is a threat…

  9. Yes, but at least China has pledged to cut 40-45% of its emissions by 2020. China also plans to start emission trading scheme in Shanghai by 2015. I think China is moving ahead some developed countries that didn’t make even a pledge.

  10. “Pledge” are you serious!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Did not Japan make admission , beg , convinced the world that Nucular Power was “SAFE”, then in Kyoto to eventually create a protocol which became a UNFCCCC treaty for the world to pledge and pay for.

    Then they started throwing around BS in regards to forest prtoection.

    The Planet is the biggest mess because of the idiots proclaiming to manage it.

  11. @ Mayke Santos. when was the last time you drove from the North to the South of China.
    When you do , check out their river systems , while you are ate it try and find some bio diversity or count the birds, to say the less.

  12. @ Don.
    I have to disagree with your labeling of efforts in establishing appropriate international policy as BS. Yeah, it’s ridiculous how negotiations keep pushing action back and back when carbon levels are ever increasing, but the world runs on money, no? How else would nations be encouraged to save the planet? What would the incentives be? Economies don’t care about human justice, as terrible that is.

  13. @ Mika ,
    The only BS is for anyone to ever think that forest protection could ‘now ‘ be a International responsibility that could act and perform to protect the planet.
    Get off your high horse its simple the G8 or G20 structure is a failure , how can this same mentality expect to protect the worlds forests when the same organisation encourages logging and have terrible cost.
    Money?Who has it?Anyone you know?
    Please don’t be stupid.