Category Archives: Indigenous peoples

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), Forestry, REDD, UN negotiations |: | 2 Responses

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and EDF partner to show on-the-ground realities of reducing emissions from deforestation (REDD+) in Panama

en español  |  This blog was co-authored by Environmental Defense Fund’s Amazon Basin Project Coordinator Chris Meyer and McGill University professor and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s Research Associate Dr. Catherine Potvin.

Deforestation accounts for as much as 15% of all manmade global warming pollution, and negotiators from countries around the world have been working to hammer out policies at United Nations climate talks to reduce emissions from deforestation.

It’s easy to get lost in the details of the complex policies of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), and miss what’s happening — and who’s working — on the ground.  So, just prior to the UN climate negotiations in Panama City earlier this month, Environmental Defense Fund’s Chris Meyer and McGill University and Smithsonian’s Dr. Catherine Potvin organized a field trip for UN negotiators to see first-hand the realities of deforestation, and of the policies that have been put in place to protect forests.

Indigenous-led REDD+ project preserving trees in eastern Panama

The hill on the right side of this photo, taken in the Panama province of Darien, has been deforested by migrant farmers, while the indigenous-owned lands on the left hill and in the distance show heavily forested lands that are absorbing carbon and helping curb global warming. (Photo courtesy of STRI.)

For their first stop, REDD+ negotiators from Canada, Denmark, the European Union, France, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Peru, the United States, and a member of Panama’s government's REDD+ team visited a REDD+ project in eastern Panama.

The 500 indigenous people who live in Ipeti-Embera control approximately 3,200 hectares (7,910 acres) of land.  In the eastern part of Panama, including the provinces of Panama and Darien, where the community is located, huge swathes of primary forest, rich in biodiversity, have been cleared for timber and cattle ranching by migrant farmers coming from Panama's central Provinces.  Indigenous People mostly try to withstand invasion from these migrants, as they value the forest more than pastures.  The REDD+ project seeks to find a solution to such land conflicts and deforestation.

This picture shows the benefits of having indigenous communities control forests; the indigenous-owned lands of Ipeti-Embera on the left remain heavily forested, while the hill to the right has been cleared of its forests and converted to cattle pasture.

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute using REDD+ to become carbon neutral

In 2007, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) decided to move towards carbon neutrality.  As part of its strategy to offset its carbon footprint, STRI became interested in piloting a REDD+ project with the Ipeti-Embera community.

Twenty-one families in Ipeti-Embera now have small reforestation parcels of native species that are sequestering carbon while 48 households are ready to modify their pattern of land use to reduce deforestation and forest degradation.  STRI is purchasing the sequestered carbon, or carbon offsets, while analyzing the barriers to implementation of similar projects elsewhere.

McGill University and Smithsonian’s Potvin said:

The revenue from the offset sales to STRI is a welcomed extra income for the families.

After a delicious customary lunch served in banana leaves, the group headed to the community of Nuevo Paraíso, or New Paradise.

REDD+ can sustain communities and keep trees standing

Country negotiators, members from non-governmental groups, and local residents look at young mahogany trees, planted by the local indigenous people of Ipeti-Embera. The group was able to talk with community leaders about the community's efforts to reduce deforestation. (Photo courtesy of STRI.)

Founded about 25 years ago, Nuevo Paraíso is a migrant farmers community whose families own 25-50 hectares of land and practice a mix of subsistence agriculture and small-scale cattle ranching on deforested land.

In this field trip, negotiators were able to see REDD+ projects that work with communities and farmers to prevent further deforestation and maximize the benefits of forest protection.

EDF’s Chris Meyer said:

This was a truly eye-opening experience for negotiators, seeing how well policies to avoid deforestation work.  Negotiators told us they enjoyed the opportunity to spend time on the ground in the rainforest, and some even mentioned this was their first time in the forest and first contact with communities trying to halt deforestation.

In Ipeti-Embera, negotiators had time to speak with community leaders and participants in the REDD+ project, and witness first-hand the complex challenges of implementation.  In Nuevo Paraíso, discussion centered on how the private sector could be successfully engaged in REDD+ activities, and provide much-needed financing.

Financing options for REDD+, including carbon markets, are on the official agenda for the upcoming UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa, at the end of this year.  These negotiators now are able to take back with them to Durban and later international climate talks the on-the-ground knowledge they have about the REDD+ projects, including that REDD+ policies work, and local communities are critical to implementing — and simultaneously benefitting — from them.

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Read this blog in Spanish/ Siga este vinculo para leer el blog en español: El Instituto de Investigaciones Tropicales del Smithsonian y EDF colaboran para mostrar la realidad local sobre la reducción de emisiones por deforestación (REDD+) en Panamá

Also posted in Deforestation, REDD |: | 1 Response

Tragedy and transformation in Brazil's Xingu River Basin

Since 2004, Environmental Defense Fund and partners Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) and Foundation for Life, Production and Preservation (FVPP) have been working on a project to create and implement the world’s largest continuous tropical forest corridor, in Brazil’s Xingu River Basin.

