in El Salvador, Uncategorized

Guest Post: From the chaos of REDD-plus towards the Bonn Challenge’s maze

El SalvadorYvette Aguilar is an expert and adviser on the issue of climate change of El Salvador Round-Table and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in El Salvador. She submitted this Guest Post looking at the way proponents are recycling REDD under a range of different labels.

The Bonn Challenge aims “to restore 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded lands by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030”. The Bonn Challenge describes itself as a “practical means of realizing many existing international commitments”, including “the UNFCCC REDD+ goal”.

Yvette Aguilar’s Guest Post is based on a report she wrote for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in El Salvador, available here (in Spanish): “Del caos de REDD a la idoneidad en la política climática”.

From the chaos of REDD-plus towards the Bonn Challenge’s maze

By Yvette Aguilar, June 2016

The provisions of Article 3.3 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change -Convention- opened the door for inclusion in the multilateral agenda of climate negotiations two issues that for over twenty years would be the subject of tough negotiations: eligibility of sinks and reservoirs of biogenic carbon for mitigation of climate change; and joint mitigation actions between the Parties. With the advent in 2005 of the REDD-plus issue in the climate agenda, both issues were coupled in its laxer, utilitarian and ineffective for global mitigation versions.

The eligibility of the role of sinks and reservoirs of biogenic carbon for mitigation has been a complex, controversial and difficult negotiation topic, mainly due to:

  1. its dubious effectiveness for global mitigation, because it doesn´t reduce fossil fuel emissions only compensates temporarily through the strengthening of sinks or reservoirs,
  2. the technical and methodological problems relating to permanence, additionality, measurability, verifiability and leaks, inherent in the nature of these measures, and
  3. the negative environmental socio-cultural, economic and political impacts, that these measures have been causing locally.

The promoters of REDD-plus are looking to offset fossil carbon emissions by purchasing carbon credits generated by the strengthening of the action of biogenic carbon sinks or reservoirs. Through carbon trading buying countries could continue emitting fossil carbon and meeting their emissions reduction targets under their nationally determined contributions to the Paris Agreement -NDCs- as well, allocating in their favor the purchased carbon credits. As for selling countries, they would receive financial resources to cover the costs associated with the strengthening of biogenic carbon sinks and reservoirs, and to generate collateral local benefits. Mitigation role of sinks and reservoirs cannot be allocated in favor of selling countries´ NDCs.

To counteract wear on the image of the REDD-plus mechanism, as a result of criticism on the lack of scientific, technical and empirical support concerning its real and effective contribution to global mitigation, and the increasing negative impacts of REDD-plus projects in different regions of the world; the promoters of REDD-plus have resorted to “re-labeling” to recycle REDD to the public, embellishing it to disguise or hide the shortcomings and negative impacts that would detract support, credibility and acceptance.

In addition to their dubious and questionable contribution to biodiversity, quality of life of rural and indigenous communities, environmental quality, access and land use rights, and other human rights; some labels used in recycling REDD-plus have been: “REDD-plus based on ecosystem and landscape restoration approach”, “climate smart agriculture”, “sustainable intensive agriculture”, “neutrality of carbon or degradation of land” and “greener cities.”

Given the difficulty of accelerating the implementation and financing of REDD-plus mechanism within the multilateral climate agenda, its promoters have turned to other multilateral, plurilateral and bilateral processes, in an attempt to bypass the obstacles to advancing the agenda of REDD-plus. Such is the case, among others: the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 (SPBD), the Rio+20 2012, and the Development Agenda´ process after 2015, including the Sustainable Development Goals -SDG-, the Oslo Partnership on Forests in 2010 and the Bonn Challenge from 2011.

Although the REDD-plus issue could not be introduced or made visible as such in the SDG-13 on climate change, or any of the 17 SDGs and its 169 goals, REDD-plus was filtered via the SDG-15 on biodiversity and combating desertification, whose goal 3 entails, among others, seek to achieve a world with a neutral soil degradation by 2030. The SPBD states in its Aichi target 15 that by 2020, will have increased the resilience of ecosystems and the contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks through conservation and restoration, including restoration of at least 15% of degraded lands, to help mitigate climate change and adaptation.

The Bonn Challenge initiative launched by Germany with support from IUCN, seeks to restore 350 million hectares of degraded and deforested lands by 2030. Basically this initiative seeks to alleviate the slow incursion and invisibility of REDD-plus on the multilateral climate agenda, defining itself as a platform that promotes REDD-plus with “landscape restoration approach”.

