Category Archives: Durban (COP-17)

REDD+ finance, indigenous rights protections move forward in 2012 with boost from Durban negotiations

This is a joint post by Gus Silva-Chávez, EDF's Climate & Forests specialist and REDD+ project manager, and Chris Meyer, who coordinates EDF’s REDD+ activities with Indigenous Peoples.

The most recent UN climate negotiations wrapped up in December with a better-than-anticipated outcome, but the preparations for the next set — this year in Qatar — are already underway.

Policies to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) and to protect the rights of indigenous peoples who live in the forests made important progress in the recent UN climate negotiations in Durban.

We've spent some time reflecting on the outcome of the 2011 talks in Durban, South Africa, especially on progress on policies to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, known in the UN world as REDD+. REDD+ was a huge winner in the 2010 negotiations, when the UN put its seal of approval on the policy, and this year made some additional progress, most importantly in finance and in ensuring rights for indigenous peoples.

We were recently invited to write about the REDD+ negotiations in Durban for the Governor’s Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF), a coalition of -collaboration of 14 states and provinces in the U.S., Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and Nigeria that was formed in 2008 at the first Governor’s Global Climate Summit.

Below is our analysis of where REDD+ negotiations ended in Durban, and what we're likely to see as countries gear up for the Qatar negotiations. You can find additional analysis of Durban negotiations by EDF's International Climate Program Director Jennifer Haverkamp in her blog post In Durban, world's major economies show will to address climate change.

The Durban REDD+ Outcome

Cross-posted from the Governor’s Climate and Forests Task Force Newsletter (January 2012)

In an annual ritual, government negotiators, NGOs and journalists attended the December 2011 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Durban, South Africa. Negotiators in Durban approved technical guidelines for ensuring that reference levels — benchmarks for measuring progress in reducing emissions from deforestation — have environmental integrity. EDF had been eagerly anticipating this technical decision going into Durban, these new guidelines will provide a framework and necessary guidelines on how to establish reference levels that are based on science and that can serve as a measuring stick for environmental performance and financial compensation.

REDD+ policies got a major boost in Durban when countries agreed that all sources of funding, including carbon markets, are eligible to pay for REDD+ activities. After years of exploring how to pay for all three stages of REDD+ (capacity building, early implementation and national-level pay-for-performance), the UN has put its seal of approval on the use of markets. Estimates indicate that while public financing is needed, especially for the capacity building stage, only large-scale, sustainable funding from carbon markets will generate sufficient funding. EDF applauds this decision.

The decision on REDD+ finance, in the “Long-term Cooperative Action” (LCA) negotiations, included a clear endorsement of all sources of finance, a call for a REDD+ finance workshop and a technical paper in 2012.

Looking forward to next year’s climate negotiations in Qatar, countries will start deciding on the details of reference levels, and some will begin to calculate their reference levels using the guidance decided in Durban. As more specific REDD+ financing methods are developed, countries will hold a REDD+ finance workshop and produce a technical paper that will attempt to answer some of the questions around financing REDD+.

Indigenous peoples & REDD+

Negotiators in Durban approved critical provisions for ensuring the rights of Indigenous Peoples are respected and will be safeguarded in the implementation of REDD+ programs. Parties also outlined the protections for Indigenous Peoples prominently in the LCA’s financing sections. Still, negotiators only developed a framework for systems of reporting on the implementation of REDD+ safeguards and decided to continue working on the content of these REDD+ systems next year.

Durban resulted in a positive step forward in providing preliminary guidance for the reporting on the implementation of safeguards as countries launch REDD readiness initiatives already being financed through the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, UN-REDD program, and other bilateral initiatives. More importantly, we’re seeing indigenous peoples in many countries developing their own consultation and information gathering processes that will feed information into these systems.

The Durban conference as a whole produced surprisingly good results, given our modest expectations. However, it is important to note that there are a lot of concrete actions taking place outside of the UNFCCC forum, including efforts to open a path for REDD+ credits from Brazil, Mexico and beyond to flow into California’s emerging carbon market. Top-down efforts at the international level can only succeed if bottom-up actions like these are being successfully implemented.

