Category Archives: Forestry

'Feeding 9 billion' requires facing up to climate change

This post was co-authored by Kritee, Senior Scientist, International Climate; Richie Ahuja, Regional Director, Asia; and Tal Lee Anderman, Tom Graff Fellow – India Low-Carbon Rural Development

National Geographic's May cover story, “Feeding 9 billion,” offers valuable insights into how to feed a growing global population while reducing agriculture’s environmental impacts. But it omits some key connections with a critical issue: climate change.

Corn withered by drought in America. (Photo credit: Ben Fertig, IAN, UMCES)

Drought in the U.S. causes withering of corn. (Photo credit: Ben Fertig, IAN, UMCES)

As the Food and Agriculture Organization recently documented in great detail, climate change is likely to fundamentally alter the structure of food systems around the globe. With about 43% of the world’s population employed in agriculture, it’s vital that farmers have the knowledge and tools they need both to adapt to climate change and to help mitigate it.

Author Jonathan Foley, who directs the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, lays out several steps for “Feeding 9 billion.” Though he starts by acknowledging that agriculture emits “more greenhouse gases than all our cars, trucks, trains, and airplanes combined,” he doesn’t explicitly mention how his plan relates to a changing climate.

The first of his steps – halting conversion of additional forests and grasslands to agriculture – is crucial to stopping climate change, given the vast quantities of greenhouse gases released in these conversions. As the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on mitigation noted, protecting forests and increasing carbon content of the soils can decrease global emissions by as much as 13 gigatons CO2eq/year by 2030 – more than a quarter of current annual global emissions.

Foley also highlights the need to reduce meat consumption, because only a very limited portion of calories consumed by animals yield edible food for humans, and to reduce food waste. According to the IPCC, these consumer-level steps have the potential to decease agricultural emissions by 60% below the current trajectory. While Foley didn’t acknowledge these mitigation potentials, we agree that these are important steps to feeding the world’s population and protecting our environment.

But it’s his steps calling for improving productivity – both by growing more food on existing farms, and by using fertilizer, water and energy more efficiently – where the interactions with climate are more complex and need special attention.

Climate adaptation and resilience in agriculture

Foley rightly points out that to feed the world’s future population, more food needs to grow on existing farms. However, he doesn’t note that some of the effects of climate change – droughts, floods and heat waves in many parts of the world – are already reducing crop yields, and these effects and their consequences are expected to worsen.

The IPCC’s recently published 5th Assessment Report on adaptation concludes that:

  • Climate change is already negatively affecting yields of crops and abundance of fish, and shifting the regions where crops grow and fish live
  • Future changes in climate will increase competitiveness of weeds, making it difficult and more expensive to control them
  • By 2050, changes in temperature and precipitation alone will raise global food prices by as much as 84% above food prices projected without these two climatic factors
  • Major grains like wheat, corn, and rice could see as much as a 40% decrease in yield from a 20C increase in local temperatures. That’s because of the changing rainfall frequency and intensity, unpredictability and irregularity of growing seasons, and higher ozone levels that often accompany high CO­2 levels

To deal with these consequences and ensure food security and livelihoods, adaptation to climate change is essential. Indeed, adopting carefully chosen adaptation and resilience measures could improve crop yields as much as 15-20%. The IPCC recommendations include:

  • Altering planting/harvesting dates to match the shifting growing seasons
  • Using seed varieties that might be more tolerant of changing climatic patterns
  • Better managing water and fertilizer use
A farmer training session, led by EDF’s partner NGO in India (Photo credit: Accion Fraterna)

A farmer training session, led by EDF’s partner NGO in India (Photo credit: Accion Fraterna)

Achieving high yields requires enabling farmers all over the world to adapt, build and restore the resilience of agricultural ecosystems in the face of continued climate change. Given that many farmers in developed countries have already reached what are currently maximum possible yields, it’s particularly urgent to work with farmers in the developing world.

A vast majority of these farmers in developing countries own small-scale farms (less than two acres in size) and have limited resources, and as a result are on the frontline of experiencing the unfolding impacts of climate change. These farmers are already growing the majority of the world’s food – more than 90% of the world’s rice, over 65% of its wheat and 55% of its corn. Notably, as opposed to our recommendations for farmers in the developed countries, some of them might need to increase their fertilizer use to achieve better yields as opposed to decreasing it. Feeding a world of 9 billion thus requires facing the disproportionate effect that climate change has on the 2 billion people who depend on small-scale farms for their livelihood.

Barriers to climate adaptation & mitigation in agriculture

The latest IPCC report also noted that the “nature” of the agriculture sector means:

“there are many barriers to implementation of available mitigation options, including accessibility to … financing, … institutional, ecological, technological development, diffusion and transfer barriers.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Many farmers, especially small scale land-owners in developing parts of the world, lack access to reliable scientific information and technology. In some cases, relevant information has not even been generated.

