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A short guide to REDD in the UN climate negotiations ahead of Doha

A short guide to REDD in the UN climate negotiations ahead of Doha

Trying to follow the REDD negotiations at the UN level can be a difficult and frustrating process. This short guide aims to show you where the REDD texts are, what the texts mean and which issues are still under discussion.

Discussions about REDD take place mainly in the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). In 2011, COP 17 in Durban decided to extend the AWG-LCA for one year. COP 17 also established the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), which is supposed to agreed a “protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force”. It is not yet clear how REDD negotiations will continue if the AWG-LCA ends at COP 18 in Doha in a few weeks’ time.

The UK-based NGO Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development (FIELD) has produced a detailed “Guide for REDD-plus negotiators”, which was updated in October 2012 and includes all of the UNFCCC text relating to REDD since 2005 in one handy (but rather long) document. This guide is based on a presentation that Focus on the Global South asked me to give last month in Vientiane, Laos at the Asia Europe People’s Forum. It is in three parts: Cancun 2010, Durban 2011, and Doha 2012.

COP 16, Cancun 2010

Let’s start with the REDD texts that were agreed at COP 16 in Cancun, 2010: Decision 1/CP.16: “The Cancun Agreements: Outcome of the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention”. Paragraph 70 of Chapter III C reads as follows:

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 forests;
    (e) Enhancement of forest carbon stocks;

The Cancun text requests developing countries to develop the following:

  • a national strategy (or action plan);
  • national forest reference emissions level and/or forest reference level (can be sub-national as an interim measure);
  • a national forest monitoring system for monitoring and reporting on REDD (can be sub-national as an interim measure); and
  • a system for providing information on how safeguards are being addressed and respected.

The national strategy should address drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, land tenure issues, forest governance issues, gender considerations and safeguards.

The Cancun text confirms that REDD is to be phased (depending on national circumstances). The three phases are as follows:

  1. National strategies, policies and capacity building;
  2. Implementation of strategies and policies and results-based demonstration activities;
  3. Results-based actions that should be fully measured, reported and verified.

The Cancun text requests SBSTA to look into: drivers of deforestation (report at COP 18); reference levels, forest monitoring systems, and safeguards information systems (report at COP 17); and measuring, reporting and verifying of “anthropogenic forest-related emissions” (report at COP 17). And it requests the AWG-LCA to explore financing options for results-based actions (report at COP 17).

Appendix I of the outcome of the AWG-LCA in Cancun looks at safeguards. REDD-Monitor has commented in the past on the weakness of the safeguards, in particular the fact that they are only to be “promoted and supported” (whatever that means) and the fact that the text only “notes” that the UN General Assembly has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

COP 17, Durban 2011

At COP 17 in Durban, REDD text is found in Decision 2/CP.17: “Outcome of the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention”. According to the Cancun REDD text, the AWG-LCA was supposed to explore financing options for REDD. This is one of the most controversial aspects of REDD and the AWG-LCA postponed reporting on progress made and any recommendations to COP 18 (see Chapter II C, paragraph 73).

The issues considered by the SBSTA were covered in Decision 12/CP.17 on safeguard information systems and forest reference emissions levels and forest reference levels.

On safeguards, COP 17 agreed that information systems should be transparent and flexible and should provide information on how all of the safeguards agreed at COP 16 are being addressed and respected.

On forest reference levels, COP 17 invites countries to submit reference levels and explain how they calculated them. The text agrees to a step-wise approach, because many countries “don’t have good deforestation data”. Reference levels can be sub-national (temporarily), raising all sorts of interesting issues, given the fact that deforestation is often local. In Indonesia, for example, the rate of deforestation in Sumatra or Kalimantan is far higher than it is in Papua.

Text on measuring, reporting and verifying and forest monitoring systems, was included in drafts in Durban, but negotiators could not agree in time and the text was removed from the final version.

The Green Climate Fund, which was launched in Durban, will include REDD (see Decision 3/CP. 17, annex, paragraph 35).

Preparations for COP 18, Doha 2012

Five REDD-related issues that are to be discussed in Doha were also on the agenda in Durban. Here’s the list, with a description of the progress made since Durban (the SBSTA text from the Bonn meeting in May 2012 is available here):


  • Finance – When the AWG-LCA met in Bonn in May 2012, negotiators disagreed on how REDD should be financed.

  • Reference levels – SBSTA will start work at its meeting in Doha on guidance for the technical assessment of proposed forest reference emission levels and/or forest reference levels. It aims to report at either COP 18 or COP 19, including any recommendations for a draft COP decision.
  • MRV and forest monitoring systems – At its meeting in Bonn in May 2012, SBSTA produced a draft text (with many square brackets) on modalities for national forest monitoring systems and for measuring, reporting and verifying. The text will be negotiated further in Doha.
  • Safeguards information systems – SBSTA has decided to continue considering the timing and frequency of summaries from REDD countries on safeguards in Doha and plans to conclude its consideration at SBSTA 39 (i.e. end of 2013).
  • Drivers of deforestation and forest degradation – At its meeting in Bonn in May 2012, SBSTA reported that it had started consideration of issues relating to drivers of deforestation and forest degradation. A colleague who was in Bonn tells me that this “consideration” consisted of little more than negotiators “arguing about drivers a little bit”.

Other REDD issues to be discussed in Doha include the role of the Green Climate Fund in financing REDD; how much rich countries will be allowed to count REDD towards meeting their own emissions reduction targets; and whether or not REDD should be included in the Clean Development Mechanism.

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  1. Perhaps predictably, the World Bank has a completely different view of the outcomes from COP17 in its Forest Carbon Partnership Facility Annual Report 2012. On financing, the Bank claims that a decision was made in Durban “to allow for both public and private financing for REDD+, recognizing that market-based approaches may be developed in the coming years”. The Bank doesn’t mention the disagreements over financing for REDD that took place during the meeting in Bonn, May 2012.