For additional information on EDF’s international work, please visit edf.org/international.


Also posted in 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 Forestry, 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, Forestry, News, REDD, UN negotiations |: | 2 Responses

Durban finance debate down to the wire

With the caveat that nothing is certain in these climate conferences until the deal is done, it appears negotiators in Durban are poised to set up the structure for the much-debated Green Climate Fund that would help finance efforts of some developing countries to adapt to the impact climate change and curb their greenhouse gas emissions.

This is exciting, and it doesn’t mean that we expect to see large sums of money flowing into the fund this year: There’s nothing wrong with that – you can’t put money in a bank until there’s a bank in which to deposit it. It is encouraging that Germany and Denmark pledged small funds yesterday to capitalize the Fund. Hopefully that is the start to a series of further contributions from countries over the next year.

At this point countries are still fighting over what institution or country will host the fund and there’s a complicated process between approving a fund and getting it up and working.

Report of the Transition Committee

The Transition Committee created last year in Cancun has been working to set up the infrastructure and the rules governing creation of the fund.

After a year of meetings, no one is completely satisfied with the Transition Committee Report. That’s not surprising given the complexity of the issues involved. Even so, it appears the convention here has little desire to reopen the debate in its final hours and may allow some of the dissent to be addressed in a cover note to the report.

Once the report is accepted, delegates are expected to set a deadline for appointing the board to govern the fund and having its first meeting—likely by April 2012. When the board is in place, we should see the details of the governing institution take shape.

At this meeting, Parties may approve the formation of a working group on long term finance that would create a series of options for delegates to consider at next year’s climate conference in Qatar; we’re still waiting these details to unfold.

And the final issue that needs to be decided in Durban is where the fund will be housed—which institution or country will actually host the fund. For example the Food and Agriculture Organization is “hosted” by Italy and physically housed in Rome. As to be expected, many countries are lobbying vigorously for the job.

We end with the same caveat with which we started: There is still plenty of time left in Durban for this scenario to fall apart in the usual chaos and bickering of the final hours.  The report has something for everyone, and not everything for anyone.  But it appears the nuts and bolts for setting up the Green Climate Fund are ready for assembly.

Posted in Durban (COP-17) |: | Leave a comment

Durban: UN aviation agency touts green initiatives, but emissions reductions nowhere to be seen

EDF has a team here in Durban, South Africa for two weeks to participate in the UN climate summit. One of the issues we’re engaged on in the negotiations is reducing emissions from international aviation and maritime shipping.

With tens of thousands of people from around the world here to discuss a global response to climate change, the daily schedule is always packed full of official negotiations, large plenary meetings, and press conferences.

Each day also features a number of “side events” — events outside the official negotiations put on by any “observer” of the climate negotiations, including countries, UN agencies,  and non-governmental organizations (like EDF) — which serve as an important venue for information sharing, creative thinking, and open discussion on policy recommendations.

Earlier in the conference, I attended “Emissions from international transport – global actions for global industries,” a side event jointly hosted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN agencies for aviation and maritime shipping affairs, respectively.

For nearly fifteen years, member states of ICAO have been toiling over how to reduce carbon pollution from the aviation sector. To date, ICAO has yet to design or implement a measure to curb such emissions and shows no sign of progress in the near future.  (It’s worth noting that the UNFCCC negotiations on international transport don’t aim to create an emissions reduction mechanism. Rather, countries here in Durban are trying to agree on a decision that would encourage ICAO and IMO to hasten their work to reduce emissions from their respective sectors.)

Given this history, the side event at the climate negotiations was stunning: ICAO spent nearly all its 45 minute event lauding its recent initiatives to reduce emissions, calling them “miraculous.”

So what ICAO climate initiatives are worthy of such praise? None.

ICAO’s current efforts to reduce emissions from aviation amount to a do-nothing plan: global inspirational goals to improve fuel efficiency and achieve carbon neutral growth from 2020.

What exactly does this mean? It means:

  1. Neither countries nor carriers have any legal requirements to reduce their total emissions; and
  2. Aviation emissions can grow unfettered until 2020, at which point emissions could plateau if countries voluntarily take actions to mitigate emissions growth.