Xingu River Basin Protected Areas from space. The Protected Areas Corridor covers about half of the basin. Source: Alicia Rolla, Instituto Socioambiental (2009)

At 27 million hectares, the corridor is about the size of the United Kingdom.  Like the United Kingdom, you can see it from space.

While protected areas are still verdant, an explosion of deforestation around cattle ranching, soy farming and other activities has devastated forests on the frontier.  If you were to look on the corridor from Earth’s moon, you could make out a distinct line where the forest stops and the frontier begins.

Since deforestation contributes to about 15% of global carbon dioxide emission, there’s an environmental imperative to preserve tropical forests.

But there’s also a very real human element: The Xingu Indigenous Park area of the basin alone is home to 18 indigenous communities and features 16 languages.

Indigenous community survives disease and displacement, takes future into own hands

One of these groups is the Panará community.  Thirty years ago I lived among the Panará while doing anthropological field work. One of their leaders, Krentom, is a friend to this day.  When I think about what’s happened (and happening) in the region, I think about it through the experience of Krentom.

My friend Krentom, a leader of the Panará community.

The story of indigenous communities in Brazil since the last half of the 20th century is one of tragedy and transformation.  They went from having generic constitutional rights, but almost no land, to enjoying full recognition under the law and extensive forested territories.  They’re now stewards of 20% of the Amazon – an area of forest twice the size of California –and are  at the core of the Brazilian government’s forest protection efforts.  None of this came easily.

In the early 1970s, the Brazilian government built a major road through the Panará’s traditional homeland, which would prove devastating to the environment and the community.  With the road came previously unknown diseases that claimed 60% of the population at the time.

Areas of deforestation in the Xingu River Basin shown in orange. Deforestation levels in 1994 are on the left, and in 2005 on the right. Source: Instituto Socioambiental (2009)

The survivors were relocated by the government, and Krentom led them through the difficult process of putting their community back together as their traditional lands were destroyed by ranching and logging.  In the mid-1990s, EDF and ISA helped the Panará regain a forest area about the size of Delaware — their remaining traditional land — in what is today the Xingu Protected Areas Corridor.

The Panará took their future into their own hands, establishing their presence by way of villages and gardens to secure their territory before land grabbers and ranchers could take it.  Their population has returned to at or above pre-1968 levels.

Protecting forests offer indigenous communities path to sustainable prosperity

Many indigenous communities like the Panará are now faced with a dilemma.

Growing up, Krentom didn’t know what it was to be poor.  Now he does.  But what to do?  He’d like economic opportunity, but not from anything that degrades the land (e.g., unsustainable farming) or that violates the law (e.g., illegal logging).

Krentom gets the concept of payment for environmental services, and he likes the idea of REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) programs, which would create a positive economic value to reducing deforestation.  Environmental Defense Fund is working independently and with partner organizations around the world to advance REDD+ work at the regional, national and international level.

This photo from the Panará village of Nansepotiti (their first village in their remaining traditional territory) illustrates the group's vibrant ceremonial life.

REDD+ means much more than cash for forest protection. We’re constantly exploring ways we can better support indigenous communities in their quest for sustainable prosperity.  There are projects that add value to responsibly produced Brazil nut oil, and others that collect seeds from native tree species for sale to reforesting efforts outside of the indigenous lands.  Our partner ISA also worked with indigenous beekeepers, getting jars of certified organic honey on the shelves of the largest supermarket chain in Brazil.

There’s clearly no one simple answer, but there are viable options that can add up to a solution.  The key to all of them is creating a basis for sustainable prosperity, which is why we are working to bring REDD+ into carbon markets.

If you’re interested in other work we’re doing in South America, my colleague Chris Meyer recently wrote about the important role indigenous communities play in Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador are playing in the monitoring, reporting and verifying (MRV) activities associated with REDD+.

Also posted in Deforestation, REDD | 1 Response

Surinamese government, indigenous groups and NGOs join together to protect forests

As EDF’s Amazon Basin Project coordinator, I spend much of my time working in Latin America with our non-governmental allies to discuss REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) with indigenous groups.

REDD+ has come so far since conceived two decades ago; the general framework has been approved by the United Nations, and now countries will be spending time in the UN meetings hammering out the details at the international level.

In the meantime, EDF is partnering with groups like the Coordinating Body of the Amazon Basin Indigenous Peoples (COICA), the Amazon Institute for Environmental Research (IPAM), and U.S.-based Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) to help tropical rainforest countries and local governments with preparing for REDD+ policies to go into effect – what’s called “REDD+ Readiness.”  (Read about our REDD+ training workshops in Ecuador).

Suriname: a young country with a great opportunity for REDD+

The smallest independent country in South America, Suriname is covered mostly by tropical forests, which are threatened by logging, mining and new development. (photo credit: Wayne Walker, WHRC)

COICA recently organized a REDD+ training workshop in the small South American country of Suriname to educate their fellow Indigenous leaders.  (EDF, IPAM, and WHRC were there to help with presentations on REDD+ Readiness information and logistics.)

