Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Progress on REDD+ in Durban

From the COP17 decisions posted on the UNFCCC website, it is evident that COP 17 made good progress in REDD+ in both the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action and in the SBSTA.

Holding Pattern for REDD Financing under the Decisions of the Ad Hoc Working Group on LongTerm Cooperative Action

Approval of multiple sources of finance for REDD+, including public and private, bilateral and multi-lateral. Paragraph 66 notes that "... appropriate market-based approaches could be developed by the Conference of Parties to support results-based actions in developing country Parties .... (while paragraph 67) notes that "... non market based approaches ... could be developed."

The AHWG-LCA asked that interested parties and observers should submit their views to the Secretariat, the Secretariat should prepare a technical paper for consideration at a workshop, a workshop report should be prepared, and all of this should be considered by the SBSTA at its next meeting.

See Section C, pages 12-13.

Clarity on REDD+ Safeguards and Reference Emission Levels under the SBSTA
The SBSTA provided new guidance on the systems that countries should use in their REDD+ strategies or action plans to provide information on how safeguards are addressed and respected. The safeguards are detailed in paragraph 2 of Appendix I of the Cancun Agreement from 2010, and include issues related to transparent governance structures, respect for the the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, full and effective participation of relevant stakeholders, conservation of biological diversity, and minimizing leakage and reversals. http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2010/cop16/eng/07a01.pdf#page=2

The SBSTA also provided direction on the modalities that countries should use to specify forest reference emission levels (which requires very good data on changes in forest stocks) or forest reference levels (which only requires data on forest stocks). Countries are allowed to adopt processes that match with the sophistication of their monitoring and measurement systems, including situations in which they are only able to measure and monitor for part of their national territories. As improvements in data and data management systems are put in place, countries can update the methods that they use to estimate the forest reference levels, or forest reference emission levels.


Review of agriculture successes in Durban

If you are interested in agriculture, climate change, and the progress at Durban check out the CCAFS blog at:


Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Durban Agreement -- A bigger opening for agriculture

As I discussed in previous blogs, the agricultural community were out in force in side events in Durban, lobbying for the SBSTA to be mandated to undertake a work program on agriculture. The report of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Coooperative Action (AHWG-LCA) (see link below) shows that significant progress was achieved, with a clear opening for agriculture to be discussed by the SBSTA.

Section D on "Cooperative sectoral approaches and sector-specific actions" includes the following statement on agriculture.

"69. Requests the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice to consider issues related to agriculture at its thirty-sixth session, with the aim of exchanging views andthe Conference of the Parties adopting a decision on this matter at its eighteenth session;

70. Invites Parties and accredited observer organizations to submit to the secretariat, by 5 March 2012, their views on the issues referred to in paragraph 69 above;

71. Requests the secretariat to compile submissions referred to in paragraph 70 above byParties into a miscellaneous document for consideration by the Subsidiary Body forScientific and Technological Advice at its thirty-sixth session;"

Agencies and countries most interested in getting action on agriculture through the COP process now have until 5 March 2012 to have their say in formal submissions to the SBSTA, for real discussion during the SBSTA meeting in June 2012, and toward a decision at COP18 a year from now.

Lets see how the Climate Smart Agriculture idea fares through that process.


Another chance for a multilateral approach to climate change

The Durban Platform, signed after 60 gruelling hours of non-stop negotiations at COP 17 in Durban, represents a breakthrough for multi-lateral action against climate change. The Platform commits all countries to undertake action to mitigate climate change, with a new legal instrument to be put in place by 2015, to come into legal force by 2020. In the meantime, the European Union committed itself to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, to follow immediately upon the end of the first commitment period, December 2012. These are significant achievements for the multilateral approach to tackling climate change.

It is fitting that the EU took the lead in negotiating the deal that yielded the Durban Platform. The EU is the only region that has taken on real costs to mitigate GHG emissions, and European countries have shown greatest commitment to supporting developing countries to adapt to climate change. The EU, unlike countries like Canada and the US, had real legitimacy in taking this leadership role. The lead negotiator for the EU, Connie Hedegaard of Denmark, had a clear and direct manner in the negotiations, as well as a high personal stake in the success of the negotiation process. Ms. Hedegaard chaired COP15 in Copenhagen, where she was seen to have failed to broker an agreement. President Obama eventually sidelined her when he brokered the so-called Copenhagen Concensus, which simply asked countries to specify non-binding emission reduction targets.