An Indian peanut farm where EDF is monitoring yield and greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo credit: Richie Ahuja)

An Indian peanut farm where EDF is monitoring yield and greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo credit: Richie Ahuja)

For example, small-scale rice farmers in Asia lack access to information enabling them to determine what amounts of water, organic and synthetic fertilizer will optimize yields while also minimizing release of the greenhouse gases methane (which is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it is released), and nitrous oxide (which is nearly 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide). EDF is working with the Fair Climate Network in India and with Can Tho University and other partners in Vietnam to help generate that information and facilitate its use by farmers.

More generally, agricultural institutions at all levels – international, regional, national and local – need to work closely with farmers to learn and promote evidence-based, locally appropriate agricultural adaptation and mitigation technologies and practices. Farmer access to finance can further help improve the adoption rate of these technologies. Larger investments in farming infrastructure and science from government and private sector also need to be channeled to promote food security through low-carbon farming.

Our food system cannot achieve high yields without building and restoring the resilience of agricultural ecosystems, and the system won’t be sustainable if agriculture doesn’t do its part to mitigate climate change.

To feed 9 billion people, we must overcome barriers to reducing climate change’s effects on agriculture, and agriculture’s effect on climate.

Also posted in Agriculture, Deforestation, India| 4 Responses

Doha climate talks could see measured progress toward new global agreement

International climate negotiations have begun in Doha, Qatar, where countries can make progress toward a new global agreement, climate finance and reducing deforestation emissions, among other technical issues. Photo credit: Flickr user UNclimatechange

The largest international climate negotiations of the year kicked off Monday in Doha, Qatar, drawing delegates from more than 190 countries in a grand effort to create a global treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and halt climate change.

Worldwide attention is particularly focused on climate after a number of respected and typically conservative global institutions — including The World Bank, United Nations Environment Program, International Energy AgencyPwC — in reports released in the weeks leading up to Doha painted grim pictures of the risks of extreme climate change.

These talks in Doha could see measured progress toward a new global agreement in some areas — or, as The New York Times put it, "the agenda for the two-week Doha convention includes an array of highly technical matters but nothing that is likely to bring the process to a screaming halt."

Environmental Defense Fund anticipates three issue areas could see important progress in Doha:

1) Negotiating tracks

The countries now meeting in Doha are scheduled to finalize a second round of commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to cut greenhouse gases, and wrap up the Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) negotiating track, which was launched in Bali in 2007 and led many countries to make voluntary emission reduction pledges but fell short of a comprehensive binding agreement.

Doha will also set the course for the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” track, whose goal is a new climate deal for all countries to be agreed to by 2015 and to take effect from 2020.

International Climate Program Director Jennifer Haverkamp said in EDF's opening statement:

Countries can make real progress in Doha by agreeing to the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period with minimal fuss and delay, and concluding the Long-term Cooperative Action track, so they can turn their full attention to bringing lessons learned and key policy tools from those agreements forward into the new negotiations.

Even the U.S. founding fathers didn’t get the Constitution right the first time – remember the Articles of Confederation? Countries, in constructing this new agreement, have a chance to incorporate the key elements of these tracks: Kyoto’s binding structure and accountability, and the LCA’s broadened participation among countries and new tools to fight climate change.

2) Climate finance

Countries in Doha should deliver clear signals of ambitious commitment to address climate change, a much-needed policy signal that will help unlock and target critical climate finance funds that exist right now in the stock and bond markets and in countries’ national public expenditures.

3) Deforestation emissions

For policies for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+), countries have the opportunity to agree that multiple sources of finance can be used to pay for REDD+ reductions, and thereby send another positive signal to tropical forest nations.

Climate & Forests Specialist Gustavo Silva-Chávez said last week in a blog post previewing the Doha REDD+ negotiations:

REDD+ is almost at the finish line. We need a decision with more direction about how it will be financed, and carbon markets must play a role.

Countries, states making major climate progress

Outside the UN negotiations, countries and states have been busy launching and benefiting from emissions reductions programs. Just since last year’s negotiations:

Here in the United States, California begins its state-wide cap-and-trade system on January 1, and the northeastern states’ regional cap-and-trade system (RGGI) is already cutting emissions while the regional per capita GDP is growing faster than that of the nation as a whole. And a new report shows that the U.S. is on track to reduce its emissions by more than 16 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, thanks in part to these states’ initiatives.

Haverkamp said these moves are all significant:

“A full quarter of the world’s economy – from California to China, Mexico to South Korea – has or is putting in place programs to reduce emission. The top-down UN process is still critical to stopping dangerous climate change, but more and more countries are deciding not to wait around for it to tell them what to do. We’re already in a bottom-up world.”