Suriname is a densely forested country that’s home to one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, and for its size one of the most ethnically diverse in the world.  Its topical forests, which cover most of the country, and biodiversity stand to benefit greatly from REDD+ policies as the country faces a growing interest in logging, mining, and new development, which would further contribute to the country’s deforestation and threaten the forests’ biodiversity.

Suriname is also a young country – having only gained independence from The Netherlands in 1975, it still has many basic issues to work through before REDD+ could be implemented.

Government participates with indigenous groups to conserve forests

Surinamese workshop participants participate in “REDD+ Readiness” training sessions to learn how to reduce deforestation in their country. (photo credit: Wayne Walker, WHRC)

These REDD+ training workshops are typically conducted by non-governmental organizations and attended by a number of indigenous group leaders, but this one was unique: for the full five-day workshop, the Surinamese government participated side-by-side with the indigenous leaders to learn the most effective ways to preserve the country’s forests.

During the workshop, various government officials presented how their respective ministries are developing policies related to REDD+.  The government officials’ involvement is important because policy development for the REDD+ programs requires a great deal of collaboration between indigenous groups, who will be most affected by the policies, and the government, which is designing the policies.  It’s a common problem in REDD+ countries for the government and indigenous groups to have only limited dialogue, so the earlier these conversations take place in Suriname’s REDD+ process, the more constructive the conversations will be.

A big challenge facing Suriname that is also a basic tenet for any potentially successful REDD+ program is determining the country’s laws on ownership of land and resources.

There are still many areas of the country and indigenous groups that lack “titles” to their lands, which means indigenous groups don’t have official ownership of the land they’re living on, and consequently don’t have the legal ability to decide whether potential deforestation activities such as logging and natural resource extraction can happen.  Indigenous groups are pushing for full ownership rights for REDD+ activities, which would allow the groups to reap the benefits of activities they choose to allow on their land.

Since the government is still in the process of determining how to address the land-titling, the workshop sparked spirited discussions between the indigenous leaders and government officials, addressing both sides of the challenges of determining the land-titling.

A government official works with Surinamese indigenous leaders to measure the circumference of trees during a REDD+ Readiness workshop. (photo credit: Wayne Walker, WHRC)

But by the workshop’s end, the indigenous groups understood very well that before REDD+ could work for them and their lands, the government first needed to determine their rights to their land and resources.  Government interest in REDD+ finance can help indigenous groups win recognition of their land and resource rights when governments realize that these will be crucial to accessing REDD+ markets.  Another potential way of addressing this issue is to define REDD+ as an “environmental service” and ensure that those providing the service, including indigenous communities, are the beneficiaries.

A resolution for the land rights in Suriname (and thus full REDD+ policies) is likely still years away, but it’s critical for all parties to continue a constructive dialogue like this throughout the process. The recognition of rights and new dialogues and cooperation between governments and indigenous leaders will ensure successful REDD+ programs.

Also posted in Deforestation, REDD | 2 Responses

People, plots and pixels: both high- and low-tech skills needed to measure carbon in forests

This post was originally featured on the World Bank's Development in a Changing Climate blog.

If you are in a forest in Ecuador and see indigenous communities standing with an android phone, a measuring tape and a good pair of boots, don’t be surprised. These ‘indigenous forest carbon monitors’ have been trained to collect field data by measuring a 40m x 40m sample plot. They align the center of the square plot with a GPS coordinate associated with the center of a satellite footprint, and measure the diameter of the trees in the plot. Once the measurements of the trees are determined, they are sent via phone to scientists who use satellite images – and now even images available on Google Earth – to estimate the amount of carbon stored in forests.

Indigenous forest carbon monitors practice using a GPS device, whose readings will be used along with satellite imagery to determine the density of forests. (photo credit: Max Nepstad, WHRC)

These communities can efficiently traverse terrain that is typically inaccessible to foreign technicians. The result is better forest carbon density maps that can determine changes in the amount of forest carbon present over time.

With the cutting and burning of trees contributing to about 15% of global carbon dioxide emissions, any realistic plan to reduce global warming pollution sufficiently – and in time to avoid dangerous consequences – must rely in part on preserving tropical forests.

A critical part of ensuring that the rate of deforestation is decreasing – and the part where skeptics are most vocal – is monitoringreportingand verifying (MRV) the area and density of forests. The MRV process measures the amount of carbon stored in a forest, and also helps make sure that further deforestation and degradation do not occur. It also requires both modern technology and old fashioned boots on the ground.

Modern technology, boots on the ground both needed for good forest monitoring

On the technical side, scientists analyze thousands of different satellite images, developing sophisticated algorithms to estimate the amount of carbon stored in forests based on what they see in the pictures.

However, accurately translating what they see to actual carbon estimates requires large amounts of “field data” – the boots on the ground.  This presents a great opportunity for indigenous communities to play a leading role in helping to reduce deforestation.

Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) have partnered with the Coordinating Body of the Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon Basin (COICA) to host a number of training workshops in Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador, where measuring forest carbon was one of the most popular portions of the workshop that introduced them to REDD+ – reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

WHRC, COICA, and EDF have identified many opportunities for Indigenous Peoples with proper training to contribute to the MRV of REDD+ policies. There is increasing interest and demand by local communities to be involved in the development of national forest carbon MRV systems, and a lot of potential for the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) program, for example, to help stimulate demand for indigenous involvement in MRV through programs at the national level. The next couple of years are crucial for many countries who are now developing forest carbon MRV systems on a national level, and it is important to ensure that these plans include Indigenous Peoples.

REDD+ policies are currently being negotiated at international climate talks, and MRV will be a particularly hot topic at this year’s meetings, particularly given that its design – and role for Indigenous Peoples – was left undetermined at the 2010 U.N. climate change negotiations in Cancun, Mexico.

But groups aren’t waiting for the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to act. For example, as part of its Pan-Tropical Mapping Project, WHRC coordinates the technical skills of scientists, government technicians, and nongovernmental organizations throughout the world. Their capacity building efforts (through REDD+ workshops) with COICA are gaining international attention and have been the focus of a recent presentation to the World Bank.

With training, local indigenous peoples are using their familiarity with the forest to do the same job, but with a few added benefits. While they gain a marketable technical skill, they are able to collect more field data and across larger areas. They also tend to have a greater stake in the process and design of national deforestation policies, resulting in better policies. The process provides them with better information about the state of their forests, leading to better land management and prepares them for negotiations with government and private investors.

Learn more about EDF's work with indigenous peoples protecting forests and livelihoods in the Amazon Basin.

Also posted in Deforestation, REDD | Leave a comment

The Cancún Agreements: what they mean, where issues now stand, and where they’re going (to Durban!)

Jennifer Haverkamp is EDF’s Managing Director for International Policy & Negotiations.

The deal U.N. climate negotiators reached last week in Cancún is modest, but the gathering’s dramatic conclusion does restore confidence in the U.N. process, which was limping badly after last year’s fiasco in Copenhagen.

Observers witnessed one of the most dramatic closing “plenary” sessions of the 16 years of negotiations yet, complete with rounds of standing ovations as the Mexican chair overrode Bolivia’s vocal objections and efforts to block adoption of the agreement.  But, seeing themselves as holding in their hands not just the fate of the U.N. climate process, but also the credibility of the multilateral system, 193 of the 194 countries united to adopt the “Cancún Agreements” and redefine what the climate convention’s “consensus” decision-making process means.

Unlike so many previous meetings, ministers and their negotiators vacated the Moon Palace beach resort with giddy relief and a renewed self-confidence in their ability to make progress in this particular forum.  The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks appear to have stumbled back on track.

The Cancún Agreements

Once the euphoria wears off, the Cancún Agreements will look much like the Copenhagen Accord brought in from its limbo, but with more elaboration, more institutions and committees, and a detailed work program for 2011 that will necessitate additional negotiating sessions.

The Agreements contain no new binding national pledges to cut carbon emissions, and no decision about whether to extend the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to cut greenhouse gases whose first “commitment period” is set to end in 2012.  But the Agreements do include a commitment by rich nations to create a $100 billion Green Climate Fund to help developing countries reduce their emissions and adapt to the adverse effects of climate change.  And for the first time, the UNFCCC has put its seal of approval on a framework for reducing emissions from deforestation.

The Cancún deal was reached in significant part by kicking down the road the most difficult decisions, such as the fate of the Kyoto Protocol’s second round of commitments, and how to merge the Kyoto agreement with the parallel “LCA” negotiating track, where negotiations over obligations for the U.S. and major developing countries are lodged.

The Agreements are a package of decisions balanced across the main areas of negotiation, and include:

  • a reaffirmation of countries’ Copenhagen Accord commitments to curb their greenhouse gas emissions (also known as mitigation)
  • a legal structure for the reporting and monitoring of mitigation and finance commitments
  • a strong decision on emissions from deforestation (REDD+)
  • the creation of a Green Fund and attendant institutional arrangements
  • “centers and networks” to advance the transfer of clean technology
  • institutions to assist developing countries with adaptation

What Cancún means for 2011’s Durban talks

Despite these successes, the prospects for achieving an overarching, legally binding agreement by the next Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC (COP-17) in Durban, South Africa are not materially brighter than before.

With Japan and Russia adamantly declaring they won’t re-up their Kyoto commitments beyond 2012 without the U.S., Brazil, South Africa, India and China on board with commitments, and with no prospect of U.S. legislation anytime soon, the building blocks for a deal are still elusive.

Moreover, the South African hosts have large shoes to fill: Cancún’s success is widely attributed to the diplomatic skills of Mexico’s Foreign Minister, Patricia Espinosa, and its Special Representative on Climate and U.N. Permanent Representative, Luis Alfonso de Alba, and to Mexico’s ability to run an inclusive, transparent confidence building process throughout the year.

The UNFCCC remains a forum worthy of countries and non-governmental organizations’ active engagement, but all involved need to take a long-term view of its prospects for reaching a comprehensive agreement and meanwhile continue to pursue opportunities to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in other forums.