After the near-fiasco of Copenhagen, it seemed to many, including me, that the multi-lateral approach to tackling climate change was dieing. Lets hope that countries heed the urgent call to action that the Durban Platform calls for.

Check out this website to see a copy of the Durban Platform.

The Guardian has very good coverage of the deal-making processes that unfolded in Durban:

Friday, December 9, 2011

COP tending toward the fund-based approach to financing REDD+

Discussions of REDD+ occurred in two places in COP17: a contact group under SBSTA and a contact group under the ADWG-LCA. The SBSTA group made good progress on reference levels and safeguards and passed a decision for the COP to consider. The ADWG-LCA considered financing and came up with a less conclusive decision, essentially postponing a final decision to a later meeting of the COP. However, brackets around the whole text show that there is general agreement on this as the best way forward.

The December 7th version of the Amalgamated draft text from the chair of the ADWG-LCA (see reference below) indicates that the negotiators are tending away from market-based toward fund-based approaches to financing. That is, they are calling for the UNFCCC secretariat to develop a technical paper and workshop that will consider all possibilities of raising public funds for REDD+, hoping that public sources (including the Adaptation and Green Climate Fund) can be adequate for the “full implementation” of a results-based approach to supporting actions by developing countries. Responsibility for review of the paper and a final decision would be taken up by SBSTA at its next meeting.

Fund versus market finance has been a long-standing topic in REDD+ discussions. Big advantages of the fund approach are adaptability to national circumstances in both developed and developing countries, its ability to pre-finance upfront investments in governance and capacity that are needed to made REDD+ viable, and its ability to fund public, private and community action at the national level. It is generally assumed, however, that market-based approaches would be necessary to generate the amount of resources needed to fully implement REDD+.

Personally, I hope that the process ends up with a viable fund approach. The fund approach has so far generated positive developments in many countries (eg Norway's agreements with Brazil, Guyana, Tanzania), showing that it pays to take care with accountability in financial management to adapt funding arrangements to national circumstances. The REDD+ Partnership shows that Norway is not the only country willing to dedicate public funds to REDD+. On the other hand the market-based approach failed to finance A/R under the Clean Development Mechanism; the experience with 'carbon cowboys' from the REDD+ pilot activities -- see my previous blog on this topic -- would be magnified under a market-based approach.

Update of the amalgamation of draft texts in preparation of a comprehensive and balanced outcome to be presented to the Conference of the Parties for adoption at its seventeenth
Session, Pp 33-34.

FCCC/AWGLCA/2011/CRP.38, 7, pp. 33-34 , December 2011

C. Policy approaches and positive incentives on issues relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries; and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Why a work program on agriculture?

Over the last few days there has been considerable to the idea of mandating a work program on agriculture. This is one of a long list of topics under negotiation under the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action. Relative to the other tricky issues being negotiated under the AHWG-LCA, agriculture is a relatively minor topic.

An array of international agricultural organizations, international "elders" and countries are calling for the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) to be mandated to include a work program on agriculture. Proponents hope that having a work program will contribute to the following objectives:
a) recognize the vulnerability of agriculture and food security to climate change and thus the need to consider new types of risk management tools (eg funds that could be linked to weather-indexed insurance);
b) justify the allocation of substantial funds from the Green Climate Fund for Climate Smart Agriculture in developing countries that can increase productivity, improve resilience, reduce GHG emissions and enhance soil carbon;
c) assist developing countries in their plans to incorporate agriculture in their Nationally-Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs); and
d) develop a mechanism for mitigation finance being used to finance "climate smart agriculture".

Countries indicating strong support for the agriculture work program is the Umbrella Group of Countries (including Australia, the US, New Zealand, Norway) and South Africa. Articulate personalities speakng on behalf of the work program include Andrew Steer (World Bank), Tina Joemat-Pettersson (South African Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries), Kofi Annan (Former UN Secretary General), Meles Zenawi (Prime Minister of Ethiopia), Jacob Zuma (President of South Africa) and Mary Robinson (Former President of Ireland). There are dissenting voices, however. I've been told that the Tanzania negotiator opposes the work program in the negotiations, yet the country's minister of agriculture publically supports the idea.

