There is confusion on climate change as to what happens now given the narrow Copenhagen Accord leaves most areas of the UN negotiations up in the air. But amid the failure in Copenhagen to get agreement on all manner of issues needed for a new global climate agreement, the area that arguably saw the most progress towards a final outcome was REDD.
Around 15 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide come from the clearing of forests for their timber and for agricultural expansion, mainly in tropical countries. So the long-hoped for agreement on an international system to reduce deforestation and degradation and enhance forest carbon stocks in developing countries, specifically now called REDD-plus, remains vital to tackling climate change.
There was clear intent in the Copenhagen Accord to get REDD going without delay. Among the generally thin commitments in the last-minute deal stitched up by Barack Obama and the leaders of China, India, South Africa the accord called for the “immediate establishment of a mechanism including REDD-plus”.
This largely reflected the progress that had already been made towards an agreement. Ultimately, the deal to arrest deforestation’s enormous contribution to global climate change did not get over the line. But that was more to do with the stalemate over the wider questions for a climate deal that beset the working group on long-term cooperative action (LCA), under which forestry negotiations were taking place. The REDD draft agreement text went into limbo along with drafts on extending the Kyoto Protocol and producing a new agreement to widen the emissions reduction battlefront to new industry sectors and new countries; the US, China and developing world.
It may be that the failure to strike an overall climate deal will sink the chances for sectoral agreements that underpin it. Many in the forest sector have that fear. Kevin Conrad, a representative for Papua-New Guinea, and speaking for the Coalition of Rainforest Nations which kicked off the push for a REDD payment mechanism some years ago, described as depressing the real prospect that REDD would now “get punted along for another year".
But there are many hopes enough momentum has been built up to see a final REDD agreement emerge in 2010, outside an overarching climate treaty. UNFCCC Secretariat chief Yvo de Boer, in talking up the meagre achievements of Copenhagen, described REDD as one of the things that is now “oven ready”.
To harness what progress there was in Copenhagen, the UNFCCC said leaders had also agreed to establish a Copenhagen Green Climate Fund to help “unleash prompt action” in the absence of an overarching treaty. This will primarily mobilise the promised $30 billion funding from developed countries on mitigation, adaptation, technology, REDD and capacity-building.
This along with the commitment for fast track financing from a number of developed countries specifically for REDD last week lends significant momentum going into 2010. A final outcome may happen as early as June at schedule climate talks in Bonn, said Louis Verchot, principal scientist in climate change for the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
Most of the question marks for getting REDD up and running have now gone along way to being answered in the draft LCA text, Verchot says. Concerns over the rights of indigenous people and local forest communities have been addressed (although some NGO observers say the text needs to be tightened to make the safeguards truly robust). A key UNFCCC technical body also completed its work at Copenhagen on methodological issues around carbon measurement and monitoring and delivered agreed draft text.
Hard targets, however, were missing from the text in its final version last week. The various options were a target to reduce deforestation by 50 per cent by 2020, by 25 per cent from current levels by 2015, or halt it entirely by 2030.
The UN timetable for REDD would see it begin in earnest in 2013 and many questions remain over how the mechanism would work. But most important now is the preparatory work up to the end of 2012 to build capacity for a robust system of any type to operate in developing countries. “Investments have already taken place over the last year or so and I think now we’re going to see them ramp up,” Verchot said.
The money to establish REDD does appear to be on the table. The funding for the development stage began to appear from developed countries in 2009 and the US, UK, France, Japan, Australia and Norway pledged $3.5bn in Copenhagen. There is some doubt, however, as to whether these promises still stand in the absence of a comprehensive climate agreement. Funding for the implementation stage between 2013 and 2020 will require much more money – projected to be $20 to $35 billion - and remains unresolved.