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Q&A: REDD in Bonn, June 2011

REDD on the agenda in Bonn, June 2011The latest round of UN climate meetings is currently taking place in Bonn, Germany. REDD is on the agenda in several parts of the meeting. Here is REDD-Monitor’s attempt to explain what is on the agenda regarding REDD during the meetings in Bonn over the next two weeks.

It will be interesting at the end of the two weeks of meetings to see how much progress has been made on these issues.

What are the meetings in Bonn?

The 34th session of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), the second part of the fourteenth session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA) and the second part of the sixteenth session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP).

SBI, SBSTA, AWG-LCA and AWG-KP. What do these groups do?

UNFCCC explains each of these groups as follows:

  • The SBI gives advice to the Conference of Parties (COP) on “all matters concerning the implementation of the Convention”.
  • SBSTA’s task is “to provide the COP with advice on scientific, technological and methodological matters. Two key areas of work in this regard are promoting the development and transfer of environmentally-friendly technologies, and conducting technical work to improve the guidelines for preparing national communications and emission inventories.”
  • AWG-LCA: “At its thirteenth session, the Conference of the Parties (COP), by its decision 1/CP.13 (the Bali Action Plan), launched a comprehensive process to enable the full, effective and sustained implementation of the Convention through long-term cooperative action, now, up to and beyond 2012, in order to reach an agreed outcome and adopt a decision at its fifteenth session.”
  • AWG-KP: “To discuss future commitments for industrialized countries under the Kyoto Protocol, the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol established a working group in December 2005 called the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP).”

A decision, at COP-15? That was 2009, in Copenhagen. There was no decision, was there?

Er, no. There wasn’t a decision at COP-16 either. And there isn’t going to be one at COP-17, at least according to what Christiana Figueres (the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC) said at the press conference before the meetings started earlier this week. Even if there was an agreement in Durban (which there won’t be), it would have to be ratified by three-quarters of the parties before the end of 2012 in order to avoid a “regulatory gap” (the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires at the end of 2012). “We would assume that there is no time to do that between Durban and the end of 2012,” Figueres said, in response to a question from Reuters journalist, Gerard Wynn.

REDD will not function as a carbon trading mechanism without an international decision to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, because without an agreement on a global emissions cap there will be little demand for carbon credits. One of the arguments in favour of carbon trading is that it is supposed to help achieve more rigorous targets (presumably by providing a loophole, to make the regulation look more attractive to polluting industry). Currently there is no evidence whatsoever that this is happening. REDD is one of the few areas that’s moving forward at the UN discussions – there is little or no progress on establishing meaningful action to address climate change. In effect, the UN is designing the loopholes into the regulatory framework, in the full knowledge that there is no regulatory framework. It’s cap and trade, without the cap.

So, what is on the REDD agenda in Bonn?

The SBSTA agenda on REDD. involves the following:

20. In accordance with decision 1/CP.16, the SBSTA will initiate a work programme on the following matters:[17]

(a) Identifying land use, land-use change and forestry activities in developing countries, in particular those that are linked to the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, identifying the associated methodological issues related to estimating emissions and removals resulting from these activities, and assessing the potential contribution of these activities to the mitigation of climate change, and reporting on the findings and outcomes of this work to the COP at its eighteenth session;

(b) Developing modalities relating to paragraph 71(b) and (c) and guidance relating to paragraph 71(d) of that decision, for consideration by the COP at its seventeenth session;

(c) Developing, as necessary, modalities for measuring, reporting and verifying anthropogenic forest-related emissions by sources and removals by sinks, forest carbon stocks, and forest carbon stock and forest-area changes resulting from the implementation of the activities referred to in paragraph 70 of that decision, consistent with any guidance on measuring, reporting and verifying nationally appropriate mitigation actions by developing country Parties agreed by the COP, taking into account methodological guidance in accordance with decision 4/CP.15, for consideration by the COP at its seventeenth session.

