After Copenhagen: Envisioning REDD+

As we hobble towards the conclusion of these talks, we can at least take stock of the REDD+ text presented to heads of state on Thursday. There are several key changes – some positive, some more ambiguous – from the draft that was released to observers last weekend.

Principles and safeguards have been moved back into the main body of the text, rather than languishing in the preamble. The exhortations to parties (‘principles guide implementation… safeguards should be promoted’) are still weak, and lack legal force, but their rehabilitation in the core ensures that they can be further defined and elaborated in upcoming discussions, rather than remaining as an insubstantial warm, fuzzy glow. This is a positive development.

Another key change occurs at the end of the document. All decisions on financial matters have been deferred, and referred to the decision anticipated from the Finance section of these COP discussions. This cannot be seen in a positive light. A REDD+ decision is meaningless without secure provision of substantial financing for early action and readiness phases. The disappearance of the words ‘predictable’ and ‘adequate’ is particularly troubling, but hardly surprising. Money was always going to be the sticky issue, and decisions on funding for REDD+ must be taken in the light of wider financial arrangements emerging from this COP. Negotiators clearly feel that they have not been provided sufficient wriggle room by their respective governments to progress further. Heads of state must therefore decide, if they can, whether and how to mandate specific funding arrangements through the REDD+ text.

Other issues which remain up for grabs include the scale of REDD+; whether it will be based solely on national accounts of forest-based emissions or will allow for sub-national, project-based accounting and implementation. Colombia insists on several sub-national clauses. There are benefits to such approaches for quick-start pilots, but long-term credibility of REDD+ as a climate change mitigation measure surely requires full national accounting. Perhaps Colombia is concerned that it cannot effectively govern some parts of its territory, plagued by long-term conflict. If this is the reason, there are plenty of other nations with similar problems, and it is indeed a very serious concern from the practical viewpoint of coordination of national forest monitoring systems, although such problems are unlikely to be at the top of the list of local peoples’ concerns in such areas.

Two cheers for the clear and robust reference to UNDRIP and the strengthening of language against conversion of natural forests. These are the results of intensive lobbying efforts over the last few years. Not only the rights, but the active ‘full and effective participation of indigenous peoples and local communities’ is now ‘requested’, rather than ‘encouraged’. This seems liks stronger language to me, but I stand ready to be corrected by a sharper legal mind if necessary.

All of these developments, which seem in general to be edging REDD in an encouraging direction, are hostage to the outcome of the broader negotiations, now entering the equivalent of injury time. There should be plenty of such time allowed, considering the various fouls committed by some parties over the past few days, but the Bella Center must be emptied tomorrow. The REDD+ decision, whatever the final outcome, merely outlines a playing field – the rules are yet to be written and there is still ample opportunity to squander the opportunity that lies before us foresters. We can, and we must, move into action and put substance behind our rhetoric. Show that we, from community managers to forest rangers and timber traders, can together form a key part of the solution to climate change mitigation.

Posted by Ben Vickers

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