Besides, such initiative seeks to ventilate and push the agenda of REDD-plus from a plurilateral environment, which does not apply the United Nations rules of procedure. The initiative is conceived as an umbrella to facilitate the synergistic implementation of multilateral environmental conventions via the SDG. It describes itself as a means to meet the following three commitments:

  • Goal 3 of SDG-15 on neutrality in land degradation,
  • the Aichi target 15 on the contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks,
  • and the REDD-plus goal under the Convention.

The Bonn Challenge takes as axis and presentation card, three international commitments focused on REDD-plus, contravening the spirit and letter of the Paris Agreement and the Convention, when giving REDD-plus mechanism a centrality and hierarchy in action inconsistent with the adopted provisions. They are prejudging the post-2015 negotiations concerning the eligibility of the REDD-plus mechanism and jeopardizing the achievement of long term goals of the Paris Agreement.

It is noteworthy that it was until the last moment of the Paris Agreement´s negotiation that Art. 5 was introduced; and although it includes the five eligible activities under the REDD-plus mechanism, it is not mentioned as such.

Concerning Art. 6 related to the mechanism to contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and support sustainable development, paragraph 38 (b) under the text of the decision adopting the Paris Agreement provides that eligible activities under such mechanism should generate “real, measurable and long-term mitigation of climate change”. Such criterion would not apply to the functions of carbon sinks and reservoirs, as land and water carbon reserves store carbon in very short time scales, releasing it back into the atmosphere.

It is to be noted that Art. 4 of the Paris Agreement states that “in the second half of the century, a balance must be achieved between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks”. This was based on projections of the IPCC scenarios likely to keep global average temperature below 2°C; most of which are based on widespread deployment of negative emissions technologies. This is the case of combined bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, afforestation and reforestation, carbon sequestration in the soil, charcoal, among others.

These technologies are still not tested by appropriate tests, their effectiveness remains uncertain and many associated risks. The effectiveness of these technologies for mitigation of climate change will be reviewed by the IPCC in its next report, as well as vulnerability and adaptation of natural systems (oceans, coasts, freshwater, land and cryosphere), managed systems (agriculture, forestry and other land uses) and its services. The previous will be submitted for reconsideration of the Parties under the 2018-Facilitating Dialogue and the Global Balances from 2023.


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  1. Excellent post Yvette and you hit the key points with CO2 offset nature of REDD+ and I could not agree more with many of your excellent points. However, those of us working with chronically maligned and badly under-funded coastal-marine ecosystems like mangroves and seagrasses, are looking for ways to get the private sector polluters to cough up and invest in these blue carbon sequesterers – not an easy challenge. Yes, they only compensate temporarily, but we have lost 50 % loss of mangroves in the Caribbean basin and ocral reef losses are the most severe of anywhere in tropical marine waters. The reality is we are not going to stop the fossil fuel polluters overnight and for that reason, a temporary solution that can build greater resilience by creating biogenic carbon sinks or reservoirs and help recover their lost ecological functions is one part of a phased approach. Some excellent and standardizeable methods were developed for measuring Blue Carbon on the Caribbean coast of Honduras (a UNEP project involving LSU), the technical and methodological problems and results with that pilot experiment offers a positive triple bottom line (environmental socio-cultural, economic and political outcomes)although on a small scale. A new mangrove project funded Nordic Development Fund aims to scale some of the successful results up in certain areas on the Caribbean coast, but its too early to tell for now. and hopefully the government will finally expand its integrated and transparent monitoring and evaluation system – SIMONI – to measure the good, bad and the ugly practices and lessons associated with finding how to achieve that triple bottom line. I can only hope that any blue carbon funds are national in scope local and not devoured by the REDD+ drive to trade with polluters and boiler-scammers around the world.

    Veremos – Joe

  2. Dear Joe,

    I am glad that we converge on the problems related to the use of offset schemes, particularly REDD-plus.

    As for your concerns regarding mangroves losses and the oportunity to protect them through the various REDD-related funds, I do belive that all those measures could have been done through adaptation strategies, policies and measures. All the academic and other kind of communities concerned on protecting and conserving mangroves and other ecosystems, should have focused on improving their knowledge on the effects, impacts and response measures (adaptation) to address climate change impacts timely and appropriatelly.

    All they know that climate change will affect ecosystems and thus, among other impacts, they will lose their capacity to uptake and stock biogenic carbon, and even would become net sources of carbon. Then, their main concern should be addressing adaptation, and not increasing carbon sinks. They should also have faught to assure financing to that end, which is still possible through the adaptation window within the Green Climate Fund, or through the Adaptation Fund, among other sources.

    Why then those communities are insisting in supporting an ineffective offset mechanism that do not comply with the criteria for effective mitigation and produce socio-economic, environmental and political negative impacts locally?