 

See related post: REDD+ almost at the finish line: Doha preview

Also posted in Deforestation, Doha (COP-18), Europe, Indigenous peoples, Mexico, News, REDD, UN negotiations| 1 Response

Workshop for Indigenous Technicians Kicks Off REDD+ Capacity Building

  • Compass – check
  • Fluorescent orange flagging tape – check
  • Woods Hole Research Center’s Forest Carbon Measuring Field Guide – check
  • Garmin GPS 62sc units –check

Those were all items that  Indigenous field technicians learned to use, and learned to train their fellow Indigenous peoples to use, for measuring forest carbon at a November train-the-trainer workshop.

The workshop included teams of two from Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, and Peru. It was organized by a consortium consisting of the Coordinating Body of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA), Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC). In addition to training, it also covered the basics of climate change and of Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+).

Following this training workshop, each team of technicians has returned to its respective country to hold a series of community workshops over the next six months. The teams have ambitious goals: train leaders from at least 100 communities in their countries; collect 25 measurements of forest carbon from specific locations; and coordinate their work with government authorities, Indigenous organizations, and other organizations involved in REDD activities.

In addition to being a big step forward in actually implementing REDD+ on the ground, this initiative is noteworthy because it marks the first time that IDB has provided direct financing to any indigenous organization to execute a project. Previously, the money would have passed through the government or a northern non-profit such as EDF.  COICA’s capacity to directly receive those funds illustrates the tremendous progress being achieved by indigenous groups in building their institutional capacity.

REDD+ workshop photo

COICA technicians zero in on key coordinates

The workshop was located in Puyo, Ecuador, where many of the Amazon’s tributaries begin. Puyo is  a region where jungle is slowly disappearing as a result of conversion for agriculture.

Drs. Wayne Walker and Alessandro Baccini from WHRC designed a set of activities to build the forest carbon measuring skills. The technicians started practicing navigation using their GPS units to find locations throughout the city, and eventually navigated into denser and more difficult forest. From the forest locations they found with the GPSs, they measured 40 meter by 40 meter plots (about 130 feet by 130 feet), at first in an open grass area and later in a dense forest similar to what they’ll encounter in their countries. Measuring and monitoring of non-carbon forest elements was also discussed.

The technicians will be using similar activities in their two or three-day workshops at the community level. In addition to those practical “field classroom” activities, the curriculum will also include information on REDD+ and climate change that will be taught through adult-oriented learning activities such as participatory mapping and experiential sharing.

EDF and WHRC provided COICA with technical assistance in designing the November training workshop and will support the technicians throughout their six months of holding community workshops and collecting field measurements. While EDF expects the community workshops to be highly beneficial in building Indigenous peoples’ capacity to carry out these activities, we believe this project will also highlight the ability of Indigenous technicians to collect forest carbon measurements on their own and use that data to produce carbon maps and land management plans.

Overall, the ability of Indigenous Peoples to participate in REDD at national levels will visibly be strengthened immensely – a necessity if REDD+ is going to work.

Also posted in Brazil, Deforestation, Indigenous peoples, REDD| 2 Responses

In Durban, world's major economies show will to address climate change

Sunday morning around 5 am, almost 36 hours after the UN climate negotiations were slated to conclude, the chair finally banged her gavel and declared the 17th annual UN climate ministers meeting at an end. Exhausted delegates and ministers — those that hadn't already melted away to the airport hours before — emerged from an already partially dismantled venue into the bright clear sunshine and fresh promise of a new day. And just maybe, that's a metaphor for the UN climate talks as well.

Durban was quite the cliffhanger, swinging back from the brink of collapse to produce surprisingly good results compared to the low incoming expectations. Instead of being the meeting that let the Kyoto Protocol "die on African soil", as many had feared, Durban will be known for launching negotiations of a new agreement that encompasses all the major emitters, and thereby beginning finally to erode the rigid old walls between developed and developing countries. The negotiations are to conclude by 2015, and come into effect by 2020, which is far slower than the enormity of the problem requires, but a fair reflection of what the political freight in 2011 can bear. As part of the deal, the EU has agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol to at least 2017, and Kyoto parties are to finalize their next round of commitments by December 2013. These next couple of years will test whether the parties can now coax into flame the spark of hope struck here, or whether they go back into their respective corners of stalling and delay.

Lack of certainty over whether the global community will move beyond the vague action plans and pledges that were the outcome of previous meetings has hampered the development of robust climate policy in many nations, and threatened to undermine the important national commitments that have already been made in jurisdictions from Australia to California, and Europe to New Zealand. The agreement reached in Durban is an opportunity to improve upon that situation: its goal is an outcome, that is, in the words of the Durban conclusions, "a protocol, another legal instrument, or an agreed outcome with legal force under the UNFCCC", applicable to all Parties. Stronger than the "agreed outcome" language of the Bali Action Plan, the Durban meeting therefore cracks open the door on negotiations which could lead to the kind of comprehensive, legally binding treaty that can serve as a powerful driver of domestic action. But the lack of specificity in this negotiating mandate also means that the Parties could use it to continue to posture, delay, and reargue old fights.

