Category Archives: REDD

California’s carbon market: a potential game-changer in slowing the Amazon’s deforestation

(Cross-posted from EDF's California Dream 2.0 blog)

California moved into the fast lane on the low-carbon development highway when it launched its carbon market this month. Now it has the opportunity to do even more to stop dangerous climate change while cutting the costs of controlling global warming pollution.  Recommendations from a group of experts on how Reducing Emissions from tropical Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) can come into California’s market show how.

Deforestation accounts for about 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but new recommendations from international experts show how California's new carbon market can help stop dangerous climate change and preserve tropical rainforests.

In the world of greenhouse gas emissions, tropical deforestation is huge. Accounting for about 15% of these emissions globally, deforestation emits more than all cars, trucks, buses, trains and airplanes on the planet — combined.

When California launched its cap-and-trade program Jan.1, it created the second largest carbon market in the world. With REDD+, the Golden State now has another golden opportunity to expand its global environmental leadership even further.

The REDD+ Offsets Working Group (ROW) convened by California, the Brazilian state of Acre, and the Mexican state of Chiapas, has released recommendations for how California can bring REDD+ into its carbon market.  The ROW, in accordance with California’s Global Warming Solutions Act’s (AB32) guidance, recommends that California allow states or countries that reduce their total emissions from deforestation below an historical average, while maintaining or increasing the output of commodities like cattle and soy that drive deforestation, to generate compliance credit in California.

This “jurisdictional” approach is much like what California is doing – reducing state-wide emissions below a clearly measurable historical level.

The ROW also recommends requiring states to show that they have made their own efforts to reduce deforestation, beyond any reductions that they seek credit for and ensuring that local –particularly indigenous — communities participate in policy design, have a choice about whether or not to participate in programs, and benefit directly if they do.

Tropical states such as Acre and Chiapas that are moving forward on their own to reduce deforestation know that California’s market for international offsets is very limited, and don’t expect to get paid for most of the reductions they’ve made or can make.

But they need a signal, and California’s carbon market may now hold the key to the future of the forest.

Until recently, rampant deforestation in the Amazon was a big part of the global warming problem – and a disaster for the millions of species of plants and animals and thousands of indigenous groups that live in the forests.  But when Brazil and Amazon states adopted new policies in 2005, all that began to change.

They ramped up law enforcement and started making large-scale reductions in Amazon deforestation, reducing their deforestation about 76% below the 1996 – 2005 average by 2012 (about 2.2 billion tons CO2) while increasing agricultural production and cattle herd. This came very close to the national target Brazil adopted — 80% reduction by 2020 — making it the world leader in emissions reductions.

Despite that progress – or maybe because of it – the Agriculture Caucus of the Brazilian Congress recently pushed for and won legislation weakening forest protection laws. The result? Although 2012 recorded the lowest deforestation on record, reports now say deforestation in the last five months has actually gone up in relation to 2011.

Creating demand for real, verifiable, additional REDD+ from jurisdictions that have solid social and environmental safeguards could be the sign the Amazon – and tropical jurisdictions around the world – need to know that REDD+ is real. Bringing it into California’s carbon market is an effective path to making that happen.

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Doha wrap-up: countries eke out modest deal on Kyoto, new agreement, and climate loss, but postpone many issues

In Doha, countries wrapped up loose ends on technical issues and began to lay the groundwork for an eventual agreement that will establish commitments starting in 2020. Photo credit: Flickr user UNclimatechange

It’s now been a couple of weeks since the UN climate talks ended in Doha, Qatar, where countries made modest progress on the road to a new global climate treaty – although not without the familiar drama of all-night sessions, ignored deadlines and last-minute compromises.

Doha began to lay the groundwork for an eventual agreement that will establish commitments for the post-2020 period, picking up where the current agreements leave off (the Kyoto Protocol and the voluntary emissions targets for 2020 that were adopted in Copenhagen by a number of countries, including the U.S. and major emerging economies).

The Doha talks also showcased some of the usual frictions among countries’ negotiating positions, including:

  • The U.S. government focused chiefly on ensuring all countries would participate in a future climate agreement that would collapse the Kyoto Protocol’s rigid divide between developed and developing countries.
  • China and India pressed to protect developing countries’ special status.
  • Small island states and other vulnerable nations pitched hard for the ambitious emissions cuts and financing commitments they see as essential to their basic survival.

We knew heading into the talks that Doha would be more about process and wrapping up loose ends on technical issues than concrete deliverables, and indeed the outcome in most areas was to continue talking. Some notable outcomes were the following:

 1) Negotiating tracks

Countries ultimately managed to agree on a three-part deal that:

    1. extends the Kyoto Protocol to 2020, although it covers an increasingly small set of countries, as countries such as Russia, Japan and Canada have dropped out, while the United States remains outside the agreement.
    2. completes the “LCA” track, the parallel round of negotiations dating back to the 2007 Bali Road Map, under which many nations (including major developing countries) took voluntary pledges to reduce their emissions by 2020.
    3. sets a course for negotiating the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” (ADP), a new climate deal covering all major emitters that is to be agreed by 2015 and take effect in 2020.

With the unfinished business of the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali agenda finally behind them, countries can now face forward and concentrate on crafting the robust new agreement that we so urgently need.

2) Finance

As expected, a large sticking point across the negotiations was climate finance.