[17] As contained in appendix II to decision 1/CP.16.

Meanwhile, the REDD text from Cancun, includes the following for the AWG-LCA:

77. Requests the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention to explore financing options for the full implementation of the results-based actions[8] referred to in paragraph 73 above and to report on progress made, including any recommendations for draft decisions on this matter, to the Conference of the Parties at its seventeenth session;

[8] These actions require national monitoring systems.

What does all this mean?

Good question. Let’s start with the SBSTA. Point (a) includes four items:

  1. Identify land use, land-use change and forestry activities in developing countries, in particular those that are linked to the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation

    This in itself is an enormous task. In any country, there may be several drivers of deforestation. The drivers will vary depending on the region of the country. In some areas the driver may be the palm oil industry, or logging. In others it might be the pulp and paper industry, or mining. The drivers of deforestation may vary depending on the time-scale used as well as the size of area looked at. Swidden cultivation may, in some areas, appear to be a driver of deforestation, over a short time-scale and at a local level. But the activity may have intensified as a result of less forest being available, in turn a result of the expansion of industrial tree plantations, say. Whether SBSTA will uncover the underlying drivers of deforestation is not clear – particularly when many governments would prefer to blame “shifting cultivators” for deforestation, rather than looking at the impact of industrial tree plantations and land concessions (which bring with them the potential for corruption, as well as legitimate income for governments).
  2. identifying the associated methodological issues related to estimating emissions and removals resulting from these activities

    Again, this is no small task. Measuring the amount of carbon in forests is extremely complex and the room for error is large. Meanwhile, the focus on carbon is controversial. As Bolivia pointed out at the start of the meetings in Bonn, there are other issues to be considered.
  3. assessing the potential contribution of these activities to the mitigation of climate change

    I assume that this means the potential contribution of stopping the expansion of these activities to the mitigation of climate change, because the vast majority of land use, land-use change and forestry activities lead to increased emissions. In any case, the assessment will depend on how accurate the estimates in part 2 were.
  4. reporting on the findings and outcomes of this work to the COP at its eighteenth session

    That’s in 18 month’s time, at the end of 2012. An interesting question is who will actually carry out these studies to identify the activities “linked to the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation” and how the outcomes will actually be reported. One possibility would be a 1,000 page report, that no one would ever read, with a two-page summary highlighting the politically acceptable parts of the research. In any case, this agenda item is unlikely to be a high priority in Bonn, because the report date is well in the future.

Point (b) of the SBSTA agenda is shorter, but no simpler:

    (b) Developing modalities relating to paragraph 71(b) and (c) and guidance relating to paragraph 71(d) of that decision, for consideration by the COP at its seventeenth

Here are the various paragraphs referred to in SBSTA’s agenda point (b):

71 b) A national forest reference emission level and/or forest reference level or, if appropriate, as an interim measure, subnational forest reference emission levels and/or forest reference levels, in accordance with national circumstances, and with provisions contained in decision 4/CP.15, and with any further elaboration of those provisions adopted by the Conference of the Parties;

71 c) A robust and transparent national forest monitoring system for the monitoring and reporting of the activities referred to in paragraph 70 above, with, if appropriate, subnational monitoring and reporting as an interim measure, in accordance with national circumstances, and with the provisions contained in decision 4/CP.15, and with any further elaboration of those provisions agreed by the Conference of the Parties;

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

The most useful definition of the word “modalities” that I found is the following: “The ceremonial forms, protocols, or conditions that surround formal agreements or negotiations.”

So point (b) of the SBSTA agenda is crucial to the way REDD will look when it is presented at COP-17 in Durban. Which explains why 48 NGOs wrote a letter about it: “Civil Society Recommendations for the SBSTA Agenda”.

Under paragraph 71 (b) SBSTA will come up with a way (or ways) of calculating the level of forest loss (or emissions from the forest loss) so that reductions in emissions from deforestation can be compared against this level and the reduction estimated. This is the “baseline” question.