In a top priority for developing countries, the gathered nations also took a critical step toward making the much-anticipated Green Climate Fund a reality, by agreeing on structural details for setting up the fund, which aims to finance efforts of developing countries to adapt to the impact climate change and curb their greenhouse gas emissions. And even though the new fund is not quite yet a functional bank, Germany, Denmark, and South Korea have made the first pledges for contributions in 2013.

In other key developments, there was solid progress on developing standards for anti-deforestation work in developing countries (known as REDD+, for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), as well as recognition that carbon markets could be used to finance forest protection. Unfortunately, though, standards were adopted for developed-country forest and land use accounting that create big loopholes in meeting their emission reduction commitments.

The global carbon market dodged a major bullet in Durban. Collapsed talks could have been disastrous. Instead, a positive signal came through clearly: the Kyoto Protocol will be extended; the Ministers endorsed market-based financing for REDD+; they have agreed to define a new market mechanism (in addition to the existing clean development mechanism (CDM) and joint implementation projects); and the EU is already talking about tightening its emissions reduction target, which will increase demand for international credits. And overall, Durban's signal that the world's major economies are serious about addressing climate change over the long term will boost countries' bottom up efforts to institute emissions trading schemes, as in Australia, Korea, Brazil, and China.

Nations that have implemented Kyoto through domestically binding targets, in particular the EU, have learned how powerfully these targets can drive national action, and how domestic carbon markets can drive innovation and the search for better, cheaper faster ways of cutting global warming pollution. It is vital that the next round of negotiations continue this drive.

Also posted in Durban (COP-17), REDD, UN negotiations| 2 Responses

Deep into overtime, countries in Durban lay groundwork for future global climate agreement

Breaking the record for the longest UN climate negotiations ever, the two-week-long international climate talks in Durban, South Africa wrapped up early yesterday morning with the world taking a small, but essential, step toward a global agreement to curb climate change.

The UN climate conference went into a second day past its scheduled end at the Durban International Conference Center, but its resulting Durban Platform has produced a good first step toward a global climate agreement.

It had been a long night leading up to the conclusion: enthusiastic soccer fans had taken a break from the dragging negotiations late Saturday night at the conference center's cafe and bar, seemingly the home to the only television not tuned to the center's closed-circuit channels, to drink local Castle beer and watch Barcelona's 3-1 victory over Real Madrid; and by the end of the negotiations at dawn on Sunday morning, most attendees — including a number of the negotiators and ministers covering critical issues at the talks — had already left, a significant number of them to catch their flights home.

But applause rang loudly from the remaining countries and non-governmental organizations in the large Baobob plenary room when the president of the conference, South African Minister of International Relations Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, wrapped up the UN climate negotiations' 17th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP-17) at 5 a.m. Sunday.  Having run into a second day — 35 hours after its supposed 6 p.m. Friday deadline — Durban's conference now holds the record for the UN's longest climate negotiations.

The Durban Platform

The "Durban Platform" reached by countries at COP-17 reflects the "first small but essential steps toward creating a new global agreement to curb climate change," Jennifer Haverkamp, director of EDF's international climate program, said in a statement.

For the first time all major emitting nations, including China and India, have agreed on the need to move forward – and to do so together.

The challenge is that we begin the talks from the lowest common denominator of every party’s aspirations. For this effort to be successful, countries need to be ambitious in their commitments and to refuse to use these negotiations as just another stalling tool.

Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane

The president of COP-17, Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, speaking at the closing session of the UN climate conference early Sunday morning.

The conference also saw two big wins on individual policy issues:

  1. Finance: Accomplishing one of the highest priorities for this conference, countries agreed to start building infrastructure for the "Green Climate Fund,"  which is dedicated to helping developing countries address and adapt to climate change.  Now that the Fund has been launched, one of the highest priorities for countries is to find the public and private money to finance it.
  2. Avoiding deforestation: Countries included carbon markets as a possible funding source to pay for policies to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).  This represents a major achievement for countries, as markets are important in achieving the large-scale, sustainable funding needed to keep carbon-rich tropical forests alive.
However, the Durban Platform included a less-than-positive move in rules to measure emissions from land-use and forestry.  In EDF's closing statement, Jennifer Haverkamp explained:

An unfortunate development in the Durban talks was the finalization of rules for measuring emissions from forests in developed countries that may allow countries to increase their forest emissions without penalty by almost half a billion tons of emissions a year.