Developing countries had entered Doha seeking firm commitments and clarifications of how financing would scale up between now and the $100 billion a year by 2020 they were promised in Copenhagen in 2009, but instead got a workplan and reassurances.

The talks’ modest outcome also failed to send the policy signal needed to unlock critical private investments in climate change.

3) REDD+

In contrast to previous years and widely help expectations for Doha, parties made little progress in crafting standards for REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, plus afforestation and reforestation).

A decision to embrace the use of carbon markets to finance REDD+ was postponed until next year. REDD+ is being held hostage to slower progress on linked issues such as how emission reductions are measured and verified, and on the perennially thorny finance issues.

Noteworthy development: “Loss and Damage”

One of Doha’s notable developments was that, for the first time, the talks broached the subject of compensation from rich countries for the “loss and damage” incurred by the most vulnerable nations due to climate change.

This loss and damage agreement is the next step in the UN’s increasingly reactive response to climate change, and demonstrative of the UN’s recognition that the severe consequences of climate change have become today’s problem. First, the focus was on avoiding emissions. When mitigation efforts proved inadequate, it turned more attention to adaptation. Now, as the effects of extreme weather and rising oceans hit communities from the Philippines to New Jersey, the UN has realized it must begin to grapple with them.

The coming year’s task is to begin debating what promises to be one of the most controversial issues on their agenda, and the discussions are unlikely to result in a formal liability mechanism given the very strong opposition of the United States and other developed countries. But whatever the outcome, the sobering reality is that grappling with the dangerous effects of climate change can no longer be put off to some future date; they are already inflicting harm.

Looking ahead

The UN climate negotiators have a busy year ahead of them, with perhaps as many as three interim negotiating sessions before reconvening next November in Warsaw, Poland.  But regardless of the coming year’s progress, there remains a wide gulf – nay, chasm — between what countries have pledged to do over the next eight years and what the science demands.

To begin addressing this “ambition gap” there must be progress outside the UN framework at the national and local level, as well as in other multilateral forums, including the International Civil Aviation Organization, the G-20 and the new coalition of countries and environmental groups (including EDF) focusing on near-term actions to reduce short-lived climate pollutants such as methane, black carbon and refrigerant gases.

While more and deeper cuts are urgently needed around the world, we’re seeing real action in national and state-wide climate programs in Europe, Australia, California, South Korea, China and others. It is domestic efforts like these, in tandem with multilateral accords and initiatives, that will get us to a secure climate future.

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Doha climate talks: review of the major issues at COP 18

This week and next, more than 190 nations are meeting again for the annual United Nations climate conference, this year being held in Doha, the capital city of oil- and gas-rich Qatar.

Jennifer Haverkamp is director of EDF's international climate program

The Doha conference comes at a moment of increased awareness of climate change, after “Superstorm Sandy” pummeled the heavily populated east coast of the United States, and a handful of reports from generally cautious global institutions painted grim pictures of the risks of future climate change. Those gathered in Doha need to take heed of these warnings.

The UN negotiations are not known for their speed. But just as the climate negotiations over the years have been assuredly, if slowly, moving forward, we expect this year’s Conference of Parties 18 (COP 18) to also make some measured progress.

The real headline-grabbers are more likely to be found outside the UN negotiations, where countries and states have been busily launching and benefiting from their own emissions reductions programs.

Just since last year’s negotiations, Australia’s carbon price has gone into effect; Korea and Mexico have passed domestic climate legislation; China is moving forward with emissions trading pilot programs; and Europe’s Emissions Trading System, which has achieved significant emissions reductions at minimal cost, is about to transition to its third phase. In the United States, a new report shows that the U.S. is on track to reduce its emissions by more than 16 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, thanks in part to state and regional initiatives (along with important actions by the Environmental Protection Agency and availability of low-cost natural gas).

Negotiations overview

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

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

We expect countries can make demonstrable progress in Doha by agreeing to the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period, which starts January 1, 2013, and by concluding the Long-term Cooperative Action negotiating track. These results will allow them to turn their full attention to bringing lessons learned and key policy tools from those two agreements – as well as a few unresolved carryover issues – into the new negotiations.

An especially encouraging feature of the new ADP negotiation is its across-the-board buy-in, since all developed and developing countries agreed to its terms last year in the Durban negotiations. To make this agreement as strong as possible, the ADP should create a framework that is both “welcoming” – meaning the legal framework can accommodate nations that may not be able to ratify the 2015 deal (perhaps including the U.S.), and have options for nations to participate, even if they’re not formal signatories to the agreement – and “dynamic,” so it can bring in new issues as needed.

We don’t anticipate a lot of progress on the ADP in Doha, but countries can reasonably be expected to reach consensus on a fairly specific, concrete plan for at least the coming year’s work toward the new agreement.

National, regional, local “bottom-up” measures making real progress

As important as the UN’s “top-down” inclusive approach to a comprehensive agreement is, much of the recent progress on climate has happened outside of the UN process, through national, state and local measures that are cutting emissions and forming a world of “bottom-up” climate actions.

