Following COP 18, Jeff Hayward — director of the Rainforest Alliance’s climate program — reflects on the proceedings and the future of climate negotiations.
The year’s fiercely hot temperatures, searing droughts and intense hurricanes served as startling reminders of the urgent need to develop immediate, long-term solutions to address global climate change. Yet, world leaders who gathered at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Doha, Qatar, delivered little more than a transitional agreement — packaged as the Doha Climate Gateway — and a decision to work toward a more substantive accord by 2015. Here, we outline some of the main takeaways from this year’s session…
Transition to a New Agreement
As expected, Doha concluded in an agreement to extend the Kyoto Protocol until 2020. At that time, it will be replaced by a new treaty, requiring for the first time that all countries make emissions reduction commitments. The Kyoto Protocol (KP) working group will be terminated and negotiations for the new climate agreement will shift to the Ad Hoc Working Group on Enhanced Action (known as the ADP). Per agreements made under the Durban Platform, the goal of the new mechanism is to develop “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties.” Debates flared, however, around the meaning of “legal force” and questions around how such a mechanism would be applicable to “all parties.” It is yet to be determined how Kyoto, which only covers about 15 percent of global GHG emissions, will influence the new agreement and how the agreement transition will play out.
Failure to Advance REDD+
For the first time in five years, approaches to address deforestation and forest degradation did not progress. REDD negotiations were carried out through two subsidiary bodies — the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) – and until COP18, both had been making steady and relatively rapid progress. In Doha, SBSTA hotly debated the requirements for verification systems needed to monitor and report on changes in forest cover and related emissions. The main issue was the amount of finance developed countries would commit compared with the rigor and independence of verification processes that developing countries would accept. Committee members appeared to be earnestly trying to reach a consensus in the last few minutes of the final SBSTA session but were too far apart on redline issues to reach a decision. These topics will be revisited in Bonn in mid-2013.
Like the SBSTA, the LCA did not come to any concrete conclusions regarding REDD financing and, in fact, concluded. REDD financing will likely transition to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which is expected to be responsible for overseeing $100 billion per year by 2020 to support developing countries who undertake adaptation and mitigation actions, including REDD. With very little in the way of financial commitments and little clarity on how these funds will be generated, securing long-term REDD+ financing remains a challenge.
There was a palpable sense among observers at COP18 that REDD is suffering from ‘issue fatigue’ and is not progressing rapidly enough as a pay-for-performance mechanism. If the LCA had reached an agreement on results-based payments for emissions reductions, such a show of support within the UNFCCC would have reinvigorated interest in REDD, particularly by the private sector but also among countries. In recent years, REDD+ has been one of the most intriguing mechanisms to emerge from COP negotiations as a credible approach for conserving forests and biodiversity with real benefits for forest-dependent communities. With stagnant progress at the international framework level, many worry that momentum for REDD is fading.
Concerns are also rising as negotiations transition away from Kyoto and pivot toward a new climate deal under the ADP and GCF. Questions and fears remain about our ability to muster urgency, action and finance during this time of transition and the (likely) laborious process necessary to confirm the details of a new mechanism. In addition, climate watchers fear that this is simply the same old strategy with a new name and anticipate challenges in enhancing engagement from countries like the US. Finally, this new negotiation track must find a way to bring the key GHG emitting countries, including the US and China, on board to bridge the gap needed to reduce sufficient global emissions and put temperature increases back on a track to stabilize at (or below) 2 degrees centigrade.
Progress Outside of the UNFCCC
In the wake of COP18’s questions and concerns about the future of REDD, financing and the new climate mechanism, discussions continued to spotlight progress made on climate change outside of international agreements, particularly the important role that private enterprises play and the benefits and lessons generated by the voluntary carbon market.
Many companies in the private sector have begun addressing carbon emissions within their own supply chains, regardless of legally binding agreements, and much of the discussion at COP’s side events focused on how the private sector can address commodity drivers by promoting sustainable agriculture. For example, Unilever made a commitment to source all of its tea from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms by 2020 – these farms boast many climate-smart practices, including the prohibition of deforestation, maintenance of healthy soils, protection of native ecosystems and decreased use of energy, water and agrochemicals. As a leader in addressing sustainability within its supply chain, Unilever has sparked change across the world’s tea producing regions with a tenacity that government action, or lack thereof, has yet to achieve.
In the absence of international agreements on REDD and climate change, the voluntary carbon market and credible carbon standards are also fostering change by leveraging market forces for conservation, sustainability and climate change mitigation. Standards organizations, such as the Verified Carbon Standard, have been leading the way in developing the protocols necessary for aligning approaches towards REDD from local to national scales. New guidance for jurisdictional and nested REDD, lays out how to incorporate project-scale REDD initiatives into national and regional accounting and crediting programs.
These trends point to the growing importance that non-policy mechanisms play in promoting climate change commitments. Given the incremental, procedural pace that characterized this year’s COP, we expect progress to continue with bilateral agreements and carbon markets, voluntary markets, private enterprises and other efforts, such as innovation in climate-smart agriculture carried out on the landscape and farm levels, to shape actions that to reduce GHGs and shift global business and consumer actions on climate change.