Some countries will be rewarded even if they increase emissions from forests, while others will receive massive windfalls for doing nothing.

Read more about the Durban outcomes in EDF's closing statement and Reuters' wrap-up analysis.  We will be posting our own further analysis on the Durban outcomes soon.
Also posted in Deforestation, Durban (COP-17), News, REDD, UN negotiations| 2 Responses

Durban UN climate talks could see modest, incremental progress; What to watch at COP-17

Amid the dismal global economic climate and the nearing expiration of the sole international agreement that obligates nations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, the Kyoto Protocol, representatives from more than 190 countries are gathering in Durban, South Africa to continue negotiations toward a comprehensive global agreement to curb climate change.

Regrettably, but not surprisingly, this year’s annual two-week meeting of countries party to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – the 17th Conference of Parties, or COP-17 – is generally anticipated to make only modest, incremental progress toward that goal.

Modest success for the Durban conference would entail countries producing a timetable and clear path to negotiate a new comprehensive agreement that has binding obligations to reduce global emissions and achieve climate safety. Countries also need to commit to further reducing emissions through pledges and commitments – ideally by signing up for a second round of commitments to the Kyoto Protocol.

However, given political realities and the global economic downturn, even that’s a heavy lift.

Under these unfortunate circumstances, our expectations for Durban must fall far short of our desired outcomes.   Instead, the best outcomes EDF can foresee in Durban are:

  1. For countries to maintain forward momentum in the UN climate negotiations process.  A reasonable expectation is for agreement on a negotiating “work plan” that states which issues countries will tackle for the next couple of years, and for a clear path toward a comprehensive, binding agreement.
  2. Incremental progress in setting up the institutional structures needed to implement the Cancun Agreements.  Most notably, countries should launch and agree to begin funding the Green Climate Fund, dedicated to helping developing countries address and adapt to climate change.
  3. A positive signal to the carbon market that there’s life after DurbanAustralia’s passing a domestic carbon price sent a very strong signal just this month.  But more countries need to step up to the plate.
  4. For emissions from land-use change and forestry, the adoption of rules for accounting that determine with environmental integrity whether countries have in fact reduced their emissions and met their obligations.

Later in this post, we analyze in greater detail these and other key issues likely to figure prominently in the upcoming negotiations.

The U.S. role in Durban

There’s a perception that the United States – in the midst of President Obama's reelection campaign– does not want to rock the boat in Durban, since climate change isn’t a high-profile issue in the race back home.

It’s also very difficult for the U.S., which never ratified the Kyoto Protocol and has no near-term prospect of domestic federal climate legislation, to support a negotiating mandate whose goal is a binding, ambitious global climate deal anytime soon.

But the Obama Administration is trying to walk a fine line between urging global action and putting the brakes on negotiated outcomes too ambitious for its domestic politics.  At a press conference during his recent trip to Australia, Obama reiterated the U.S. position of wanting all countries – not just major developed countries – to address climate change:

We all have a responsibility to find ways to reduce our carbon emissions [but] advanced economies can’t do this alone…  [S]o, ultimately, what we want is a mechanism whereby all countries are making an effort.  And it’s going to be a tough slog, particularly at a time when… a lot of economies are still struggling.  But I think it’s actually one that, over the long term, can be beneficial.

The critical question for the other countries around the table is now this: do they temper the ambition and reshape the objectives of this process to accommodate the U.S. domestic situation, or do they continue striving for the kind of comprehensive, binding agreement needed to deal with the problem?

Regardless, until the U.S. can bring more to the climate change negotiations than empty pockets on its domestic policy side, emerging economies are unlikely to come forward with bold actions themselves.  Put another way, incremental progress is probably the most the UN process can expect for the foreseeable future.

Real progress being made through national, regional, local “bottom-up” measures

UN climate negotiations, while important, are fortunately but one front of several in the fight against disastrous climate change.  When looked at in the broader context of what must happen, Durban in and of itself is not the place where the battle will be won or lost.

Real progress is taking place at the national, regional and local levels, creating a world of bottom-up actions addressing climate change.

  • In Australia, an official carbon price goes into effect in July, which should help dent its emissions – the highest, per capita, of any developed country.
  • Europe’s Emissions Trading System continues its steady growth, and soon will cover aviation emissions.
  • California has just approved the largest, first-ever economy-wide carbon market in North America, which could eventually link to other carbon markets around the world.
  • China’s latest five-year plan has a limited cap-and-trade system and significant carbon intensity reduction targets.
  • New Zealand has a domestic emissions trading system.
  • Korea has pending legislation to create its own domestic emissions trading system.