Currently, 25% of the world’s economy is putting in place national emissions limits and implementing cap-and-trade systems. This includes:

  • The EU and New Zealand, which have existing cap and trade systems. Europe’s Emissions Trading System has achieved significant emission reductions at minimal cost. (Read EDF’s full report: The EU Emissions Trading System: Results and Lessons Learned)
  • China, which is moving forward on several pilot carbon trading pilots.
  • South Korea and Australia, which have adopted climate laws under which they will launch carbon markets in 2015. Australia’s official carbon price went into effect in July, which should help dent its emissions – the highest, per capita, of any developed country.
  • Mexico, which adopted legislation that authorizes (though does not require) establishment of a carbon market.
  • California, whose carbon market just held its first allowance auction in mid-November.

U.S. position

The United States has come to Doha less than a month after Superstorm Sandy struck the east coast and President Barack Obama was re-elected, and a month before California’s cap-and-trade system goes fully into effect.

Even without having national climate legislation, the United States is making some progress in reducing emissions. A new report from think tank Resources for the Future found:

currently, the country is on course to achieve reductions of 16.3 percent from 2005 levels in 2020. Three factors contribute to this outcome: greenhouse gas regulations under the Clean Air Act, secular trends including changes in relative fuel prices and energy efficiency, and subnational efforts.

California’s cap-and-trade system, which starts January 1, 2013, sets a declining limit or “cap” on emissions in sectors with the highest amount of greenhouse gas pollution, and will eventually cover 85% of California’s emissions. For the 10 northeastern states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a report earlier this year found they cut per capita carbon emissions 20 percent faster than the rest of the nation from 2000-2009 while regional per capital GDP grew 87 percent faster than did that of the rest of the country.

Climate change has reemerged in the speeches of President Obama since his re-election. In his acceptance speech, he said

we want our children to live in an America … that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.

Later, when asked in his recent White House press conference what he was going to do about climate change in his second term, he promised to have a “wide-ranging conversation” with experts on “what more we can do to make short-term progress in reducing carbons.”

Beyond the rhetoric, however, the U.S. is in much the same position as last year: with no prospects for national climate legislation, and a tight foreign aid budget, the U.S. has again shown up to the negotiations bazaar with little to trade for its demands of other major emitters.

Policy issues to watch

EDF's experts have been closely tracking policy issues leading up to Doha, and will continue to do so throughout the COP. Below we highlight some background and recommendations for those likely to feature prominently in the negotiations.

Legal architecture of a UN climate agreement

The negotiations launched last year have a deadline of 2015 for concluding a new climate agreement, applicable to all countries that are “party” to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to take effect in 2020. Many countries have called for a period of exploratory discussions and brainstorming before any attempt to choose the specific legal form of the 2015 agreement, and those discussions will likely continue in Doha.

The fundamental challenge countries face in the coming years is developing a legal framework that attracts and encourages nations to place effective, durable limits on the greenhouse gas emissions of entities in their jurisdiction, to enforce those limits through legally binding instruments, and to take action quickly.

Three key successful architectural elements of the Kyoto Protocol – and that are now being incorporated into national and state climate laws around the world (including those of Australia, the European Union, and California) – can help countries meet this challenge: binding caps on emissions, flexible market mechanisms to meet these caps, and accountability. In light of the fact that some nations may not, due to their domestic legal systems and political constraints, be able to ratify the final agreement, countries will need to think clearly and creatively about how to design a “welcoming” legal architecture for the 2015 agreement that has options to allow such nations to participate.

The new 2015 ADP agreement, not scheduled to enter into force until 2020, does not prevent countries from agreeing to targets that start earlier than that date, or to improve upon the pledges they have made for reductions between now and 2020. A legal framework for the 2015 deal that recognizes early action by countries may incentivize them to increase their ambition pre-2020, as required by the Durban decision, and, indeed, by climate science. A workable and effective agreement would contain the following “minimum elements:” an emissions budget approach; fungibility of trading mechanisms; and flexibility for non-Kyoto parties who have domestic carbon markets to link to the new ADP agreement. We hope countries can reach an outcome that meets such minimum elements and incentivizes early action, ensures transparency and environmental integrity, and provides predictability to carbon markets.

Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol played a prominent role in last year’s negotiations, when its future looked to be hanging by a thread and developing countries vowed that it would not “die on African soil.” When the EU effectively kept it alive in Durban by agreeing to take on a second commitment period, EDF said that countries would be tested on whether they could coax into flame that spark of hope, or whether they would go back into their respective corners of stalling and delay.

The intervening year has seen its share of stalling and posturing, but the test comes now in Doha, when countries need to – and likely will – agree to the set of Kyoto Protocol amendments needed to launch a second commitment period. The group of developed countries signing up this time will be much smaller than in the first go-round. Major emitting countries including Japan, Russia and Canada have walked away from the table, but the European Union, Australia, Norway, Switzerland, Belarus and Kazakhstan will make a second round of commitments. It would be welcome, though surprising, if those countries upped their “ambition” by making more stringent commitments than the pledges they already made in Copenhagen or Cancun, or what’s already enshrined in their domestic legislation.

Climate finance

One of the most dynamic issues in the international climate talks now is finance for climate change mitigation and adaptation activities. Since the negotiations last year, countries have appointed a board for the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which was created in 2010 to help finance the efforts of some developing countries to adapt to the impact of climate change and curb their greenhouse gas emissions. That board has begun meeting and actively considering how best to structure its operations. The GCF has also found a home in Songdo, South Korea. However, in Doha countries still face a huge challenge: where to find public and private money to finance the Fund, which could eventually grow as big as $100 billion a year.

