With less than two months to go before the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris, the first draft of a proposed agreement to globally and uniformly reduce carbon dioxide emissions has been presented. The ad hoc committee presented the document on Oct. 5, but some in the climate change negotiations community are concerned that specific mention of a key deforestation mitigation program was left out.
The program is called REDD, or the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation program. REDD (and now REDD+) creates financial value for carbon stored in trees as an incentive for developing countries to reduce emissions. In other words, developing countries would be financially rewarded for decreasing the amount of forest they cut down.
Gustavo Silva-Chávez, program manager of an expenditure tracking initiative for Forest Trends who has attended negotiation sessions since 2002, said in a press release that since this text will kick off climate negotiations in Paris in late November, REDD+ needs to be clearly and specifically mentioned to ensure the program is given due place going forward.
Silva-Chávez said, “The levels of finance needed to pay countries for reducing emissions from deforestation, and a way for countries to meet a portion of their national climate commitments (also known as ‘INDCs’) by using REDD+” should also be discussed.
The 20-page document, whittled down from a more than 90-page iteration, is essentially based on two variables: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation is trying to reduce a particular problem like cutting down trees; adaptation is maintaining resilience despite lingering climate effects that could not be mitigated. It generally repeats the basic understanding of years of discussion on the need for developed party countries to make best efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
But now developing countries must also create their own plans for emissions reduction. Just how each country is going to go about doing this is not clearly stated in this draft, although references are made to commitments made in prior negotiations for cooperation and transparency in reducing adverse impacts.
The absence of such details has puzzled Silva-Chávez, who said in a telephone interview that as far as he understood, deforestation was always going to be part of the climate agreement negotiations in Paris.
Deforestation is the second leading contributor to carbon emissions after the burning of fossil fuels, according to the Nature Conservancy, a conservation organization committed to land and water. Forests protect soil from erosion, produce oxygen, store carbon dioxide, and help control climate. When trees are cut down, dead stumps and extensive underground root systems release carbon dioxide.
But Kelley Hamrick, a carbon program associate for Ecosystem Marketplace, another Forest Trends initiative, said there aren’t any national REDD+ programs happening right now.
“There’s been all this talk that we’re going to include forestry in the international climate negotiations, but there haven’t been any actual measurable results from that,” she told the Epoch Times.
Silva-Chávez suspects that references to it were omitted because some countries don’t want it included in the mitigation section of the agreement. For Brazil in particular, stopping deforestation “is not really about mitigation, but more as a way to channel finance to the countries,” he said.
Hamrick explained that finance is one way of dealing with mitigation. There are a number of finance mechanisms in the works such as direct investment in clean energy and offsetting mitigation.
Offsetting costly emissions reductions was the basis for the Kyoto Protocol, which allowed developed countries to meet some of their emissions reduction targets by paying others to reduce carbon dioxide on their behalf.
For example, the small Brazilian state of Acre has already received funding from the Norwegian and German governments to not cut down trees, said Hamrick. “They’re really far ahead with their REDD program,” she said.
Although Acre is far along, “it’s all very murky because it’s unclear how that fits into Brazil’s overall emissions reductions,” said Hamrick.
The idea of finance replacing mitigation might not be what is underlying the omission of deforestation. Silva-Chávez offered alternative explanations such as a need to eliminate some text, noting that the draft had been significantly cut down. And even with the reduced text, there is nothing explicitly stated that would rule out deforestation, he said.
“If a country wants to say my INDC is going to be heavily based on forests and I am going to reduce emissions and I’m going to sell them to another country and I’m going to get financed for that. There’s nothing in the current text that would prohibit that,” he explained.
But it’s harder to insert text back than it is to eliminate it, he says, and he is still concerned that there is no mention of deforestation in the draft.
Silva-Chávez remains hopeful, though. There is one more negotiating session scheduled for Oct. 19–23, where countries can add REDD+ back into the draft agreement text. He expects that by the end of the first day in Paris, nearly 50 countries will be united in calling for deforestation to be put back in.
“I imagine that governments like Norway, Germany, probably, the EU, the U.S. are going to say positive things about deforestation,” he said.
UPDATED for correction: Previously said the draft document repeated prior understandings for all countries, but developing countries were not initially included in negotiations. The draft now requires developing countries to submit their own plan for emissions reduction.
Previously said that Hamrick was less puzzled about deforestation not being included in the draft, but she actually points out there are no national REDD+ programs happening right now.
Previously said some countries want to stop deforestation from being included in the draft, but Brazil in particular is trying to talk other countries into stopping it.
The Brazilian state of Acre is already receiving funding from Norway and Germany through a REDD+ program, but the state of Brazil has not decided to implement this program.