What's next?

Here at the climate negotiations in Durban, countries have the opportunity to send a clear message that ICAO must expedite a process to achieve net emissions reductions from the aviation sector. ICAO member states don’t get another decade to dillydally on the issue. They must act now.

Considering ICAO’s lack of progress in the past decade, it’s hard to believe that a clear signal from the UNFCCC will do much to catalyze progress in that forum.

But in the interim, as ICAO gets its act together, countries should continue to move ahead with national policies to reduce emissions from aviation. The European Union’s Aviation Directive provides a great model for such action—as of January 1, 2012 airlines using EU airports will be held accountable for their carbon pollution.

While the EU aviation directive will achieve emissions reduction in the near-term, and represents a positive step toward a global policy to reduce emissions from aviation, some countries—including the United States—and some airlines are trying to derail the EU law, decrying it as a “unilateral” measure, and “the wrong way to go about the right objective.” In fact, the U.S. is scheduled to raise its concerns with the EU in a bilateral meeting tomorrow in Washington, DC. EDF Attorney, Pamela Campos will be present at the negotiations, representing US NGOs. Stay tuned…

Also posted in Aviation |: | 2 Responses

REDD+ Durban: Countries agree on key issues

Going into the final days of the UN climate conference, countries have agreed on key issues on policies to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).

The draft decision on how to evaluate and ensure environmental and social responsibility in curbing deforestation is expected to be approved in the final hours of the conference later this week.

The results of the draft decision written by a technical working group are mixed. (I’ve assigned them letter grades below).

1) Reference Levels (Grade: A-)

Reference levels are benchmarks of measuring forest-related emissions in tons of carbon dioxide per year. A robust reference level means that we can measure whether a country is reducing emissions and maintains environmental integrity.

EDF supported a clear separation between the setting of reference levels and the political questions relating to compensation, and that’s what has been approved. The compensation discussion will be a political negotiation that depends on commitments (caps) from developed and major emitting countries.

Countries may adjust their reference levels, but they'll have to justify each adjustment individually to the satisfaction of an expert review panel. This is an important safeguard that will promote environmental integrity.

2) Safeguards (Grade: B-)

The discussions centered on the type of information that needs to be submitted, as well as how frequently and to whom the information should be reported.

This is critical because it allows us to see if REDD+ national programs are being implemented with the consent of indigenous peoples and local communities, and if their rights are being respected.

At this point, a framework for the safeguard information systems was decided, but explicit guidelines on its content were not decided upon. However, there is the opportunity for the guidelines to be strengthened next year. In addition, outside the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process, many other groups such as the UN-REDD program, the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, as well as Brazil’s national and state REDD program are making major strides in implementing such safeguard programs.

3) Monitoring, Reporting and Verification/ MRV (Grade: incomplete)

In the UNFCCC, there is an entire set of negotiations dealing with this issue. As a result, countries did not explore this issue in relation to forest-specific issues.

The decision calls for guidance from the overall MRV negotiations and for an expert meeting next year to discuss these issues in depth. Waiting for overall guidance is a prudent move and should not be seen as a negative outcome.

Financing for REDD+

In the coming days, countries will be focusing on how to finance REDD+ activities. The discussions on REDD+ finance, taking place in the negotiations on “Long-term Cooperative Action,” (LCA) began last week but made little progress, due to the focus on the technical issues.

Although the Cancun agreements tasked the LCA with “exploring” all financing sources — including markets –the current negotiating text simply calls for more exploration in the form of a technical paper and a workshop.  This is disappointing and many countries agreed that we can be more ambitious and this conference needs to put its seal of approval on the use of all financing sources.

The EDF team is making the case that in order for REDD+ programs to be created and sustained over many years, the UNFCCC needs to recognize that all sources of financing should be used to pay for REDD+. Public funding will never be enough and the gap in financing will have to be made up by the private sector. Stay tuned to see what happens!

Also posted in REDD |: | 4 Responses

Secretary Clinton urged to not block process on global climate deal at UN Durban negotiations

EDF joined 15 other major non-governmental organizations in urging U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to not block progress on a global climate deal going on now in the UN climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa.