A great story in the Financial Times along these lines says that despite the “glacial pace” of the UN talks, it has become “more and more evident that many of the world’s biggest countries and companies are pressing on regardless. From China to California, from Ford to PepsiCo, there has been a striking surge in emissions-cutting activity."

Policy issues to watch

EDF's experts have been closely tracking policy issues leading up to Durban, and below we highlight some background and recommendations for those likely to feature prominently in the negotiations.

Kyoto Protocol

Durban is not a case of “the future of Kyoto hanging by a thread,” although that’s how some have been casting it.  Rather, nations are grappling with how to proceed, despite there having been very few developments to help them overcome the historically deep divides between industrialized and developing countries on climate policy, divides whose origins go back to the birth of the UNFCCC more than twenty years ago.

Notably, the U.S. is not offering anything new to help overcome these divides. The dismal state of US federal climate policy has raised problems for both the Dialogue on Long-Term Cooperative Action (“LCA” – discussions under the UNFCCC track, in which the US participates) and for the talks about extending the Kyoto Protocol through a second round of emissions reduction commitments (in which it does not). But the US paralysis, and consequent exacerbation of the gaps between and among the countries in those forums, open up, for those nations that do want to move forward, an important opportunity to closely consider what they really need and want from the Kyoto Protocol and the UNFCCC in order to tackle the climate change problem effectively.

What’s important here is not specifically whether nations agree in Durban to a second commitment period under Kyoto.  Their low probability of doing so at this meeting has been widely recognized for some time. What IS important is that the nations participating in Kyoto have learned a lot about its fundamental architecture in the fourteen years since it was adopted.  They have learned that much of that architecture is capable of catalyzing large amounts of investment, innovation, and finance for low carbon development.  They have also learned that, frankly, some of that architecture is clunky and could usefully be revised.  Based on that learning, many nations are sorting out which elements of Kyoto they want to keep and build upon, which elements could usefully be changed, and what new elements might need to be added in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of efforts to tackle and respond to climate change and foster low-carbon economic development.

What’s clear is that, at the top of the list, many nations have learned that well-designed carbon market frameworks have great potential for helping achieve these goals.  So they want to keep, in some fashion, and to build upon, the carbon market elements of the Kyoto Protocol.  That’s why we are seeing continued progress in the Kyoto Protocol and LCA on market infrastructure and expansion, for example in the areas of MRV (infrastructure), and REDD+, and sectoral mechanisms (expansion), and we expect that Durban will yield positive incremental results in these areas. That’s also why we are seeing the EU moving forward with its carbon market, and new carbon markets under development in Australia, New Zealand, California, and China.

Where Kyoto’s architecture is incomplete, nations will continue to try to build out new elements, focusing, for example, on adaptation and finance. Whether nations ultimately build on the elements of the Kyoto Protocol under the auspices of that agreement, or under the UNFCCC through the LCA track, or by developing new frameworks that build on the key elements of each, will not be sorted out completely at Durban.

In fact, the Durban meeting could simply agree to apply the existing Kyoto framework as a practical matter for a few years beyond 2012 as nations undertake this build-out process. But what is clear is that core elements of the Kyoto Protocol – including the core concepts of carbon markets – will continue, through Durban and beyond. 

Climate Finance

Financing both the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and countries' adaptation to the changing climate will be one of the most critical issues in this year's negotiations.

Often the current global economic crisis is offered as a reason for slow actions on climate finance. For a while this was true but this is rapidly evolving. It should be noted that liquidity exists in the market and capital is seeking good places for investment – meaning now is the time to really leverage climate finance as one of the tools to catalyze investments and job creation while addressing climate change.

Countries must think creatively about new and sustainable sources of financing.  Most observers, including the UN Director General's advisory committee on finance, recognize that much of the $100 billion will have to come from private sources.  Well-functioning carbon markets (including linked global markets) are one way to finance and efficiently reduce emissions globally.  But especially in the interval while that market is developing, the role of well-directed scarce public finance is critically important to progress on climate mitigation and adaptation.

In Cancun, countries agreed to establish a “Green Climate Fund.” In Durban it’s likely – and we believe necessary – that countries make critical progress on the Fund by determining where it will be housed.  There are many options available for where and how the Fund will operate, but the ultimate system selected should leverage existing institutional capacities, and not create a new bureaucratic structure.  It should also be efficient, transparent and effective, and include methods for measuring return on investment.

We urge countries to direct climate finance funds to investments that:

  • Avoid overly political allocation decisions.
  • Help countries adapt to climate change.
  • Include good climate effectiveness, ensuring that funds lead to real emissions reductions.

With finance being a major issue in Durban, countries can’t afford to allow the global economic crisis or political issues to undermine much-needed funding efforts. If nations don’t pay for climate mitigation and adaptation to avert problems now, they will be paying for it later in the aftermath of devastating natural disasters, destruction of farmlands and other inevitable impacts from unchecked climate change.

