Deforestation agreements - a climate change success story, sort of …

DURBAN CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE: Amongst the general brouhaha of the Durban Climate Change Conference, progress of sorts on REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, plus measures…

Forest agreements were among the positives from Durban. CIFOR

DURBAN CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE: Amongst the general brouhaha of the Durban Climate Change Conference, progress of sorts on REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, plus measures to enhance forest carbon stocks) received little press. Yet for some, such as Norway’s Minister for the Environment and International Development, “REDD+ has been so far the biggest success story of the climate negotiations”.

Small steps and pilot proposals

REDD+ emerged as one of the few points of agreement from the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. It recognises the value of conserving and restoring forest carbon stocks as a “cost-effective, early action” amongst the broader suite of climate change mitigation measures.

Although its scope and potential are much broader, REDD+ is particularly focused on the carbon-rich tropical forests of Africa, Asia and the Americas. Its implementation should safeguard both the rights and interests of Indigenous and forest-dependent peoples, and the environmental values and services (such as biodiversity) of landscapes.

Progress towards REDD+ implementation since Copenhagen has been painfully slow. This is in part because of the glacial (pre-global warming, at least) pace of the international negotiations about climate change mitigation. It is also because of necessary debate about safeguards, and the real difficulties of developing processes and institutions that will deliver both carbon sequestration and “co-benefits” to people and to the environment.

Norway is working with Indonesia to reduce deforestation. CIFOR

Together, these constraints have limited REDD+ investments to various pilots. These have been facilitated by multilateral partnerships, such as UN-REDD and the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership, and by bilateral programs (including Australia’s). There most significant of these were initiated by Norway.

While these pilots are necessary precursors to more widespread REDD+ implementation, they are modest in their goals. Only the Norwegian initiative seeks to significantly alter forest loss or degradation. Norway’s experiences are mixed. Its partnerships in the Americas are generally seen as more promising than that with Indonesia.

Making REDD+ work when there’s no climate change agreement

Like the conference as a whole, progress on REDD+ at Durban appears to have been mixed. There were good outcomes on the more technical issues, balanced by a weakening in the language around safeguards and only interim agreement on finance. This means multilateral finance for REDD+ investment will remain limited for at least the rest of the decade. Some prospective investment will be curtailed because of concerns about inadequate safeguards.

The slow and somewhat erratic progress towards a meaningful post-Kyoto international climate agreement means that REDD+ efforts will, for the rest of this decade at least, be focused increasingly on forms of international partnership and investment.

The offshore investments that are expected to follow implementation of national schemes such Australia’s Clean Energy Future Plan, or state-level schemes such as California’s are two examples.

These may be compliant with UNFCCC intentions, but sit outside the UNFCCC processes. But if REDD+ is to operate on a scale where it will reduce climate change, progress within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) negotiations - like those at Durban - may be the best way to advance its prospects.

Meanwhile, in the forests…

In the forest-rich tropical countries that are the focus of REDD+, efforts to arrest deforestation and forest degradation remain as complex as ever.

For example, debate around the introduction of new Forest Code in Brazil illustrates the challenges in balancing development interests and conservation imperatives in the Amazon.

To the west, Indigenous peoples groups are concerned about “carbon piracy” associated with REDD projects in the Peruvian Amazon.

If REDD+ is to work in the Amazon, it needs to incorporate people, not just trees. CIFOR

In Indonesia, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s pledge to dedicate the last year of his term to curtailing forest loss does not appear yet to have been matched by implementation of the terms, much less the spirit, of the moratorium agreed with Norway.

Can REDD+ really prevent climate change?

The conditions for realising REDD+ aspirations are well articulated in a recent review article. It found a more effective REDD+ needs to learn from public, civic, and market institutions. It needs a bigger, more efficient carbon market where REDD+ emission reductions can be traded. REDD+’s long-term success relies on technological innovations in remote sensing and monitoring (to assure buyers that they are paying for real carbon sequestration), alignment of institutional arrangements with REDD+ objectives, and social and political changes that permit broader participation in forest protection and carbon sequestration.

The Durban Climate Change Conference outcomes take us only incrementally down this REDD+ path. As one of the Centre for International Forestry Research’s scientists commented, “We are seven years into REDD and we’re still looking at what the options are. We’re not making the hard decisions”.

Without those hard decisions under the UNFCCC, progress towards realising the potential of REDD+ will depend on the deals that can be struck bilaterally or privately. While locally important, these are unlikely to approach the scale of implementation necessary for significant forest conservation or climate change mitigation.

There seems an emerging post-Durban consensus that the year ahead, leading up to UNFCCC COP18 in Doha, will be critical in determining the prospects for REDD+ implementation on a scale, and within a timeframe, relevant to mitigation of dangerous climate change. Those who associate Doha with the inconclusive round of world trade negotiations, and who note the irony of Qatar hosting climate change talks, might not be optimistic; but let’s hope they’re wrong.