Greenpeace emphasises the importance of this issue:

The decisions made on reference levels will in large part determine whether REDD will strengthen or weaken the global effort to avert catastrophic climate change.

In April 2011, Greenpeace produced a “Greenpeace position on Reference Levels for REDD” (pdf file 268.3 kB).

UPDATE – 8 June 2011: The Meridian Institute produced a report for the Norwegian Government on reference levels: “Modalities for REDD+ Reference Levels: Technical and Procedural Issues” (pdf file 845.7 kB).

Under paragraph 71 (c) SBSTA will decide on which system (or systems) are acceptable for monitoring forest loss.

Under paragraph 71 (d) SBSTA will decide how governments report on how they are implementing the safeguards in the Cancun REDD text. This is the clause that Kevin Conrad infamously weakened in Cancun by removing the words “A system for monitoring and informing the Convention”. There’s a long discussion about this here: “How Kevin Conrad dismissed NGO requests not to weaken safeguards in the REDD text in Cancun.”

Point (c) of the SBSTA agenda involves more modalities, this time for measuring, reporting and verifying (MRV) the carbon stored in forests. Global Witness pointed out the importance of MRV relating to more than just carbon in this report from December 2009: “Building Confidence in REDD – Monitoring Beyond Carbon”. REDD-net also produced an information sheet on “Monitoring, Reporting and Verification of social and development issues”.

OK, that’s SBSTA. What about AWG-LCA?

The AWG-LCA is to look into financing options for REDD and report at COP-17 in Durban. There is also a AWG-LCA contact group with informal consultations on REDD+ facilitated by Antonio Gabriel La Viña from the Philippines. IISD reported the following discussion during yesterday’s AWG-LCA contact group meeting:

TUVALU expressed concern with the manner in which consultations on REDD+ were undertaken in Cancun, highlighting that no contact group meetings were convened to consider the issue or approve conclusions or documents. Stressing the need for transparency and inclusiveness, he proposed, supported by BOLIVIA and NICARAGUA, that REDD+ discussions should be held in a contact group, rather than in a spinoff group or informal consultations, to ensure the involvement of indigenous peoples and other stakeholders, and that facilitators should be selected from Annex I and non-Annex I countries that have no material or financial interest in REDD+ outcomes. AWG-LCA Chair Reifsnyder noted that REDD+ includes more than just REDD+ financing, which is why an informal group has been proposed to consider REDD+ issues broadly.

Where can I find out more about REDD in the Bonn meetings?

FIELD (Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development) has produced a “Guide for REDD-plus negotiators”, which was updated in May 2011 and is also available in French and Spanish. IISD produces notes of all the UN climate meetings – the Bonn meeting home page is here: “UN Climate Change Conference June 2011”. And the entire event is covered on the UNFCCC webcast page.

REDD-Monitor will try to follow the negotiations (from a distance) and will report on any major decisions made regarding REDD.

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  1. Papua New Guinea responded to Tuvalu’s intervention on the need for transparency in the AWG-LCA by saying that Tuvalu did not have enough trees to be entitled to have an opinion on REDD. As a result, CAN International awarded PNG second place Fossil of the Day as a result.

    SBSTA and SBI made no progress in the first two days because of on-going disputes about the agenda.

  2. In other words, they’re rearranging the REDD deck-chairs whilst the islands are sinking. Nice.

  3. On 7 June 2011, Bolivia released a statement from Bonn that included this section on Forests:

    Forests at Bonn Negotiations

    “We also need a clear position in relation to the issue of forests. Forests are integral to the lives of millions and an essential part of the world’s natural system. We cannot spend the money that we have now, a very small amount of money, trying to measure the amount of carbon that forests store in order to prepare the conditions for a future carbon market in the forest.” Ambassador Solon said.

    “What we need to do is direct that small amount of resources that we have to preserve forests now. The key issue is to develop and implement key actions now, and not in 8 years when there might be a carbon market, but right now in order to preserve the forests today so that they can continue living and giving life,” Ambassador Solon said.