REDD+ and Indigenous Peoples

Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) was a highlight of Cancun last year, as parties put their stamp of approval on and agreed to the basic framework for the REDD+ program.  In Durban, the parties could agree on REDD+ policy details that would enable countries to move forward with their own initiatives while ensuring environmental integrity –  but decisions on REDD+ are likely tied to achieving breakthroughs on the higher profile , more political issues, such as the fate of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and the launch of the Green Climate Fund.

If countries do overcome these major political issues, Durban could produce REDD+ decisions on:

  1. Social safeguards/ information for safeguard systems: The discussions over the past year, most recently in Panama, of a safeguard information system – a system to provide information on the implementation of safeguards that ensure respect for the basic human rights (rights to resources, land, consultation, etc.) of people affected by REDD+ activities – have provided enough momentum to help the Parties reach a decision in the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA).  Although a final outcome may be beyond reach in Durban, EDF believes that even a basic outline for safeguard strategies, which includes support for indigenous peoples, will help move REDD+ policy in a good direction.
  2. REDD+ finance: With a few exceptions, countries have largely agreed that carbon market financing should be included as a potential source of financing for REDD+.  Although broader financing decisions may not be reached, we hope that the Durban conference will formally adopt the use of carbon markets as a finance option.
  3. Reference Levels: Countries in Durban may, though are unlikely to, settle on REDD+ reference levels (that is, initial reference points for countries which help them determine their total emissions from deforestation and measure their progress in reducing emissions).
  4. Measuring, reporting and verification (MRV): MRV is its own agenda item in the negotiations, but the MRV of REDD+ is unique, since measuring emissions in relation to trees is different from measuring emissions from cars or smokestacks.  We don’t expect MRV to be decided for REDD+ in Durban, either in the MRV discussions or in the REDD+ discussions.

Most easily attainable of these REDD actions  would be a technical decision on a framework for the functioning of the safeguard information system, followed by REDD+ finance.  But if the talks stall on the larger political issues, even these REDD+ decisions will, unfortunately, get pushed off to next year.

Land Use, Land-Use Change & Forestry (LULUCF)

Issues related to the greenhouse gases associated with land use and forestry are tremendously important for climate change, but over the years they have consistently been among the most contentious topics in the UNFCCC, as covered under rules for Land Use, Land-Use Change & Forestry (LULUCF).

Forests sequester vast amounts of carbon every year, removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, and for some countries the management of their forests makes a huge difference in whether they can meet their national targets for reducing emissions.  However, forests are natural systems, and their dynamics are not entirely under human control, making it difficult to account for the effects of forest management and other land-use activities.

Forest accounting discussions are important for both developed countries that are managing emissions from their forests, and developing countries that are working to reduce emissions from deforestation.  Flawed forest accounting rules could directly reduce the financial support for both efforts.  The accounting rules for forests in developed countries may serve as a guide for future accounting rules for developing countries under REDD+, so all countries have a stake in these rules.

This year, we have seen reasonable progress on forest-related accounting issues.  In Cancun, the developed countries agreed to submit new, more detailed information on their forest emissions. All of this information was subjected to an expert review, giving us a higher level of clarity about what is happening in their forests.  Also, the countries negotiated solid provisions to deal with unforeseen disturbances (such as wildfires and tsunamis) and to improve accounting for durable wood products, such as housing and furniture.

We think the time has come for countries to adopt a set of robust rules for forest accounting, so that the issue does not impede the effort to set new Kyoto Protocol targets.  At the same time, we insist that these rules have environmental integrity – civil society and vulnerable countries will not — and should not — accept a set of rules that undermine the goals of the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol.

A group of African countries has been working on an approach that we think could break the logjam in Durban on this difficult and complex issue. It would award countries credits toward their targets only after they reduce their forest emissions to below historical levels. That approach could give countries the necessary flexibility to stabilize emissions from forest management over the longer term. EDF experts have been advising the Africa group on their work.

The proposal by the African nations could correct a flaw in another approach, called Reference Levels, which would permit countries to increase their emissions by cutting down more forests, without paying the price for those emissions.  Since increasing emissions from forests has the same atmospheric impact as burning fossil fuels, we consider increasing forest emissions without consequences to be unacceptable.

International Transport

Efforts to curb emissions from international aviation, one of the more contentious issues of  the year, will likely spur heated debate during the Durban climate negotiations as Parties push for action to tackle emissions reductions in the separate UN agencies responsible for global aviation and maritime shipping.

Tensions already are high with a case against the European Union’s law to reduce emissions from aviation pending in the European Court of Justice, a U.S. House-passed bill to prohibit airlines from complying with the EU law, and a recent UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council meeting where disagreements flared over the EU law.

