Final week of Cancún talks begins, stage set for decision on reducing emissions from deforestation

Today marks the start of the second week of the U.N. climate conference in Cancún, and also the first day of negotiations on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+).  Environment ministers meeting about REDD+ in Cancún this week are expected to focus on four main issues, and with enough political will, a decision on REDD+ is on the horizon.

REDD+, as we mentioned in our post on Cancún policy issues to watch, is one of the most developed areas of text in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and going into Cancún, REDD+ was considered among the areas most likely to see progress there.

REDD+ negotiations' slow start not a setback

Understandably, I’ve had a number of people ask why it took a full week (of the two-week-long talks) to actually start negotiations on REDD+.  That’s a fair question, and the result of a few circumstances.

In every session, to advance negotiations the Chair of the REDD+ negotiations is authorized to assemble a "balanced text" based on countries' views, previous negotiating texts, and consultations with countries.  Countries then can accept or reject this as the starting point for negotiations.  One country (Bolivia) was not accepting the initial version of the text, and since the UNFCCC operates on a consensus-basis, the negotiations could not move forward.

Over the weekend a new negotiating text was released, and in this one the Chair had included for discussion some provisions Bolivia had been pushing for.  Bolivia agreed to accept the text, and now the REDD+ negotiations are underway.

The good news is that REDD+ has been such a prominent issue in the negotiations that, unlike other issues, REDD+ negotiations are very advanced, so a slight delay isn't a serious setback.  The REDD+ text is practically complete — it has all the basic elements for a good REDD+ policies that will work, and very little of the text it is “bracketed,” or still under discussion.

What's up next for REDD+ negotiations

Now it’s up to the environment ministers in Cancún to make decisions on the final parts of the text.  Based on my discussions with negotiators, there are four major issues left to discuss in the REDD+ text:

  1. Goal for reducing deforestation emissions: The challenge in deciding on a goal for reducing deforestation emissions is that developed countries want to know how much they can reduce emissions, while developing countries want to know how much financing they will receive by preventing deforestation in their countries.  That essentially leaves negotiators with two options for determining a goal for reducing deforestation emissions:
    • Create specific reductions targets (e.g. cut emissions from deforestation 50% by 2020), and tie these targets to specific finance numbers (e.g. how much financing goes to developing countries who help in avoiding deforestation).
    • Create a general goal e.g. REDD+ mechanism should make significant reductions to emissions from deforestation, subject to appropriate finance).  Since it’s unlikely that countries will be able to agree on a goal with specific numbers in Cancún, to make progress in REDD+ it’s likely countries will choose to create a more general goal than one with specific numbers.
  2. Sub-national accounting: Countries are debating whether compensation for REDD+ activities could be given for an interim period at a sub-national (e.g. state and provincial) level, as opposed to the preferred national level.  Allowing sub-national crediting would benefit countries that need a few years to establish a national REDD+ accounting system, thus allowing forest conservation while those countries get a national system in place.
  3. Social and environmental safeguards: The REDD+ text includes numerous protections for the environment and for the people who will be affected by REDD+ policies.  Negotiators will be debating whether to mandate or just recommend these safeguards, which include:
    • Social safeguards: Protections for communities affected by REDD+ activities, for example making sure countries putting REDD+ policies in place consult properly with local communities and stakeholders.  Most basic safeguards are in place, but negotiators must decide how long they should remain in place.
    • Environmental safeguards: Protections to ensure the environmental integrity of REDD+ activities, for example making sure there are no loop holes that would allow payment for forests to be cut down and then replanted with new plantations.
  4. Finance: Simply put, for REDD+ policies to work and be sustainable, REDD+ must use the sustainable and large-scale funding that markets can generate.  Negotiators will be discussing whether to allow both market and non-market (e.g. public finance money from governments) funds.

There is widespread agreement on the basic core elements on REDD+, and with only these four issues still left unresolved, the stage is set for a REDD+ decision to come out of Cancún.

Beyond REDD+, countries in Cancún (including the United States) are looking for a “balanced” decision – meaning additional decisions in other areas of the global treaty like finance; measurement, reporting and verification (MRV); and land-use and forestry (read more in our Policies to Watch post).

So, now it’s up to the ministers here this week to make these final decisions — and the earlier, the better.  The sooner they can agree on REDD+, the more time the ministers can spend on the other issues that require more negotiations to produce a balanced package in Cancún.

This is part of a series from EDF's experts, who are blogging regularly from the U.N. climate conference in Cancún on EDF's Climate Talks blog.

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