Cancún outcomes: where policy issues stand now

On the first day of the talks, we shared a list of what we expected would be the most important issues to watch in Cancún.  It’s now clear that reducing emissions from deforestation and finance were big winners in the two-week conference, but each major policy saw some movement.

Here’s a breakdown of what happened with the main policy issues at COP-16 in Cancún, how our expectations fared, and what it means as countries turn their sights on COP-17 in Durban.

Avoiding Deforestation (REDD+)

In what Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared “undoubtedly one of the greatest outcomes of this conference”, the UNFCCC adopted a decision on deforestation and climate change.  Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) was seen by many as an area most likely to make some progress in Cancún if an overall agreement could be reached, but negotiators managed to exceed expectations, approving the key elements needed to make REDD+ a reality.

In a welcome move, negotiators agreed to all three proposed phases of REDD+: REDD+ readiness (phase 1), REDD+ implementation (phase 2), and results-based payment-for-performance (phase 3).  The agreement also includes a global goal for reducing emissions from deforestation, and allows for interim state-level REDD+ programs that have clear paths toward becoming national-level.

In the next year, countries will explore the options for financing all three phases and report back their findings in Durban.  To ensure REDD+ policies’ workability and durability, countries must use the sustainable and large-scale funding that carbon markets can generate, and heading out of Cancún, all but one country – Bolivia – agrees that markets should be explored.  The decision also instructs the technical advisory group to the Convention to decide on the monitoring, methods and safeguards needed to implement REDD+ in the next two years.

The basic framework that this decision creates will give countries and the private sector the needed guidance and certainty to make REDD+ a reality.  In a historic achievement, after five years of debate, the UNFCCC has put its seal of approval on REDD+.

Indigenous Peoples and REDD+

The role of stakeholders was strengthened through the REDD+ decision’s incorporation of social and environmental safeguards.  The decision includes transparency measures for protections for indigenous peoples, who are critically important to REDD+ policies because they are best-suited to monitor and protect their land from deforestation.

The Parties also agreed to tie financing for REDD+ activities to these environmental and social safeguards, meaning countries will have to show they are protecting forests and indigenous peoples in order to receive financing for their REDD+ projects and giving indigenous peoples more control over the financing of their development pathway.

The REDD+ decision also importantly includes a reference to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) that could provide for annual reporting of social safeguards by countries to the UNFCCC, and should provide a safeguard framework from which to start REDD+ readiness work.

Finance

Finance has been and remains one of the lynchpins for a comprehensive global climate deal.  Cancún produced a good, balanced result, establishing a Green Climate Fund (GCF) while focusing more on institutional arrangements for finance than on by when and from where funds might come.  The GCF, a top-line demand of developing countries, will disburse funds devoted to climate mitigation and adaptation activities.

The funds are to be governed by a board of 24 members – with equal representation from developed and developing countries – and includes mechanisms that allow recourse to experts.  The structure also ingeniously addresses the concerns of the developing world; instead of using current and existing institutions for setting the guidelines and the delivery of long-term finances, the World Bank is deemed an interim trustee of the funds for the next three years and will manage and deliver the funds under direction from the Board with clear administration and accounting guidelines.  Under this process, Parties will have transparency and control of the process, and are ensured balance between financing activities for climate mitigation and adaptation.

For short-term finance issues, the Cancún Agreements reiterate developed countries’ commitments in the Copenhagen Accord to deliver on “fast-start finance” within three years, and include commitments to better reporting, balance among themes (e.g. adaptation, mitigation, forestry, and capacity building), and prioritization for the most vulnerable nations.

Now long-term finance will be the larger focus, though Parties postponed addressing sources of finance and commitments, instead taking note of the report of the U.N. Secretary General’s Advisory Group on Finance (AGF) and designating a Standing Committee for the Fund to mobilize resources for long-term financing.  This postpones – to Durban or beyond – a discussion of long term finance options, pending establishment of the Committee.

The AGF report clearly indicates there are multiple ways to reach the targeted $100 billion-per-year climate funding by 2020, including well-designed and transparent market mechanisms.  Governments must take the first step in providing financing, but ultimately the only truly scalable and sustainable source of finance is the private sector, responding to proper government incentives – which is why it was encouraging to see in the negotiating text language supportive of markets.

To ensure effectiveness and build confidence in the GCF, the global community must now guarantee transparency and accountability in how the funds are generated, allocated, and spent.

Shared Vision (Long-Term Targets) and Pledges

One of the most contentious issues in the negotiations, and a top priority for the United States, was giving the emission reduction pledges of last year’s Copenhagen Accord a more formal status under the U.N. climate agreement.  Because they spanned both developed and developing country commitments, and thus departed from the Kyoto Protocol’s stark division of responsibility, where and how this was done carried major baggage.  Ultimately, the Parties simply “took note of” the pledges, arguably little improvement over their taking note of the Copenhagen Accord.

The Parties did, however, agree on the need to take urgent action to meet the long-term goal of holding temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius, a level above which the planet is expected to suffer serious irreversible impacts.  Notably, they also agreed on the need for “peaking emissions”, and to work in 2011 towards identifying a timeframe for when emissions at a global level should reach their peak and begin declining.  And, addressing a “must have” of the Small Island States, they agreed to a review and possible strengthening of the goal to 1.5 degrees Celsius.  Agreeing on an actual collective emissions reduction goal by 2050 was postponed until Durban.