In a letter sent to Secretary Clinton, the groups highlighted a 2008 speech from then President-elect Obama during which he said combating climate change was one of the most urgent issues facing America and the world, and pledged:

Once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations, and help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change.

But now, three years later in Durban, the groups say America:

risks being viewed not as a global leader on climate change, but as a major obstacle to progress.

The letter urged Secretary Clinton to direct U.S. negotiators to show more flexibility on the U.S. position for two major issues in the negotiations, which threatens to impede critically needed global cooperation:

  1. The mandate to launch negotiations for a comprehensive binding climate regime
  2. Climate finance

Jennifer Haverkamp, EDF’s international climate program director, said:

Domestically, despite the cacophony coming from Congress, the U.S. is making major strides using existing legal authorities to reduce air pollution from power plants, mobile sources, and factories in ways that will also significantly reduce U.S. carbon emissions over the next several years.

However, that doesn’t make up for the fact that the U.S. is going out of its way to stymie progress in Durban toward a binding new agreement.  In the remaining week and a half in Durban, the U.S. needs to clear the way for countries to move forward on preventing the catastrophic effect of global warming.

The groups again signaled in the letter their unhappiness with the U.S. opposition to the European Union’s pioneering anti-pollution law for aviation, calling for the U.S. to end its opposition to include aviation emissions within the European Union Emissions Trading System.

Signers of the letter, which was sent to Secretary Clinton yesterday and released publicly today, include: Center for International Environmental Law, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace USA, National Tribal Environmental Council, Native American Rights Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oxfam America, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Population Action International, Population Connection, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, The Wilderness Society, and World Wildlife Fund.

Also posted in Aviation, News, UN negotiations |: | 1 Response

Durban UN climate talks open to calls from African and world leaders for solutions

The latest round of the UN climate negotiations opened on this balmy spring morning in the beach-side city of Durban, South Africa with strong affirmations of the urgent need to address climate change.

South African President Zuma addressed the opening session of the UN climate negotiations today in Durban.

In a series of powerful statements at the opening "plenary” at the conference of nearly 200 countries and almost 20,000 delegates, speakers expressed need for quick  and effective action on climate change, concern for their countries’ ability to adapt to climate change, and hope for what the next two weeks in Durban could accomplish.

Last year’s president of the conference, host country Mexico’s Patricia Espinosa, highlighted the successes of the 2010 negotiations in Cancun but cautioned “there is still certainly more to do.”  Then the conference presidency was  turned over to South Africa’s Minister of International Relations, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who said “countries must find a common solution to secure the future for generations to come.”

Two speakers from African nations told of the severe consequences climate change was bringing to their home countries, and said Africa must play a significant role in these negotiations. UN Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres received loud applause when she opened her speech with a Zulu welcome; and South Africa’s President Zuma, concluded the session, thanking the UN for its confidence in Africa’s hosting the conference, and declaring climate change as not just an environmental challenge, but a holistic development challenge.

Jennifer Haverkamp, EDF's international climate program director said in a statement at the opening of the conference that “the world can’t just “sit back and do nothing.

We need to build on the efforts of individual countries and regions so that every nation does their part to reduce the emissions that are harming our way of life.

Environmental Defense Fund is urging the climate conference to move forward in four key areas:

  1. A negotiating work plan with concrete goals for the next two years and a clear path toward a comprehensive, binding agreement.
  1. Agreements on financing arrangements for the Green Climate Fund, which will be dedicated to helping developing countries address and adapt to climate change.
  1. Positive signals to the carbon market that there’s life after Durban, encouraging more countries to follow Europe, New Zealand, and most recently Australia’s lead in setting a domestic carbon price.
  1. Accounting rules for measuring emissions from land-use change and forestry that accurately determine whether countries have reduced their emissions and met their obligations.

Read more in our statement and comprehensive blog post on Durban expectations: Durban UN climate talks could see modest, incremental progress; What to watch at COP-17.

Also posted in UN negotiations |: | Leave a comment

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, Forestry, Indigenous peoples, REDD, UN negotiations |: | 2 Responses