No money has actually started flowing into the GCF yet, but countries in Doha will be looking to find funding for the gap between now and when sources and consistent flows of funds to the GCF are clearly defined. That means pressure will be on for countries to pledge more funds, which will be a challenge. Since 2009, when countries last pledged money to “fast-start financing” in Copenhagen, expectations have changed, timelines have slipped and new structures in the UN – like the new ADP global agreement – are evolving. Countries will likely be averse to putting forward large sums until they have more clarity on commitments and rules governing the flow of funds. A tense discussion around these shorter term finance commitments is likely, but pressure will be on for all parties to demonstrate their commitment to mitigation, adaptation and finance. Doha cannot afford to fall back on already small ambitions.

For public funds for longer term financing, countries are unlikely to commit to anything in Doha. That’s because the appetite of the global community for providing such funds is linked to whether countries agree on strong mitigation commitments, and many countries don’t yet feel assured of others’ commitment to address climate change or that GCF funds will be “effectively” utilized. What countries need is to have a concrete conversation about effectively using the funds that are available. A clear set of rules will deliver the confidence needed for companies and investors to commit more resources to address climate change, both through the UNFCCC and outside the process.

Even in this current economic crisis, there is a lot of money for low-carbon development, and there are lots of hopeful signs on the ground. However, there’s still plenty more money for business-as-usual: most private investment right now goes exactly in the wrong direction. Private sector finance is the only way to achieve the clean energy transition, but turning it around first requires strong policy signals. Critical potential climate finance funds are sitting right now in the stock and bond markets and in countries’ national public expenditures; to unlock them, countries in Doha and the GCF first and foremost must deliver clear signals of their serious commitment to address climate change.

Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV)

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

In Durban last year, nations agreed on new MRV rules for both developed and developing countries, as well as mechanisms for analyzing the results and providing support to improve future efforts. The agreements in Durban on transparency and accountability usefully built upon the 2010 Cancun decisions, but more specific reporting requirements and more robust review and compliance procedures will have to be added over time to ensure environmental integrity and improve the quality of carbon markets. In Durban the COP also agreed that developing countries' domestically supported mitigation actions will be measured, reported and verified domestically in accordance with "general guidelines" to be developed.

In Doha, MRV issues are likely to arise in discussions to implement the new market mechanism agreed in Durban last year. The efficacy of this new mechanism depends on instituting a rigorous Kyoto-like MRV template for accounting, accountability, and market integrity. Robust MRV is particularly critical for major emitters in both the developed and developing world that are likely to play a significant role in carbon markets. EDF thus supports proposals that allow large-emitting developing countries to access carbon markets if they step up to a higher level of MRV. Countries should delegate additional technical MRV issues that are not resolved this year to relevant subsidiary bodies, to carry forward into the negotiations for the new agreement to be concluded by 2015.

Avoiding deforestation (REDD+) & indigenous peoples

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) is one of the policy areas in the UNFCCC negotiations that has made the most progress in recent years. Countries have made major decisions on the building blocks needed for REDD+, including agreement that REDD+: 1) is intended to “slow, halt and reverse deforestation;” 2) is a voluntary mitigation mechanism; 3) has to be a part of the overall mitigation efforts in the UNFCCC; and 4) needs strong environmental and social safeguards.

With such priming, REDD+ is almost at the finish line in the LCA negotiations and in a promising position to be included in the new ADP negotiations. Here are three major issues that may see progress in Doha:

  1. Technical Issues (Week 1): The technical and scientific body that provides recommendations to the COP, SBSTA, is meeting the first week of Doha to negotiate further guidance on important technical issues. For reference levels, (a snapshot of a country’s emissions for deforestation in a given year) countries should work on what they committed to last year regarding technical assessment – enabling the technical assessment of proposed reference levels once they have been submitted, and initiating work (ideally by the next conference) on developing methodological guidance for the technical assessment of proposed REDD+ reference levels. For measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of emissions, countries are close to agreeing on REDD+ MRV guidance. However, to minimize complications between these discussions and the simultaneous discussions taking place in the LCA negotiations, countries should make the overall REDD+ guidance general, which will provide the necessary flexibility in constructing their reference level, MRV and monitoring systems. For indigenous peoples: Indigenous peoples are advocating in SBSTA for a REDD+ decision to include more guidance and details on Safeguard Information Systems – systems for providing information on how social and environmental safeguards are addressed and respected.
  2. Finance and REDD+ in LCA (Week 2): In the LCA REDD+ track, which starts the second week of Doha, countries have an opportunity to reach consensus on procedures and modalities on REDD+ financing for results-based actions – meaning countries will try to agree on how to pay for REDD+ reductions and what sources of finance can be used. A good outcome would allow countries to use the market to pay for REDD+, and countries with caps on their emissions after 2015 to use a portion of REDD+ credits to meet their commitments.
  3. REDD+ as part of the ADP negotiations: Not every REDD+ issue will be finalized in Doha, but with the LCA ending, it remains unclear what exactly will happen to any remaining REDD+ issues. A smart solution would be to include REDD+ in the new ADP negotiations, which would thereby formally recognize it as a mitigation component.