  4. Dear Chris

    Thanks for your insightful analysis.

    However I fear the UNFCCC negotiations are skirting around acknowledging and discussing the most obvious driver of forest deterioration and loss.
    In the following comment on the Greenpeace document on reference levels, I have tried to highlight this problem:

    “The GP document rightly warns against using inflated (fictitious) baselines, which is exactly what many governments have done in relation to their claimed overall emission reduction targets (including South Africa). It also makes a welcome reference to the need for all countries to limit their financial and demand-side contribution to deforestation to zero, but does not offer any details.

    Although it states “what is needed is a system that will curb all major drivers of deforestation and degradation as quickly and equitably as possible”, there is no reference to the rich-country over consumption of products derived directly and indirectly from forests, which must be the single greatest contributor to global forest loss, including remaining forests in developed countries such as Canada and Sweden.

    The point is that reference levels for the consumption of forest products should rather be established, and targets to reduce consumption applied in order to cut the usage of products that causes excessive logging and the conversion of forests into plantations of industrial crops such as sugar cane.

    Monitoring imports and exports of carbon intensive commodities between industrialised countries and forest regions would be a lot easier and cheaper than trying to measure and compare carbon levels in forests, and could be implemented virtually immediately as opposed to it taking several years to obtain reliable figures for carbon level changes in forest countries.

    I am not advocating that forests should not be monitored, but satellite imagery analysis with the odd spot check on the ground for verification purposes can provide the information required. Through this approach (also proposed by GP) intact forest landscapes (IFLs) can also be monitored for the impacts of shifting subsistence agriculture on forests, although this can often be linked to the displacement of rural communities caused by other industry driven land-use changes, including by wildlife conservation!

    Needless to say, reducing the global consumption of forest products including derivatives like paper and biomass-based fuels can also be incentivised through more realistic pricing that includes all social and environmental costs as well as an energy tax to take into account emissions from processing and transportation.

    Finally, it must be stressed that an effective strategy for reducing global forest loss will not require any form of carbon offsetting or trading of carbon credits. Also, the trickery of using FAO ‘forest’ terminology to substitute monoculture tree plantations for forests as in “enhancing carbon stocks” will not be necessary if the high consumption driven by capitalist business interests and banks can be brought down to a genuinely sustainable level.”

    I would welcome any comments from R-M’s readers.

    Best wishes
    Wally Menne

  5. @ Wally,

    I agree. There should be very much greater focus on the supply (and financing) of the four commodities (pulp, palm oil cattle and soy) – and consumption of their derivatives (not only in Europe and North America) – which seem to be the main drivers of “REDD” emissions from tropical forest and particularly those from the two countries (Brazil and Indonesia) which probably account for two thirds of those emissions. Greenpeace has shown how effective targeted exposés can be. More of the same please – while stocks last!

    Official statistics of bilateral trade are published monthly by most major importing and exporting countries. Only a few of those countries charge a fee for that data.

    It is very easy to show from UN Comtrade’s annual statistics that Indonesia, Malaysia, PNG etc do not need to destroy their peoples’ forests to either secure economic growth or alleviate poverty – wood-based products and palm oil accounted for only a small part of the increase in those countries’ export revenues last decade (and that increase was much greater than such improvements in quality of life as those countries rural populations might be experiencing as a consequence).

  6. @ James Hewitt and @ Wally Menne

    Of course both of you are absolutely right – but the problem is, as others on this site have rightly pointed out – the whole point of REDD is such that rich countries can pretend to the world that something is being done about climate change, but without having to make any changes whatsoever to rich country lifestyles.

    So this presumably is why the critical issue of reducing consumption of forest-destroying products has never seriously been considered in the international REDD discussions. Heaven forbid that we should have to think about, for example, getting palm oil out of Tesco ready-meals – much easier to kick hundreds of millions of poor Third World slash-and-burn farmers off their subsistence farms.