To push regulatory efforts of ICAO and the UN's International Maritime Organization (IMO) forward, Parties to the UNFCCC need to send a clear signal in Durban that these two agencies must not delay in designing and implementing a multilateral approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their sectors. However, it is crucial countries do so in a manner that does not jeopardize national or regional policies to reduce emissions from aviation and shipping, such as the EU aviation directive.

‪Negotiations on emissions from planes and ships came to a standstill in Cancun, but were resurrected at meetings earlier this year, with the slight hope of fruitful negotiations in Durban.  But the UNFCCC’s role in regulating these emissions is limited, ever since the UNFCCC booted decisions on reducing emissions from aviation and maritime to the sectors’ respective UN agencies – ICAO and IMO – nearly two decades ago. Since then, countries have yet to produce any policy solutions in these forums as they struggle over how to reduce emissions from international aviation and maritime shipping.

Legal Architecture of a UN Climate Agreement

Though many nations remain committed to an international framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting global warming, the legal architecture of such an agreement or agreements – how it could be spelled out or structured in legal terms – is in great flux.

EDF supports a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol architecture, with as many countries as possible participating with their own binding commitments, and the option for other countries to link with their own national systems at a later point.

Regardless of the outcome at Durban, the fundamental infrastructure and principles of the Kyoto Protocol have proven successful.  Many aspects of the Kyoto Protocol are now being incorporated into national systems, including:

  • Binding caps on emissions
  • Flexible market mechanisms to meet these caps
  • Accountability

We strongly encourage nations to enshrine these principles in a legally binding framework that is open to any country willing to participate. Disagreements between major emitters or a lack of universal agreement on a legal format should not impede nations that are willing to be climate leaders from moving forward from  Durban with an architecture that supports environmental integrity and predictability for markets.

Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV)

In Cancun last year, nations agreed to develop new rules for keeping track of global warming emissions and emissions reductions in both developed and developing countries.

Robust and transparent measuring, reporting, and verification (MRV) is essential for building the trust necessary for countries to take action and compare efforts in reducing emissions, and for creating a structure that would encourage  investment, innovation, and finance for low-carbon development.

In negotiations since Cancun, nations have already produced preliminary guidelines for reporting to be undertaken by developing and developed countries, as well as mechanisms for analyzing the results and providing support to improve future efforts.

In Durban, they have the opportunity to strengthen provisions for transparency and accountability to ensure environmental integrity and improve the quality of carbon markets.  EDF also supports proposals that allow major-emitting developing countries to step up to a higher level of MRV.  Parties will also work on resolving such issues as timelines for reporting, and the proper role of NGOs in ensuring transparency and accountability in national reporting.

If the Kyoto Protocol's history is a guide, Durban is likely to yield a foundation that leads to tighter standards on MRV over time.  It took two or three years from the time Kyoto was agreed to when nations sorted out some of the regime's accounting rules.  We may expect a similar timeline for working out the kinks of Cancun's MRV agreements.

Closing Observations

Eyebrows sometimes get raised at the size and scope of the UNFCCC’s large annual gatherings, which bring together not only delegates from more than 190 countries, but a host of other participants, many of whom never see the inside of the official conference venue, much less buttonhole a negotiator.  This is especially the case in years with modest negotiating ambitions.

But it's important to remember that these annual COPs also host the lower profile working meetings that implement the various existing agreements and provide support and education to the parties.  And over the years they have taken on almost a medieval fair aspect, becoming the annual meetings of a de facto global trade association of climate change professionals, activists, and their supporters.  The city will serve up a rich smorgasbord of official and unofficial “side events”,  receptions, and hallway conversations where participants share exciting new ideas, launch reports, and recount progress and problems taking place outside the UN's auspices.

The annual gatherings also are important for helping keep the pressure on countries, refocusing international media attention on climate change, and serving as crucial action-forcing events.  It’s not a coincidence that Australia passed its carbon price just weeks before Durban, or that South Africa, as the host country, released its own climate plan last month.

Making Durban a success is a daunting challenge, and even more so for the conference's hosts, South Africa –  logistically, substantively, and diplomatically.  They are hosting a huge gathering of ministers, negotiators, myriad environmental, labor, business, agricultural and other stakeholders, activists, indigenous peoples, and youth, all while wearing three distinctly different hats:  neutral COP chair, member of the BASIC major emerging economies bloc (with Brazil, India and China), and representative of the Africa Group of countries, whose members include the some of the most vulnerable, least developed nations.

We wish the South African hosts well, and urge all the gathered nations to work hard and negotiate in good faith.  They must deliver on the modest expectations they have set themselves; our planet's future cannot afford anything less.

Also posted in Aviation, Deforestation, Durban (COP-17), Indigenous peoples, REDD, UN negotiations| 2 Responses
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