Transparency & Accountability (MRV)

Thanks in large part to a compromise proposal from India’s Minister Ramesh, the U.S. and China were able to reach agreement on their biggest sticking point: transparency and accountability (known in the UNFCCC as monitoring, reporting, and verification, or MRV) for developed and developing countries’ mitigation actions and for the financing of developing country actions.

The agreement requires developed countries to enhance the reporting of their mitigation actions (including submitting annual emission inventories and reporting on their progress in achieving their emissions reductions), and also to improve the reporting of their financial, technological and capacity-building support to developing countries.  It requires developing countries to improve their reporting on emissions and actions, with their reports subject to domestic monitoring, reporting, and verification “in accordance with guidelines to be developed under the Convention”.  The reports will also be reviewed by independent technical experts.

The Parties also agreed on a workplan for enhancing the relevant guidelines.  These provisions are an important step toward national accountability, but what precisely goes into those guidelines, how they are applied, and how they are enforced remain crucial open questions that will have to be answered credibly if the UNFCCC is to support a viable global carbon market and ensure that countries deliver the emission reductions needed to avert dangerous climate change.

Land-Use and Forestry

Heading into Cancún, hopes were high that agreement could be reached on the accounting rules for emissions from changes in land use (like forestry), which are a prerequisite to setting targets for the Kyoto Parties’ second commitment period.  Parties in Cancún had the opportunity to reach consensus on robust rules with strong environmental integrity that would enhance accuracy, comparability, completeness, consistency, and transparency in land-use accounting – but they only managed a few baby steps toward this goal. ‪

Parties ultimately agreed to require developed countries to undertake a technical review of how they were constructing their chosen forest-accounting baselines (initial level of emissions), and agreed on a detailed set of guidelines for conducting such reviews with environmental integrity.  The technical review process was developed in response to developing countries’ (and non-governmental organizations’) concerns about potential loopholes and a lack of transparency.

These scientific reviews will ensure developed countries will be forthcoming about their data in a comparable and consistent way; their data will be reviewed by independent experts from around the world; and the review process will catch any problems.  The strength of this review process also creates a powerful disincentive for any Party that is considering a baseline that isn't comparable, consistent, or as accurate as other Parties'.

All other questions were put off – including those that could have made progress toward delivering a complete package, like forest management baselines, and the accounting for harvested wood – with the intention of finalizing them by Durban, when Parties will also have the benefit of seeing the results of the technical reviews.  In the meantime, countries should focus on accomplishing a robust and timely review, and resolving these remaining elements of the package in a way that maintains the environmental integrity of the system.

Future of the Kyoto Protocol

The Parties punted on one of the most contentious issues facing them: the fate of the Kyoto Protocol.  In Cancún, developed country parties to the Kyoto Protocol finally embraced a collective goal of reducing their emissions by 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020, though with caveats, and without agreeing to a second round of emission reduction commitments after 2012.  Both Japan and Russia had announced they would not sign up for post-2012 obligations without seeing the United States and major emerging economies take on obligations as well.

Instead of forcing the issue, parties agreed that discussions will continue in the coming year, with the goal of avoiding a gap between the first and second commitment periods.  Also postponed to Durban were decisions on how long the second commitment period should be.

International Shipping & Aviation (Bunker Fuels)

Negotiations on the international transport sector reached a deadlock in Cancún, with Parties unable to agree on even the opening language of negotiating text to address bunker fuels, nor any general framework for an agreement, nor a work plan for the coming year headed toward Durban.‪

As such, Parties missed their opportunity to send a clear signal to the International Maritime Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization – the U.N. agencies for international maritime shipping and aviation affairs which have accomplished next to nothing on climate over 16 years – that greenhouse gas emissions from international transport must be regulated immediately. ‪

There is clear disagreement in multilateral negotiations on international shipping and aviation, which makes it even more important for regions and states to continue moving forward in regulating the emissions from these sectors.  The international forums should push forward on the development and implementation of global sectoral measures to reduce emissions from international transport.  However, they must work in parallel with regional systems, whose right to regulate these sectors instead of waiting for uncertain and belated action from these bodies should be preserved.

Momentum as preparations for Durban begin

Even though Cancún’s talks just ended, the trek to Durban has begun – and there’s a lot to be done before COP-17 starts on Nov. 28, 2011.  We expect the Parties will schedule several additional sessions between now and then to start hammering out some details and move negotiations forward before reconvening in South Africa.

This year’s measured success, particularly with REDD+ and finance, offers an encouraging start for the coming year, but it’s up to countries to maintain the momentum – and for nongovernmental organizations and other stakeholders to keep them headed toward the ambitious, durable outcome we so desperately need.

Many of our colleagues have also posted thoughtful analyses of the Cancún summit outcomes.  See, for example, posts by Harvard University’s Robert Stavins, World Resources Institute’s Jennifer Morgan, and Natural Resources Defense Councils’ Jake Schmidt.