A good decision in Doha will provide more direction about how REDD+ will be financed, and carbon markets must play a role. And REDD+ should be part of the negotiations toward a new agreement so that when the deal is finalized in 2015, countries will be able to use REDD+ credits to meet a portion of their national emission reductions commitments.

Emissions from land management in developed countries (LULUCF)

Emissions from countries’ “managing” forests, croplands, grasslands, and wetlands, or from converting land from one use to another (such as through cutting down trees or planting new forests) make up a substantial component of the greenhouse gas profile for many countries. When countries take action to reduce these emissions, they can use some of the reductions to help meet their emission reduction commitments. For countries that are Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, the rules for accounting for these reductions in the second commitment period were revised in 2011 and will come into effect in 2013; these rules fall under the UNFCCC’s issue called Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF).

Doha’s scientific and technical discussions are covering several sub-topics related to LULUCF:

  1. New “activities” for the Clean Development Mechanism: Countries considering adding new kinds of activities to the current list of land-management practices that can register projects under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), whose projects are intended to reduce emissions in developing countries and are supported by developed countries. This would allow developed countries to contribute to more emission reductions in developing countries for improved land-management practices.
  2. “Permanence” of LULUCF emission reductions: Parties are discussing ways to deal with the possibility that these kinds of emission reductions in the CDM may not be permanent. For example, if reductions occur from a reforestation project that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, those reductions could be reversed if the forest is cut or burned down. In such cases, the carbon in the forest should be treated like other kinds of capital assets by protecting it with insurance mechanisms and by assigning liabilities in case these assets are damaged or destroyed (this view is shared by many countries).
  3. Comprehensiveness of land-management emissions: This issue is more long-term, and relates to expanding the array of land management emissions that are covered by countries’ commitments. The current rules give countries a choice regarding some of the activities to be covered, but most countries agree that all land-management activities should eventually be counted in their commitments. From a technical perspective this will be a challenging task, but countries in Doha are discussing how to expand the comprehensiveness of their accounting. EDF made a submission to the UNFCCC explaining our views on how they should proceed.
  4. “Additionality”: Countries are also debating how to identify the “additionality” of emissions reductions from LULUCF activities – that is, the amount of reductions that would not have happened without some kind of policy intervention. Identifying the additionality of activities is important for measuring the real contribution of policies and actions to reduce emissions, but the technical challenges associated with quantifying the “additional” reductions are tricky, and are not likely to be resolved anytime soon. However, it is worthwhile to begin this discussion in Doha, because it will create a space to address some lingering problems that could undermine the environmental integrity of the LULUCF accounting rules.

Overall, the discussions on LULUCF issues may indicate a new willingness of countries to grapple with the technical challenges that they must overcome to expand and improve the participation of more countries – a contrast with past negotiations, in which political expediency has sometimes trumped technical rigor and environmental integrity.

Agriculture

Agriculture is important to every country, but in many nations climate change is threatening the food security and rural livelihoods that agriculture provides. Moreover, the agricultural sector itself contributes a substantial share of the emissions that cause climate change, often in the form of powerful greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide. There is currently no coherent work program within the UNFCCC where countries can discuss how climate change relates to the many aspects of agriculture in all of the national contexts where it occurs.

In Doha, the question is whether to set up a new work program to consider the scientific and technical aspects of agriculture and climate change. Countries have already formally submitted their views to the UNFCCC about establishing such a work program – like one that exists for finance or REDD+ – with many in favor of creating one during the Doha meeting. A scientific and technical discussion would certainly be useful now; an EDF submission on agriculture outlines why it is important and what could be achieved.

Collectively, countries need to take action to help farmers adapt to climate change. It is also clear that emissions from agriculture can be reduced in many locations, and countries should formally consider how these substantial reductions could be achieved in a way that protects food security and rural livelihoods.

Closing observations

The major emitters’ paucity of vision, ambition and urgency has brought us to the brink of catastrophe. It’s these factors, not the forum, that explain why the best we can hope for at Doha is modest incremental progress on the road to 2015.

And if that sounds a bit surreal in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, well, that's unfortunately today’s reality. “Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

*EDF’s international climate experts contributing to this blog post include Alex HanafiGus Silva-ChávezChris MeyerRichie AhujaGernot WagnerJason Funk and Karen Florini.

Also posted in Deforestation, Doha (COP-18), Indigenous peoples, News, UN negotiations |: | 5 Responses

Doha climate talks could see measured progress toward new global agreement

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

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

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

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

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

1) Negotiating tracks

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

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

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

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

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

2) Climate finance

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

3) Deforestation emissions

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

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

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

Countries, states making major climate progress

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

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

Haverkamp said these moves are all significant:

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

 

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

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REDD+ almost at the finish line: Doha preview

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) is one of the policy areas in international climate negotiations that has made the most progress in the last few years. 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, and REDD+ policies are key to doing just that.

Countries have made major decisions on the building blocks needed for policies for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+), and now REDD+ is close to being finalized in some of the Doha negotiations. Photo credit: CIFOR

As negotiators begin heading to the Conference of Parties 18  (COP 18) to the United Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Doha, Qatar to hash out important issues for a global climate agreement, EDF has taken a look at where the REDD+ issue stands now, and where we anticipate it going in Doha.

Countries have made major decisions on the building blocks needed for REDD+, including agreement that REDD+: 1) is a voluntary mitigation mechanism; 2) that it has to be a part of the overall mitigation efforts in the UNFCCC; 3) that strong environmental and social safeguards are vital; and 4) that the goal of REDD+ is to “slow, halt and reverse deforestation.”

