One of the key elements for a global climate deal has been unexpectedly resolved in Bonn, with governments signing off on plans for a UN-backed forest protection scheme.
Envoys spoke of their surprise at the agreement, which will see the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (Redd+) programme form part of a Paris pact in December.
“It was successful… we all got a little of what we wanted,” said Ghana negotiator Yaw Osafo, who represented the Africa group at the meeting.
A US official in Bonn said the draft text, which will be formally agreed in Paris, was a big moment for efforts to slow deforestation and protect regions holding vast stores of carbon.
“It is big. It has been ten years of work. It concludes all of guidance around a really important issue which is how you reduce emissions from forests in developing countries,” she told RTCC, speaking in a background briefing.
One major issue was the “non-carbon benefits” generated from protecting forests, said Osafo, which include the protection of indigenous peoples and valuable ecosystems.
Many communities have complained of forest carbon initiatives which failed to consult or at worst displaced villages and in some cases did not share revenues with locals.
In Africa, where forest degradation is a bigger problem than industrial scale logging, this meant initiatives needed to be better coordinated with local communities, said Osafo.
In another well documented case, a Panama forest tribe engaged in a year-long campaign against Redd+, which it said ignored their rights and effectively sold off their traditional lands to outside investors.
With Paris looming and pressure mounting for a decision in other venues at the Bonn talks, it appears countries that previously held tough positions backed down for the sake of progress.
Norway, the EU and Switzerland had demanded tougher measures to ensure environmental and human rights “safeguards”, and faced a Brazil-Africa coalition resistant to new guidelines.
What emerged was a compromise, suggested Gustavo Silva-Chávez from the Washington DC-based Forest Trends NGO, with countries keen to see a full package ready by the end of the week.
“In simple terms in the last several years the UN has provided the rules for how to provide a Redd+ mechanism… they have the written guidance,” he said.
Even Bolivia, long an opponent of the role of carbon markets in the Redd+ mechanism, agreed not to block a deal which leaves the door open for a variety of funding flows.
“Many others told Bolivia – some of us want to use them… maybe not now but we want to keep options open,” added Silva-Chávez.
Experts warn the decision leaves plenty of work for negotiating teams and those charged with implementing Redd+ on the ground in the coming months.
Deforestation and land degradation is on the rise, and accounts for around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN’s IPCC climate science panel.
Tougher safeguards and transparency would generate more confidence from the finance sector, said the US official, with the UN’s Green Climate Fund and World Bank forest carbon fund other potential donors.
Ghana estimates it needs half a billion dollars to roll out a full Redd+ programme, said Osafo.
Around $4bn of the $100bn pledged at the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit was supposed to be directed towards forests, but in reality the figures have been far smaller, he added.
Still, the early agreement on forests has boosted confidence in the UN process at a time when the main strand of talks on a global deal appear stuck in an 80-page long quagmire of a text.
Often, said Silva-Chávez, this strand of negotiations was used as bargaining chip to call for more progress on finance or make other demands. That didn’t happen when matters came to a crunch.
In 2000 the then “Redd” talks led to the collapse of talks in the Hague at the annual UN summit. Since then careful confidence-building measures have developed relationships among envoys.
“Most people are foresters and understand issues and appreciate different situations in other countries… it’s not too hard to empathise and try and find ways to accommodate each other,” said Osafo.
Better communication and more field visits were key to this result, said the US official, allowing better understanding between countries – which negotiate individually rather than in blocks.
“It’s a really important thing we have done… probably made possible because of the tight knit community working on forests and climate,” she said.
“A deep base of sharing and knowledge and a lot of trust… that’s what has allowed us to move forward.”