**EDF’s international climate experts contributing to this blog post include Steve Schwartzman (REDD+, Indigenous Peoples); Gus Silva-Chávez (REDD+); Chris Meyer (Indigenous Peoples); Richie Ahuja (Finance); Gernot Wagner (Finance); Annie Petsonk (MRV, Future of Kyoto Protocol); Jason Funk (Land-Use and Forestry); Miriam Chaum (Land-Use and Forestry); and Jenny Cooper (International Shipping & Aviation).  You can read their updates from Cancún at http://blogs.edf.org/climatetalks/category/un-negotiations/cancun/.

Also posted in Cancún (COP-16), Deforestation, Forestry, News, REDD, UN negotiations | 2 Responses

Modest advances made at Cancún climate talks, forests and finance among winners

After talks in Cancún predictably went hours over their scheduled Friday-evening end, the United Nations climate conference approved, early this morning, a modest package of climate initiatives that includes preserving forests and creating an international green fund.

Jennifer Haverkamp, managing director of EDF's international climate program, said the package of climate initiatives was "modest, but important":

The U.N. has now put its seal of approval on compensating countries for protecting their forests.  And Mexico’s skillful leadership here has helped to rebuild confidence in the U.N.  process.

However, not all issues were decided in the Cancún talks.  To reach agreements, the conference postponed some of the toughest decisions, but pledged to make progress on them before next year's meeting in Durban, South Africa.  Haverkamp said this morning's outcome:

represents only a fraction of what’s needed.  Despite the best efforts by many countries, glaciers are still melting faster than this process is moving.

Key components of the Cancún Agreements

The package of initiatives agreed to this morning, referred to as the "Cancún Agreements", includes provisions for:

  • Implementing key elements needed to compensate countries for protecting their forests under Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+).  The initiative includes environmental safeguards for preserving threatened forests and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples. The conference agreed to allow state-level REDD+ programs for a limited time, with a clear goal of establishing nationwide programs.
  • Creating a Green Climate Fund to help developing countries find ways to reduce their emissions and adapt to the adverse effects of climate change.
  • Transparency and accountability. The conference agreed to obligations and the development of guidelines for accurately accounting for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and for countries' financing commitments.

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.

Also posted in Cancún (COP-16), Deforestation, News, REDD, UN negotiations | 1 Response

Indigenous peoples march for rights in Cancún, not against reducing deforestation policies

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post mentioned the indigenous peoples’ march was not in rejection of carbon markets, however the press release issued by the group does have language rejecting carbon markets.  This post reflects the correct information, and we apologize for the error.

One of the more anticipated events at the U.N. climate conferences is the annual civil society protest-march held during the negotiations.  This year’s in Cancún has already received a lot of attention because of the anticipated larger-than-normal participation by indigenous peoples and rural groups.

There have been rumors for weeks now that this year’s march would be to protest policies for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+).

However, it was encouraging to see the press release from the official indigenous peoples caucus, which says, instead, the indigenous peoples are marching to request that a future global climate deal:

  1. Respect the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples contained in the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights for Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP): UNDRIP is actually contained in the annex on safeguards for REDD+ implementation, so they already have this in place in a final agreement.
  2. Respect Their Right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC): Indigenous peoples want the right to say “no” to any REDD+ projects on their land.  FPIC is contained in UNDRIP, so it is technically already in a potential final agreement on REDD+.  However, indigenous peoples would like to see it explicitly included.
  3. Recognition and respect of indigenous peoples traditional knowledge and use of it as a solution for climate change: Indigenous peoples have been conserving the forest since the beginning, and they want some of their knowledge used and recognized.  In a sense, they are saying “Work with us when you are designing REDD+ programs because we can make them better.”  The potential REDD+ final agreement does already require "full and effective participation of relevant stakeholders, in particular, indigenous peoples and local communities" in REDD+ programs.

Indigenous peoples, who contribute crucial expertise and traditional knowledge about the forests and are the best-suited to monitor and protect the trees, must play a central role in REDD+. Above: an indigenous community learns how to estimate the amount of carbon is stored in the tree, which they will report for future REDD+ projects.

The Coordinating Organization for the Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon Basin (COICA), an indigenous peoples group who EDF works with, recently spoke about their organization’s REDD policy.  COICA is not for or against REDD+, but requests certain rights be recognized, such as right to land, resources and self-determination.  Once these rights are ensured, COICA believes, indigenous peoples can make a decision for themselves whether to participate in REDD+ projects or not.  EDF also believes these rights to land, resources and self-determination are the foundation for any REDD+ project or program to be successful.

Back at today’s march, sure there were groups participating with an anti-REDD+ message – but they are not the majority.  To place all indigenous peoples in the category of anti-REDD+ groups is a mistake, especially given the official statement from their caucus saying nothing of the sort.

There are a number of indigenous groups within – and outside – the U.N. climate negotiations, and we’re encouraged to see the focus of the official indigenous peoples’ march is not against REDD+, but instead for recognition of their own rights.

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.

