Saturday, December 19, 2009

Forestry In; Agriculture Still Out

Its something of a challenge to make sense of the outcome of COP15. The official negotiation process was following the Bali Roadmap (agreed at COP13 in Bali), while the backroom process that led to the Copenhagen Accord seemed to be following the whims of a few rich countries. When the dust settled, however, we see that the Copenhagen Accord does address many of the same issues as the Bali Roadmap and shows agreement on some of the key sticking points. The Accord commits countries to rapid progress over the next year. First up: by January 31, 2010, countries are expected to declare their 2020 emission targets.

REDD+ (Reduced Emissions for Deforestation and forest Degradation plus enhancement of forest carbon stocks) emerges from Copenhagen as a relative winner. The SBSTA (Scientific Advisory Body) provides methodological advice; COP15 produced a detailed agreement on how developing countries should prepare for REDD+; and the Copenhagen Accord explicitly mentions the need to mobilize resources from developed countries to provide provide positive incentives for REDD+. REDD+ is listed as a priority for the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund, with its $30 billion of kickstart funds.

Agriculture did not come up as a winner. It is not mentioned in the Copenhagen Accord or in any of the decisions of COP15 of the UNFCCC or the decisions of the COP/MOP 5 of the Kyoto Protocol. Proponents of agriculture will need to make their case quickly; over the next year the Copenhagen Accord is to be refined into a binding international convention.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Our Common Fossil

A remarkable book was published in 1987: Our Common Future. The authors, led by the former Prime Minister of Norway, Gro Brundtland, pursuasively argued the need for sustainable development -- development that does not compromise the opportunities available to future generations. I was reminded of the importance of this book on Saturday when Gro Brundtland made a compelling speech at Foresty Day in Copenhagen. Twenty-two years later, its too bad that so few Canadians have heeded the key message of that book.

At the climate change meetings in Copenhagen, I was reminded of the failure of Canada to do its part to ensure Our Common Future, the world's global common future. This was pretty hard to escape in Copenhagen. The Canadian flag is pasted all over the prominent Fossil of the Day wall of shame. Climate Action Network confers its Fossil Awards to countries that do the least to address climate change. In other words, winning Fossil Awards means that a country is doing the least to advance Our Common Future. See

Sadly, Canada deserves every one its many Fossil Awards. Canada signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1998, ratified it in 2002, and has done virtually nothing to limit its emissions of greenhouse gases. Much of Canada's economic growth has come at the expense of the global environment. Canadians are enjoying larger homes, more SUVs, more kilometers per car, more coal, more oil sands and more beef, all at the expense of the environment. Under the current federal government, Canada's climate education, policies and actions have been virtually non-existent.

Indeed, the current government seems perfectly happy to win ever more Fossil Awards and obstruct international action to prevent catastrophic climate change. There is plenty of blame to go around. Stephane Dione's political fortunes sunk when he called for a carbon tax -- the policy solution that has been shown to produce the most effective and efficient climate solutions. Relatively few Canadians have joined climate protests. Climate change skeptics are still popular radio talk-show hosts. John Prentice is often named in the Fossil Award ceremonies, but his government has a solid base of support.

Sadly, Canada's climate inaction is Our Common Fossil.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Making a final push on agriculture

Negotiators in Copenhagen have come up with text for a possible statement on agriculture, in AWG-LCA 8, item 3 (Ad Hoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperative Action). As of 8 am, Nov 15th, it was all bracketed, meaning that agreement was not achieved by the negotiators.

It is now being considered at the ministerial level. I agree with the CGIAR Challenge Programme on Agriculture and Food Security that is urging Parties to support the full inclusion of the following bracketed paragraphs:

[Decides that all Parties, with respect to the agriculture sector and taking into account their common but differentiated responsibilities and their specific nationala nd regional development priorities, objectives and circumstances, shall promote and cooperate in the research, development, including transfer of technologies, practices and processes that control, reduce or prevent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, particularly that that improve the efficiency and productivity of agricultural systems in a sustainable manner and those that could support adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change, thereby contributing to safeguarding food and livelihood security.]

[Requests and subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advise to establish, at its thirty-second session, a programme of work on agriculture to enhance the implementation of Article 4, paragraph 1(c) of the Convention, taking into account paragraph 1 above].