With such priming, REDD+ is nearly ready to be finalized in the “LCA” negotiations – the Long-term Cooperative Action negotiating track, where negotiations over obligations for the U.S. and major developing countries are lodged — and then become part of the negotiations for a new climate agreement for all countries that would take effect from 2020. Moving REDD+ into these new “ADP” negotiations (The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action) is critical, since any new agreement must both include REDD+ and allow countries to meet a portion of their future commitments by paying for real and credible REDD+ tons.

We see at least three major issues that may make progress in Doha::

1. Technical Issues (Week 1):

The technical and scientific body that provides recommendations to the Conference of Parties, SBSTA, meets the first week of Doha to negotiate further guidance on important technical issues such as the assessment review process for reference levels (a snapshot of a country’s emissions for deforestation in a given year) and Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV). Last year in Durban, countries agreed on the basis for REDD+ reference levels (RLs) and guidance on the content of REDD+ reference levels country submissions. That decision also called for countries to begin enabling the technical assessment of proposed reference levels once they have been submitted, and initiating work on developing methodological guidance for the technical assessment of proposed REDD+ reference levels.In Doha, SBSTA should start this work and commit to developing a technical assessment process for adoption at next year’s conference.

For measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of emissions, countries are close to agreeing on REDD+ MRV guidance; however, this issue is complicated by the fact that there are separate overall MRV discussions simultaneously underway in the LCA track. Some countries believe overall guidance needs to be determined before issue-specific details, like for REDD+, can be addressed. Other countries feel that REDD+ has made strong progress and as long as the guidance does not conflict with the overall MRV, countries should move ahead. There are other SBSTA issues (e.g. technical and scientific ones) that will be added to next year’s SBSTA agenda, such as the issue of reference level technical assessment process. We expect that the overall REDD+ guidance will be general, which will give countries the necessary flexibility in constructing their reference levels, MRV and monitoring systems.

Protecting indigenous peoples in SBSTA: A major consideration in developing REDD+ policies is the role of indigenous peoples, who are the best-suited to monitor and protect their land from deforestation. Many indigenous peoples support REDD+ activities that protect their rights to their land and resources, and seek recognition of the principles from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In Doha, we will be supporting indigenous peoples who are advocating in SBSTA for a REDD+ decision to include more guidance and details on Safeguard Information Systems – systems for providing information on how social and environmental safeguards are addressed and respected.

2. Finance and REDD+ in LCA (Week 2)

In the LCA REDD+ track, which starts the second week of Doha, countries have an opportunity to reach consensus on procedures and modalities on REDD+ financing for results-based actions – meaning countries will try to agree on the details for how to pay for REDD+ reductions and what sources of finance can be used. Because the private sector is best suited to pay for REDD+ reductions, we believe that a combination of market and non-market funding should be used to pay for REDD+ reductions. A draft proposal from the Chair of the LCA negotiations at September’s meeting in Bangkok reached no agreement on whether this text should form the basis for negotiations. However, given the ambitious agenda and the fact that the LCA ends in Doha, many believe that this chair’s text or some modification of it will be the starting point for negotiations. If there is no agreement on this issue, it will have to be resolved next year. EDF believes that countries should be able to use the market to pay for REDD+, and that countries with caps on their emissions after 2015 should be able to use a portion of REDD+ credits to meet their commitments.

3. REDD+ as part of the ADP negotiations

Not every REDD+ issue will be finalized in Doha, but with the LCA ending, it remains unclear what exactly will happen to any remaining REDD+ issues. SBSTA and SBI will likely be tasked with further exploring REDD+ issues as needed, but some countries, especially REDD+ countries, are worried that unless REDD+ has a home in the ADP agenda, it risks being left out of the ADP negotiations. We think a smart solution would be to include REDD+ into the ADP framework, which will formally recognize it as a mitigation component of the ADP.

REDD+ is almost at the finish line. We need a decision with more direction about how it will be financed, and carbon markets must play a role. And we need REDD+ to be part of the ADP negotiations so that when the ADP deal is finalized in 2015, countries will be able to use REDD+ credits to meet a portion of their national emissions reductions commitments.

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Workshop for Indigenous Technicians Kicks Off REDD+ Capacity Building

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

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

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

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

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

REDD+ workshop photo

COICA technicians zero in on key coordinates

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

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

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

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

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

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EDF selected as representative to UN-REDD Program Policy Board

A child from the Sao Felix community in the Brazilian Amazon. (Photo credit: CIFOR)

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is very pleased to be the newly selected representative to the UN Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) Program Policy Board for northern (i.e., developed-country) Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). The Policy Board is a critical component of the UN REDD Program, providing strategic direction and approving financial allocations. The Board is comprised of representatives from partner countries, donors to the Multi-Partner Trust Fund, civil society, and indigenous peoples, as well as the Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN Development Program, and the UN Environment Program.

As one of the Board’s Civil Society Observers, EDF will participate in UN REDD Program Policy Board meetings, and solicit concerns to be raised at meetings on behalf of northern civil society organizations; EDF will also share information among its networks about REDD meetings and processes. EDF’s first meeting as a CSO will be the Ninth UN REDD Policy Board meeting in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo on October 26th and 27th (see agenda).

