Over the past few days, the climate team has been following key discussion items under negotiation at COP18, such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) and climate finance. Technical guidance on the implementation of REDD+ has been a particularly hot topic for conservation organizations at this year’s conference.
REDD+ aims to use market incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation while providing benefits like poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation. Ultimately, REDD+ should make responsible forest management and conservation more lucrative than deforestation and forest degradation.
Known as the SBSTA, the UNFCCC’s Science and Technical advisory body is currently tasked with constructing the methodological guidance needed to move REDD+ from project-scale work to country-scale work. The SBSTA met exclusively during the first week of negotiations and discussed some thorny issues.
The SBSTA struggled to reach an agreement around text on measurement, reporting, verification (MRV) and monitoring of forest carbon stocks, and the crucial issue of how submitted REDD+ Reference Levels (RLs) would be assessed by the UNFCCC. (A reference level is comprised of information on changes in the amount of forest cover in a country as well is the emissions generated by deforestation. RLs form the fundamental emissions benchmark that would help shape the financing a country’s REDD+ activities.)
Despite the notoriously slow movement of COP negotiations, I’ve been present at several sessions where the developments in the drafting process moved at lightning speed. For example, after four days of little progress, negotiators burned the midnight oil on Friday, working until 5 am on Saturday to make significant progress on a host of REDD+ issues, including finance. No agreement was reached, however.
On Saturday night, there was an extraordinary session of the SBSTA in which all delegates of the G-77 (the largest UNFCCC negotiating bloc, comprised of developing countries) and China huddled together in the back of the room while observers looked on in a last-ditch effort to reach an agreement. This was far outside normal protocol and indicative of the deep, shared commitment in the room to advance REDD+. Later in the same session, Norway and Brazil crossed the aisle mid-session to assess the possibility of reaching an agreement.
Ultimately, the session closed without consensus on a few crucial issues, risking making this the first time in five years that the SBSTA fails to make progress on REDD+ at COP. Despite the SBSTA’s formal closure, key players including Brazil, the United States, the European Union, Norway and Papua New Guinea voiced their commitment to pursuing alternative means of finding common ground on verification by making an appeal to the COP chair to continue REDD+ dialogues through other negotiating tracks in week two of the conference.
There is reason to be hopeful. COP has been known to surprise and that element is still alive and well at Doha.