Real achievements in bringing avoided deforestation into the Copenhagen Agreement

A lot can happen in four years. At COP11 in Montreal, Costa Rica and Papua New Guinea proposed that developing countries with large amounts of forests should be compensated for reducing deforestation (now causing about 15% of all global emissions). The other parties said that they were interested, and a two-year study phase was launched. At COP13 in Bali, the parties once again agreed that this was a good idea, and a two-year phase of capacity building and demonstration activities was launched. My co-authors and I summarize some of the readiness activities and demonstration projects in:

At COP15 in Copenhagen, it is now clear that REDD+ will be a key part of the final agreement. REDD+ is Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation in Developing Countries + improved forest management and conservation. Developing Countries that can clearly demonstrate that they reduce emissions relative to an agreed reference level will be able to claim compensation payments from developed countries, provided that they abide by certain standards of good practice in forest governments and ensure that safeguards are put in place.

The research community has played a key role in advancing REDD, including the ASB partnership that I used to lead. The ASB partnership estimated the opportunity costs of reduced emissions from deforestation, and found them to be very low compared to other emission reduction activities. This has proven to be a large part of the attraction of REDD for developed countries. ASB pushed for national-level strategies and accounting, while recognizing the need for concerted local action. This has been agreed by the negotiators. (check out for more on the ASB work).

The international research and NGO communities have done a great job of synthesizing and presenting the evidence to policy makers. A key part of this has been Forest Days 1, 2 and 3, organized by the Center for International Forestry Research and the Collaborative Partnership on Forests during the last 3 COPs. Check out the CIFOR website for information on Forest Day 3, which was held on Sunday in Copenhagen. (I've attended all three Forest Days and helped to organize the first two.)

At the closing session on Sunday, Yvo DeBoer, said (paraphrasing) , .... never have I seen such a good science base, clarity of issues, and resounding political agreement. ... politics will help us with an agreement on finance, targets, etc., but will not ensure delivery of the outcomes that the planet needs. ... We need an architectual that is sound for the same that the spotlight shifts elsewhere. Forestry is not just a climate change response, it is a sound way forward for sustainable development. The research and NGO community needs to safeguard the nitty gritty in the negotiations on things like ecological integrity, social integrity and rights of indigenous people. Continue to be the conscious of the process. Please ...

My colleagues and I with ASB are happy with the progress made, but frustrated that a failure to consider definitions of forestry may undermine the performance of REDD+. See more on this topic at:

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Agriculture inching its way into Climate Change agreements

At the COP14 meeting held in Poznan in Dec 2008, I participated in both of the side events that delt with agriculture. We were pleased that both events were well attended, generating lots of interesting discussion. We had some followup meetings and people talked about the need to get agriculture into the cliamte change negotiating processes.

There was a fair amount of followup in 2009, including several synthesis publications such as the 2020 Briefs produced by IFPRI. Meine Van Noordwijk and I contributed one paper to this series.

At COP15, the number of side events focused on agriculture increased from 2 to more than 10. Today more than 300 people spent the whole day at the first ever Agriculture Day at the nearby University of Copenhagen. The event brought together an interesting array of agricultural scientists, NGOs and farmer organizations The International Federation of Agricultural Producers was particularly well-represented. The event had a number of high-profile speakers, including Tom Vilsack, US Secretary of Agriculture (who stayed for the whole day). We had productive discussions, and ended up with a strong call for the inclusion of agriculture in the Copenhagen agreement.

I'm pleased that the two points I raised from the floor were included in the final summary of the meeting. My points were: 1. It is important that the agricultural science community work hard over the next year so that the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report provides a more complete and realistic assessment of agriculture than the fourth assessment report. 2. Alberta's agricultural offset program is one of the most active and thoughtful in the world. Lessons can be learned for other countries.

Word from the negotiating rooms is that the new agreement will endorse a work program on agriculture. Not a bad outcome under the circumstances.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Livestock's contribution to climate change: what can be done?

Every morning and evening I encounter activitists outside of the COP venue in Copenhagen who encourage me to save the planet by stopping my consumption of meat and dairy products. Today I encountered those messages again at a side event hosted by Noble Laureate, Professor Wangari Maathai. Research conducted by the FAO in 2006 shows that some 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions are due to livestock production and consumption of livestock products, which is more than from the transport sector as a whole. Consumption of livestock products increase disproportionately with increases in income, so economic progress further increases emissions from livestock. See a summary at:

Yet there is virtually no mention of livestock in the Kyoto Protocol or in documents now being drafted for a possible Copenhagen Agreement to succeed it. Why?

