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“An inability to see the forests for the carbon?” FERN’s report from the Bonn climate meeting

FERN's report from the Bonn climate meetingThe Bonn climate talks in May 2012 were the first negotiations under the Durban Platform, agreed at the Conference of Polluters in December 2011. A recent report by Kate Dooley of FERN outlines how the talks on REDD in Bonn developed.

“The governments of the world are writing a global business plan for the planet,” said Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary to the UNFCCC, in December 2011. The model for this business plan is now clear. In the conclusion of the report from Bonn, Dooley explains that,

“The post-2020 regime is one where developing countries are obliged to take on mitigation targets in order to qualify for climate finance, while the developed world counts these additional reductions towards their own compliance.”

FERN’s Forest Watch Bonn Special Issue (June 2012) is posted in full below. The short report concludes that if the UNFCCC is to stand any chance of addressing runaway climate change, it must turn away from writing a business plan for the planet and towards a plan of action to leave fossil fuels in the ground.

FW Special Report – Bonn climate talks 14–25 May 2012

By Kate Dooley (FERN)
EU Forest Watch Bonn Special Issue June 2012

At the 36th meeting of the subsidiary bodies to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – the SBI and SBSTA[1] – government representatives commenced what will become three years of negotiations on the Durban Platform, the new negotiating track established at the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP). The focus in Bonn was how this track relates to the two negotiating tracks established at COP 15 in Bali in 2007: the ad-hoc working group (AWG) on the Kyoto Protocol, set up to negotiate the second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol, and the AWG on Long-Term Cooperative Action (LCA).

The LCA negotiations in Bonn started with a workshop on “equitable access to sustainable development,” which reminded negotiators that the main pillars of the Convention, equity and common but differentiated responsibilities, still apply in negotiations on the Durban Platform.[2] Yet establishing an agenda for the Durban Platform was not easy; Parties argued about the division of responsibilities, with many governments stating concerns that the new regime represents an attempt to shift responsibilitie for climate mitigation to the developing world. These same concerns resurfaced in other areas of the negotiations where carbon trading as a proposed solution to both mitigation and climate finance was more prevalent than ever.


Negotiations on Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) covered both political discussions on long term finance (in the LCA), and methodological discussions about forest monitoring systems, the drivers of forest loss, and reporting on safeguards under the SBSTA.

No progress was made on the critical issue of international drivers of deforestation, and discussions on further guidance for reporting on safeguards were once again postponed. Much time was spent negotiating methodologies for measuring forest carbon, while discussions on finance revealed disagreement about the source of such finance and the definition of performance and results for REDD+.

International trade drives deforestation

New research[3] presented in Bonn highlighted that over the last two decades there has been a fundamental shift in the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation. The major drivers a few decades ago – local agriculture and population growth – have been replaced by commercial agriculture and commodity-driven trade.[4] Despite this, at the Bonn meeting little time was spent discussing any drivers as Parties were stuck on the issue of the lack of a mandate for the SBSTA (or the UNFCCC) to deal with trade issues. In order to avoid a diversion into a discussion on trade, one way forward would be for governments to agree on a decision which obliges all Parties to take sovereign responsibility to address commodity and trade drivers of forest loss where they emanate from within their own jurisdictions. The EU’s Action Plan for Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) provides a good example of how to do this, and NGOs in Norway have recently highlighted how the Norwegian government could withdraw investments which drive forest destruction.[5]

An inability to see the forests for the carbon?

In the SBSTA discussions, much time was devoted to defining a national forest monitoring system, which resulted in text which narrows this down to monitoring carbon stocks and emission fluxes resulting from REDD+ activities. Given that the primary purpose of a national forest monitoring system is to collect data, it is important that SBSTA recognises the range of data needed to improve forest governance and other conditions to reduce forest loss. Much of this data is also required for existing reporting and management purposes. Discussions on measuring, reporting and verification (MRV) for “verified emissions reductions” were also focused on carbon, although the draft text indicates that the permanence of emissions reductions depends on ensuring the multiple benefits of forests, such as adaptation, biodiversity and poverty alleviation.

Markets, markets everywhere…

Surprisingly, for those following the latest crash in carbon prices in the EU Emission Trading Scheme (ETS),[6] and with the World Bank resorting to changing its methodology to create the illusion of a growth in carbon markets[7] – the emphasis at Bonn was on New Market Mechanisms (NMMs). Ambiguous wording in the Durban decisions – which defines but does not establish a NMM – has produced a wave of analysis and submissions from Parties. During an LCA workshop on NMMs, the EU put forward their vision for sectoral trading and crediting, where developing countries set voluntary targets for emissions reductions and then receive climate finance for verified emissions reductions which exceed these targets. Developed countries buying these sectoral offsets can then count these towards their own compliance targets, in effect making climate finance for developing countries conditional on verified emissions reductions.