EDF recognizes that there is a lot of confusion surrounding the UN REDD Program and its “cousin” REDD initiatives, and that information on how participating organizations interact with one another, governments and indigenous populations is not always clear or easily accessible. In an effort to answer some of the questions about the REDD process and key players, EDF has prepared a brief explanatory document. In it, you can find a breakdown of the three major REDD initiatives – the Forest Investment Partnership (FIP), the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), and the UN REDD Program – describing which REDD activities they are involved in, which countries they partner with, and their main REDD objectives.

In addition, EDF has set up a specific web page for those interested in the UN REDD program. EDF will update this website with information and news on the UN REDD program meetings, and will promote the discussion of REDD initiatives on various forums and threads as well. Shortly after the Brazzaville meeting, we will provide an update on developments there.

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State-level REDD+ offers huge climate benefits

Carbon markets are taking giant steps toward becoming a reality, with forests and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) central to the process. Many environmentalists support REDD+, but a few want to obstruct it.

Many states around the world are already curbing their greenhouse gas emissions, including by reducing deforestation. Photo credit

A few weeks ago in Chiapas, Mexico, the 17 states and provinces from  the U.S., Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and Nigeria that make up the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) met to discuss ways to collaborate on reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from cutting down and burning tropical forests. Several states are already reducing emissions, on a larger scale than is often recognized.

With California poised to start the first state-wide mandatory emissions reductions program in North America next month, you’d think that environmentalists would welcome more states’ leadership.

But instead, Greenpeace put out a document slamming the GCF for proposing state-level plans to reduce deforestation instead of waiting for national programs. Never mind that a number of the GCF states are larger and have more emissions than many countries. This sounds oddly reminiscent of oil company lobbyists’ arguments that California is wasting its time and its consumers’ money by starting to address the global problem of climate change by itself – or that the U.S. shouldn't act until China and the rest of the world do.

The world needs to start reducing emissions wherever possible, and there are real, practical, effective ways for states to do this now.

In a commentary piece for Carbon Market North America, I describe what I think is the forest that Greenpeace missed (actually, the trees too).

You can read the commentary here: Huge climate benefits from state, local REDD+.

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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.


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Brazil's president and Congress could avoid backslide for Amazon protection

Whether Brazil continues to reduce its deforestation could depend on the outcome of a vote on its forest protection law in Brazil's lower house in March and sign-off from the president. Above: the home of Brazil's Congress, Congresso Nacional do Brasil (Photo credit and thanks to Flickr user JorgeBRAZIL)

Brazil has made great strides in reducing Amazon deforestation in recent years, bringing rates down about 80% over the last six years. But President Dilma Rousseff is already showing signs of backsliding on her environmental commitments in just her first year in office.

It’s a trend environmental groups have been following since Rousseff was sworn in last January, and one New York Times reporter Alexei Barrionuevo captures well in his recent story, "In Brazil, Fears of a Slide Back for Amazon Protection."

With global emissions from deforestation contributing about 15% of greenhouse gas emissions – as much as all the world’s cars, trucks, ships and airplanes combined – a lot is at stake in next month’s vote on a forest protection law in Brazil’s House of Representatives.

Whether Brazil, home to about 40% of the world’s remaining tropical forests, continues to reduce deforestation or not could depend on the outcome of the vote, and President Rousseff’s sign-off.

Forest Code enforcement and new protected areas slashed deforestation in 2000s under Marina Silva

Brazil’s law regulating deforestation on private land, the Forest Code, has been around since 1965; until relatively recently, it was hardly enforced and rarely obeyed.

That changed under former Environment Minister Silva. In 2003 she launched a national Plan for the Prevention and Control of Amazon Deforestation that ramped up law enforcement and established 600,000 square kilometers – an area the size of France – of new protected areas. These indigenous lands, parks, and forest-land reserves were located in the areas most affected by the expansion of agriculture.

Coupled with a temporary decline in agriculture commodity prices, the Plan brought deforestation way down, and persuaded policy makers that Brazil could commit not only to a national deforestation target, but to an overall national emissions reduction target as well.

Brazil made just such a commitment at the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, pledging to reduce its emissions 36–39% below business-as-usual emissions by 2020 — the first emissions reductions target taken by any major developing country.  And Brazil is ahead of schedule to meet this 2020 target, having already reduced about 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide below its 1996–2005 baseline – on the order of what the EU has pledged to do by 2020.

However, while the deforestation plan was supposed to have a carrot (positive incentives for conservation) in addition to the stick (cracking down on illegal deforestation), so far it’s pretty much been all stick and no carrot: lots of law enforcement, but no incentives to keep the forests standing.

Farmers lash back

Many large-scale farmers in Brazil historically had railed against the Forest Code as being too restrictive, but were too busy cutting down trees to plant cattle pasture and soybeans to do much about it. Since the Code was rarely enforced, they didn’t much care.

An aerial view of Mato Grosso shows the stark distinctions between protected forests and land that has been cleared for cattle pasture or agriculture.

But they started to take notice when government, under Minister Marina Silva, began enforcing the Code and fining them for violations.

They also noticed when the environmental group Greenpeace mobilized big European soy importers to declare a moratorium on soy imports from land deforested after 2006, and when national supermarket chains, prodded by Brazil’s Attorney General, called for deforestation-free beef in 2009. Most people in urban Brazil agree that Amazon deforestation should stop, and support such measures.