Also posted in Cancún (COP-16), News, REDD, UN negotiations | 8 Responses

Brazil’s record-low 2010 deforestation more proof U.N. must act on avoiding deforestation

Brazil’s announcement of a record low in Amazon deforestation in the last year is tangible evidence of why negotiators at the U.N. climate conference in Cancún, Mexico can and should move forward on a global plan for preserving forests.

Brazil's deforestation hit a record low in 2010, due largely to successful policies -- including protecting indigenous lands -- being discussed now in the U.N. climate conference in Cancún. Above: deforestation in Mato Grosso, Brazil.

While the U.N. is mired in debate over what negotiating text they should use and whether policies for REDD+ (Reducing in Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) can really work, Brazil has already laid the groundwork for REDD+.

Brazil has slowed deforestation to a record low of about 6,000 square kilometers in 2010 – what amounts to a 14% drop from last year and a whopping 67 percent from the average rate between 1996 and 2005 – and has shown how REDD+ can work in practice.

Critical elements of Brazil’s effort include:

  1. improvements in enforcing laws
  2. using top-of-the-line satellite measurement systems
  3. large-scale creation of new parks and reserves, including extensive indigenous territories, in active agriculture frontiers

Brazil has also created a national baseline from which to start measurements (the average deforestation from 1996–2005), and is developing equitable ways of distributing benefits.

Cancún talks should look to Brazil's success with avoiding deforestation

In Cancún, U.N. negotiators need to stop quibbling over text and take a closer look at how REDD+ can work in real life.  Brazil is leading the world in preserving its valuable forests, protecting its indigenous people and curbing carbon emissions.

The evidence is in: there is now peer-reviewed science that shows that Brazil's creation of new protected areas the size of France – which include indigenous lands – contributed very substantially to its historic reductions in national deforestation.  Recognizing indigenous rights and protecting their territories is clearly central to stopping large-scale deforestation, and this is working in Brazil.

Brazil has also done an outstanding job ramping up law enforcement, and creating new protected areas, creating a real impact on reducing deforestation.

But to make these reductions sustainable over time, Brazil needs to create positive incentives for forest conservation — for indigenous and traditional communities and for small and large farmers.

That’s where REDD+, and the carbon markets it would create to help protect forests, can help Brazil and other forested nation on the globe.

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.

Also posted in Cancún (COP-16), Deforestation, REDD, UN negotiations | Leave a comment

Indigenous peoples' informed voices critical in Cancún

One of the biggest issues expected to be addressed in the U.N. climate summit that started Monday in Cancún, Mexico is Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+).

REDD+ policies provide economic incentives for forest conservation by taking into account the amount of carbon trees store and putting a value on living forests and their ecosystems, but REDD+ also has an important human element to it.

A critical component of making REDD+ policies effective is engaging indigenous peoples who both rely on the rainforests for their survival and have valuable knowledge of the forest lands.  Their livelihoods and cultures are put at risk when forests are destroyed, so they have a great deal to gain from preserving their forests through the REDD+ approach.

Indigenous peoples’ involvement within U.N. climate process increasingly strong

Nearly 250 indigenous leaders from around the world, skilled at lobbying for areas of concern for them, are participating in the U.N. climate negotiations going on now in Cancún. (photo credit: Max Nepstad, WHRC)

Many indigenous leaders from around the world have recently become involved in the negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations, after years of being cut out of political decision-making processes here and in their home countries.

This year, nearly 250 indigenous leaders from around the world are participating in the negotiations in Cancún.

These indigenous leaders have, through their sustained efforts, become experts in many issues within the negotiations, and represent countries, their own indigenous organizations or other “civil society” organizations.  Through their intensive involvement in the negotiation process over the last few years, they have become very skilled at lobbying for areas of concern for them, such as the reference to the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights for Indigenous Peoples in the REDD+ negotiation text.

Indigenous leaders within the U.N. are effective representatives of indigenous issues

It’s easy to get caught up in the drama of protests against large institutions like the U.N., but it’s important to remember that the official participation of indigenous peoples within the U.N. process is already making encouraging process.

In a paper by the Foundation for International and Environmental Law and Development earlier this year, Chair of the REDD negotiating group Tony La Vina wrote that when compared to other stakeholders in REDD+ negotiations, indigenous peoples were the most effective at lobbying for their issues (pg. 16).

Various indigenous leaders are now part of their governments’ official delegations and directly involved in formulating policy.   And while leaders who are on their countries’ official delegations do have to follow their government’s line of policy when speaking at the conference, they also have access to and are able to participate in meetings that are closed to civil society organizations.

Many indigenous leaders see the U.N. process as a positive step toward increased human rights through the processes at the national level that the U.N. and other REDD+ processes have delivered, and participation within the U.N. process is a positive step in the development of indigenous peoples’ dialogue with their governments.

EDF is working with indigenous leaders at the Cancún negotiations to ensure that REDD+ policies being negotiated increase both the protection of the human rights of the indigenous peoples who live in the rainforests and the conservation of the world’s forests.

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.

Also posted in Cancún (COP-16), REDD, UN negotiations | Leave a comment