An alternative to offsetting was put forward by Ecuador: a Net Emissions Avoidance Mechanism (NEAM) that would allow parties in developing countries to be paid for not exploiting their fossil fuel resources. In exchange for a Trust Fund payment, Parties would sign a warrant not to sell their fossil fuel deposits. Ultimately, many developing countries insisted on the need for ambitious targets from developed countries before further discussing NMMs.

Financing REDD+ with non existent markets?

This new enthusiasm for NMMs had the effect of misleading the LCA discussions on REDD+ finance, with many Parties referring to NMMs[8] as a source of possible long-term finance, despite the fact that there is no certainty that any such mechanisms would be established, or that the carbon trading approach which seems to be favoured would raise finance or reduce emissions.

Guyana and Papua New Guinea suggested that the lack of finance in current carbon markets could be cured by “advance market commitment” and REDD+ bonds.[9] Bolivia, Tanzania and Sudan pointed out that in order to ensure the sustainability of any emissions reductions from reduced forest loss, results would need to be defined much more broadly than carbon, to include biodiversity and tenure security for forest peoples. While Switzerland emphasised the importance of forest governance, Norway, the US and other developed countries emphasised that results for REDD+ should be defined purely in terms of emissions reductions, regardless of the source of finance.

Safeguarding the carbon or the people?

Negotiatiors continue to debate how much international guidance there needs to be for countries to provide information on how the REDD+ safeguards are addressed and respected: meanwhile a new publication from the Indian Law Resource Centre specifies the human rights obligations of states and implementing international agencies. It explains the content of indigenous peoples’ substantive and procedural rights which must be protected in any efforts to halt deforestation, and lays down the minimum standards for their protection.[10] Implementing these legal obligations fulfils many of the “REDD+ safeguards” requirements, and if countries are not willing to implement these legal obligations, it is unlikely they will adhere to safeguards, or achieve any reductions in forest loss.


Bonn, as the first negotiating session after the establishment of the Durban Platform, brings to the fore the new regime which has been orchestrated since COP 15 in Copenhagen. Given the lack of ambition (a global reduction of only five percent) and the flexible mechanisms (offsetting and emissions trading) in the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, many accepted the idea that a new regime cannot be any worse than the old one. In December 2011 the Executive Secretary to the UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres, stated that “The governments of the world are writing a global business plan for the planet.” The model for that business plan is now clear: the post-2020 regime is one where developing countries are obliged to take on mitigation targets in order to qualify for climate finance, while the developed world counts these additional reductions towards their own compliance.

Many see REDD+ as poised to demonstrate this new approach to sectoral trading, despite the well documented barriers to trading forest carbon.[11] A large part of the world’s remaining forest is owned by local communities and indigenous peoples under customary law, and the current approach to REDD+ is already encouraging projects which involve the takeover of forest peoples’ territories. The Indian Law Resource Centre contends that “a reorientation of REDD+ is critical for both the well-being of indigenous peoples, and for the success of REDD+ as a climate strategy.”[12] Further, it would seem that a reorientation of the UNFCCC is also required if there is to be any hope of achieving the objective of the Convention to avoid catastrophic climate change. Governments need to abandon drawing up a business plan for the planet, and instead agree a plan of action to leave fossil fuels in the ground.

[1] ^^ The Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body on Technical and Scientific Advice (SBSTA).

[2] ^^ A webcast of the workshop is available here.

[3] ^^ UCS, The Root of the Problem.

[4] ^^ International Trade ‘driving nature loss.’ Richard Black, BBC Environment Correspondent, 6 June 2012.

[5] ^^ Rainforest Foundation Norway, Norway spending far more on rainforest destruction than rainforest protection

[6] ^^ Carbon Finance Online [R-M: subscription needed].

[7] ^^ For further explanation see: REDD-Monitor, The World Bank’s spin on carbon markets.

[8] ^^ See ‘New Market Mechanisms; Risks and Reality’ at

[9] ^^ See IATP, The new climate debt: Carbon trading wrapped in a green bond proposal.

[10] ^^ Indian Law resource Centre, Principles for REDD+.

[11] ^^ See Munden Project and German Advisory Council on Global Change.

[12] ^^ Indian Law resource Centre, Principles for REDD+.


Full disclosure: REDD-Monitor has received funding from FERN. Click here for all of REDD-Monitor’s funding sources.

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