For many of the large-scale farmers in Brazil and their powerful block of congressional representatives – the “ruralistas” – the solution to their not being in compliance with the law when government started enforcing it was to weaken the law.

So for the past two years, the ruralistas have been making a concerted push to radically weaken the Forest Code.

Last June, the ruralistas pushed a revised Forest Code through the lower house of Congress that amounted to a license to deforest. The bill, sponsored by a ruralista-friendly member of the Communist party, would fix the ruralistas’ problem by giving an amnesty for past illegal deforestation, and could open up new land for clearance.

Environmentalists and the Brazilian scientific community strongly contested the House bill. President Rousseff had promised during the presidential campaign to veto a new Forest Code that would increase deforestation or amnesty past illegal deforestation, but her administration was a belated and ineffective participant in the House debate.

In December, the Senate passed somewhat improved amendments to the Code, which, however, still includes an amnesty for some past illegal deforestation.

This bill now returns to the House for a final vote in March.

The amnesty for deforestation that has plagued these bills is unfair to the few farmers who made the effort to comply with the law, and could give all farmers the bad idea that if one new law granting amnesty for illegal deforestation is good, two – or more – are better. If farmers think that an amnesty now means that future illegal deforestation will eventually be amnestied too, they will take the new Code as a license to deforest. Penalties for scofflaws, and a clear pathway to legality with positive incentives, especially for small famers, would be much better.

Environmentalists are calling on Dilma to keep her campaign promise and veto the amnesty.

Deforestation: the price of progress? Not really.

For years, the ruralistas have insisted with increasing vehemence that the current Forest Code is an enormous, unfair obstacle to the growth of Brazilian agriculture. (They also often claim that environmentalists who support the Forest Code are no more than a front for foreign agriculture interests trying to protect themselves against Brazilian competition).

But there is solid evidence that while deforestation rates were falling to the lowest levels on record, Brazil and Amazon states were getting richer and agriculture production was growing to record levels.

A vivid example is Brazil’s biggest agricultural state, Mato Grosso.

Deforestation (red line in Fig. 1 above) in Brazil's state of Mato Grosso plummeted as production of soybeans (green) and cattle (blue) increased substantially from 2001-2010. (PNAS)

The state had the highest deforestation rate in the Amazon from 2000–2005, but over the next five years (2006-2010) saw deforestation fall more than 70% below historic levels. At the same time, agriculture production reached an all-time high, according to a recent article in the leading scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In “Decoupling of deforestation and soy production in the southern Amazon during the late 2000s,” Marcia Macedo, Ruth DeFries and others also show in great detail that in recent years, while soy prices and production picked up substantially, deforestation kept going down.

Ruralista rhetoric to the contrary, Brazil and Amazon states have shown decisively that, so far, they have the wherewithal to reduce deforestation substantially while they grow their economies and their agriculture sectors.

Brazil should encourage – not undercut – global action against climate change

However, as the Times story correctly notes, Forest Code amendments threaten to usher in open season on forests. The government has watered down environmental licensing for big infrastructure projects like dams and roads and has rolled back protected areas in the Amazon by a form of executive fiat. Brazil’s Congress is also considering a bill that would give it a veto over recognizing new indigenous lands.

Brazil is home to about 40% of the world's tropical forests and a pioneer in policies to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+), which could provide the positive economic incentives needed to maintain Brazil's progress in continuing to curb deforestation.

Perhaps most critically, there has been little progress on providing the carrot – positive economic incentives to keep deforestation going down and to restore degraded forests – that Brazil needs in order to sustain the progress it made during the last decade into the future.

One candidate for the carrot is Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD)  – the concept that reducing deforestation is good for the atmosphere and needs international compensation. Brazil was one of the pioneers of this idea in the international climate talks, and consequently created the Amazon Fund, to which Norway has committed $1 billion if the country continues to meet its 2020 target.

Brazil’s National Climate Change Policy also calls for the creation of a Brazilian emissions reductions market. But the federal government has made little headway on creating its own carbon market and has been reluctant to look at linking up with international carbon markets to pay for reducing deforestation. Both could go a long way to creating the incentives needed to grow the economy and sustainably expand agriculture and forestry, while stopping deforestation and restoring degraded forests.

What all of this means is that Brazil still leads the world in reducing carbon emissions because of its success in reducing Amazon deforestation – but risks reversing the trend if it approves a general amnesty for illegal deforestation. President Rousseff should listen carefully to Brazil’s world-class scientific community on how to balance environmental protection and development priorities, in the Forest Code and more broadly.

As Brazil prepares to host the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, it will find no lack of major developed countries to criticize for foot-dragging, omission, or outright obstruction on global environmental issues.  Ambitious new commitments on environment and development are unlikely under the specter of economic crisis in the EU and anemic growth in the U.S. Blaming richer countries for tepid results is one possible outcome.

But if President Rousseff  musters the political will to kill the deforestation amnesty and save the Forest Code, Brazil could do much better in Rio+ 20. It might find ways to use its world-leading achievement in reducing emissions from deforestation to chart the way to both more ambitious commitments and effective actions from other major economies going forward, and for funding for a sustainable low-carbon development strategy.

Also posted in Brazil, Deforestation |: | 7 Responses