So far no one has presented a convincing plan of what could be done to reduce livestock emissions at the global scale. Nonetheless, there are promising initiatives at the local scale. Some European countries have reduced emissions from livestock due to regulations put in place to protect water sources. In Alberta, there are initiatives like Spring Creek Ranch to generate energy from animal waste. (See At the University of Alberta, there are promising initiatives to reduce GHG emissions per unit of livestock product.

Such initiatives must continue and be intensified. Carbon taxes on meat consumption may be the next step.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Supporting Climate Policy with Research Evidence – an Oxymoron?

COP meetings have an interesting format. In massive halls, leaders of national negotiating teams ('parties') make statements of official positions; at best, contradictions are acknowledged, but rarely resolved. Nearby and behind closed doors, technical staff from the country teams meet in crowded smaller rooms, wordsmithing sentences and phrases, often without clear understanding of the implications. In other nearby rooms, folks like me spend more of our time attending 'side events' -- presenting evidence and defending positions that we think ought to be considered by the negotiators and others interested. Outside of all of those rooms there is conversation everywhere and all manner of interest groups trying to make their voices heard. You have to wonder, do the groups hear each other?

I’m attending the climate change meetings in Copenhagen as part of a delegation from the ASB Partnership for Tropical Forest Margins (which I coordinated for the last 2 years). Today ASB partners contributed to a side event on forestry issues. The event assembled pathbreaking science on the causes of deforestation and tree cover change, and the challenges of defining the term 'forest'. Negotiators in the COP understand that tropical deforestation is responsible for 12% of all greenhouse gas emissions and seek an agreement on how to reduce it (called REDD). Agreement seems to be moving along, albiet very slowly. Research results presented by Eric Lambin show that the causes of deforestation and afforestation vary greatly from country-to-country and that deforestation in one country is often offset by increases in forest loss in other countries. International collaboration is thus essential, although actions appropriate in one place will rarely be exactly appropriate in other places. Meine Van Noordwijk showed that definitions are fundamentally important: almost any definition of what is / isn't a forest will be debated. Negotiators need to agree on definitions. From a climate change perspective the most important thing is to motivate farmers, foresters and other land uses to protect and plant forests and trees in all parts of the landscape. We were also reminded that bold action is essential; the longer we delay real action, the greater the chance of fires that can wipe out the gains that we make.

We hope that these messages somehow get through to the rooms next door. We wish that this could happen overnight, but it won't. Effective science-policy linkages require patience and lots of hallway talk. The negotiators need to agree on a deal that slows, then halts, global climate change. The world needs negotiators that are brave and receptive to the value of science. It must be done, surely it can be done.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Huge uncertainties about the outcomes of Copenhagen climate negotiations

I'm writing from the venue of COP15 -- the Conference of Parties to UN Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark. The conference is now in its 3rd day and will continue through Dec 18th. I will try to write something each day as long as I'm here.

Uncertainty over the outcome of the conference is palpable. In the days before and first days of the conference itself, many countries and negotiators were warning that agreement on a new convention (to succeed the Kyoto Protocol) is highly unlikely and that another year of negotiations is likely. About a week or two before the conference, the Government of Denmark launched a secret parallel process to work out a deal on the side -- it was exposed by the Guardian newspaper a couple of days ago. It seems that the majority of countries were outraged and saw the process as an attempt by rich countries to again sideline the global majority.

Here at the conference, there seems to be little movement on the big issues as clocks keep on ticking. Carbon Capture and Storage is very devisive -- many countries see it as an easy way to keep on with business as usual and others see it as dangerous, unproven and distracting. Too bad that the Government of Alberta is putting almost all of its climate change eggs in this basket. I'm pleased that one of my interests, Reducing Emissions for Deforestation and forest Degradation, is quietly making good progress: it may end up being the one thing that countries can most easily agree upon. My other pet area -- agriculture -- is getting more attention than ever, but there still aren't concrete ideas of how to bring it into the agreement.

Canada is once again presenting itself as fossilized -- winning Fossil of the Day awards day after day. John Prentice seems to ravel in the role of neigh-sayer. More on this topic another day.

At the same time, ever more Heads of State have indicated that they will be coming to Copenhagen, starting from Dec 15th. This includes President Obama and PM Stephen Harper. Week two of Copenhagen is turning into a summit of heads of state -- they won't be excited about making the trip here without going home without some type of agreement. So we face the very real prospect of heads of state actually negotiating the text of an agreement. This is most unusual, and exciting.