Climate Change

UN Nails Forest Risks, Strategy In Warsaw With REDD+

Canada's earlier commitments to forest mitigation look hollow in light of its inaction at the UN's Warsaw climate talks.

At the late November meeting of UN climate delegates in Warsaw, negotiators from Canada–once a strong supporter of fast-start financing to limit greenhouse gas emissions from developing countries–and Australia, now led by a rashly conservative government, sat on their hands. Reeling from the costs of mitigation at Fukushima and a stopgap return to fossil fuels, Japan had to rescind substantial emissions promises.

While the UNFCCC meeting in Warsaw yielded little in the way of fossil fuel tweaking to address climate change, it did result in a final approach to substantial direct emissions of greenhouse gases. In fact, probably the greatest success of COP19 was to address and produce guidelines and funding mechanisms for reducing nearly 15% of world GHGs, the amount produced by forest degradation and deforestation. “The [REDD+] program will see rich countries channelling funds towards developing countries in exchange for the preservation of their rainforests, which could otherwise be logged,” says Sophie Yeo of Responding to Climate Change.

Issues at hand

Global negotiations to rein in GHG production have usually focused on fossil fuels for power generation as the main source of climate change and downplayed other routes.

Fossil fuels used for energy account for two-thirds (65.4%) of the world’s production of climate-changing greenhouse gases, according to the 2010 tabulation below of world GHG emissions by the experts at ECOFYS. Oil and gas extraction, refining, and processing and coal mining activities themselves make up 13% of total GHG emissions.

World governments have struggled with the issue of fossil fuel emissions for decades. The negotiations inched forward again last month at COP19 at Warsaw. However, the conference made great progress in curbing direct emissions, which constitute the other third (34.6%) of greenhouse gas sources.

World GHG emissions flowchart

About half of the world’s direct GHG emissions result from alterations of land use that promote deforestation: clearing trees for cattle ranching, palm oil production, other agriculture, and logging. Recent studies have found agriculture to be the leading cause of 75% of global forest degradation and deforestation, and logging the cause of the other quarter. Brazil and Indonesia are the developing countries most currently responsible for these land use changes.

The results? As we now understand it, “deforestation results in immediate release of the carbon originally stored in the trees as CO2 emissions (with small amounts of CO and CH4), particularly if the trees are burned, and the slower release of emissions from the decay of organic matter.” It also plays a critical part in global species extinctions, as noted last year in an important article in Nature Climate Change. Finally, it reduces or eliminates the natural abilities of forests to regulate water systems, protect soil, and produce nontimber goods such as food and fiber.

“If rates of deforestation continue as projected, forests will diminish dramatically by 2100.”

The charts here depict expected changes in the forest cover of developing nations over the 21st century, as observed in 2000 and as projected under a business-as-usual scenario for 2100.

Developing world's forests in 2000 and 2100 (projection)

History of REDD+

At the COP11 talks in Montreal in 2005, the UNFCCC started proposing guidelines for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and establishing a financial value for forest carbon. Supported by 8 other governments, Papua New Guinea, with Indonesia the largest noncontinental island in the Pacific and home to significant intact tropical forests, and Costa Rica requested consideration of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation in developing countries. They proposed the idea of issuing carbon credits to support the work.

“This proposal received wide support from Parties and there was general agreement on the importance of the issue in the context of climate change mitigation, particularly in light of the large contribution of emissions from deforestation in developing countries to global greenhouse gas emissions,” said a later UN report.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, at that time deforestation was occurring at a rate of approximately 32 million acres (13 million hectares) per year. Greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation in the previous decade were 5.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year. UNFCCC then put a priority on fast, transparent, coordinated, and effective action in reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) in developing countries.

REDD+ addresses agriculture-based deforestation like this oil palm plantation in Borneo.
An oil palm plantation lies just outside the Yayasan Sabah reserve in Malaysian Borneo. (Photo courtesy of Rhett Butler/Mongabay.)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted in 2007 in its Fourth Assessment Report that reducing and/or preventing deforestation to prevent direct atmospheric emissions has the largest and most immediate carbon stock impact in the short term. Accordingly, COP13 in Bali extended the REDD initiative to include the roles of forest conservation, sustainable forest management, and increasing forest area carbon stocks. The new program was known as REDD+ and was reconfirmed at subsequent UNFCCC meetings.

In 2010, at the International Conference on the Major Forest Basins hosted by France, nations agreed to create a global platform for organizing action. They began the new REDD+ Partnership at the Oslo Climate and Forest Conference and launched a website to record essential information on initiatives and share documents. The Conference of Parties set several goals at COP16 in Cancún later that year regarding scientific and technical rules, financing, and a national coordination system for addressing deforestation.

Warsaw finalizes the plan for deforestation emissions reduction

On the evening of November 22, the Warsaw conference of parties adopted formal rules for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+). Not only does the agreement take aim at destructive activities and implement all the activities spelled out by the Cancún conference; it also reinforces the important measures of conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries.

“Warsaw ended up being the COP that more or less finished writing the international rulebook for REDD+, the UNFCCC mechanism for payments to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation,” said Jonah Busch, a Research Fellow at the Center for Global Development.

Representatives from all 190+ nations agreed to channel funds for cutting GHG emissions to developing countries working toward reestablishing forest integrity. They agreed to undertake the following actions:

• Define the drivers of deforestation,

• Devise a system to monitor, report and verify carbon emissions reductions from standing forests,

• Establish national forest monitoring with oversight by national coordinators also responsible to the UN,

• Institute baseline reference levels upon which a country can measure emissions reductions and evaluate its efforts to reduce deforestation, and

• Retain the autonomy of indigenous populations by requiring proof that participants enforce environmental and human rights safeguards.

Most importantly, the UNFCCC agreed to create performance-based financing mechanisms, i.e., payments for verified emission reductions. It also specified clear rules of transparency.

Financing measures had been the last barrier to successful negotiations. The final agreement ties results-based financing to designated reporting requirements. It spells out means for financing all phases of REDD, including the readiness, capacity-building, and pilot programming that must precede full implementation of the deforestation initiatives. The Warsaw agreement also requires lessons learned to be incorporated and lays the groundwork for future research.

Finally, the United States, Norway, and the United Kingdom announced a joint pledge of $280 million at Warsaw to the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund to continue funding the work.

Isaac Valero-Ladron, a spokesman for the European Commission, affirmed the value of the new REDD+ agreement:

“The package of decisions, which provides the necessary methodological framework for REDD+, represents a major step forward in efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries. The decisions largely complete the rulebook for implementing REDD-plus.”

Agus Sari
Agus Sari

Chris Lang of redd-monitor.org summarized many reactions to the Warsaw REDD+ decisions on Tuesday.

Lang’s most notable quote may be the reaction of Agus Sari, the Indonesian delegate who co-chairs the contact group on results-based finance for REDD+. When the contact group reached agreement, Sari tweeted “The clapping hands from the floor wipes [sic] out the tiredness. We made it. We have a good decision on REDD+.”

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