Some references:
ENB on the Side - Durban Climate Change Conference - November 2011 - Issue #9

The Great Trust Gap

The Indonesian Minister for Environment said it bestat the event that his government sponsored yesterday: the Durban climate change talks are self-destructing due to a lack of trust among the Parties.

The multi-lateral approach to global governance requires a minimum level of trust among countries When countries are perceived as being untrustworthy on matters of security --eg North Korea, Iraq, Libya, the UN security council or NATO may intervene quite firmly. There is no UN environmental security council, countries that commit to environmental agreements in bad faith face few repercussions. Trust can easily break down. It has at COP17.

There is plenty of reasons for lack of trust among the Parties. Consider the case of Canada: we signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol with no clear plan or federal / provincial will to implement it. Canada's emissions keep rising. This damages the trust in Canada among both Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 countries. Or the Adaptation Fund. Back in 2006, parties agreed to set up an adaptation fund to help poor countries to adapt to the effects of climate change. Six years on, almost no money has been committed. And now the Green Climate Fund: last year Parties agreed to establish this fund to help developing countries with green development, wth quick start funding of $30 billion and up to $200 billion per year by the year 2020. Yet these same Parties are bogged down in the details of how the fund would operate and only modest amounts of funds committed. Developing countries have thus come to feel that they can’t trust developed countries to fulfill pledges for financial assistance for adaptation.

The details matter. Developing countries tend to distrust the existing multi-lateral funds, for example, the Global Environmental Facility and the World Bank Carbon Funds, but it is only those type of funds that developed countries are likely to entrust public funds to. National governments in developed countries are accountable to their taxpayers and want to know that the funds they provide will be used effectively. The funds tht are available tend to be focused on market-based approaches to mitigation, the priority of Annex 1 countries, rather than adaptation which is the priority of developing countries (eg CDM, REDD+).

Without trust in multi-lateral approaches, it appears that countries are tending toward the establishment of bilateral agreements. For example, the Government of Norway has established bilateral agreements with Brazil, Guyana and Tanzania that provide hundreds of millions of dollars to REDD+. The Governments of Switzerland and Philippines have agreed on a similar bilateral agreement that covers mitigation, adaptation and technology transfer.

We live in an increasingly globalized society, economy and environment. Trust in multi-lateral approaches is more important than ever.

Internatonal forestry community mourns death of Wangari Maathai

Forest Day 5 was held on saturday at a venue close by the site of the COP meetings. The opening ceremony was concluded by a video tribute to Wangari Maathai. Professor Maathai passed away on September 25th, 2011 at the age of 71 years.

Wangari Maathai was one of the most impressive people I've ever met. I met her after she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, when she was using the Peace Prize platform to speak on behalf of forest conservation and African women. I had several chances to brief her about agroforestry, avoided deforestation, and the state of knowledge about the the potential for address climate change objectives through improved forest management and on-farm tree management. She was invariably warm, hospitable and smiling.

The video tribute brought tears to my eyes. It celebrated the fact that she was the first woman from East Africa to earn a PhD degree. It depicted the violent way that she was treated by the Moi regime and the way that she bravely stood her ground. The video showed how she bravely defended Uhuru Park in downtown Nairobi and Karura Forest on the outskirts of Nairobi, suffereing physical attacks by the police. She worked with tens of thousands of rural Kenya women to plant trees on-farm and in forests. She was an articulate spokesperson for the Congo Basin Forest Fund and the Billion Tree Campaign. The video had clips of interviews with Gordon Brown, Bill Clinton and Al Gore who all knew Professor Maathai.

Her passing is a great loss. The high profile that agroforestry and forestry have had at these COP meetings is some testimony to her influence.

Elizabeth May in Durban

I got used to seeing Elizabeth May's face and voice from television coverage of the recent election in Canada. I thus found it easy to recognize Ms. May when she sat behind me at the COP meeting. I introduced myself and found her to be as engaging in person as she appears on television. She had just arrived in Durban and was pleased that she was able to register as a Party (an official government representative), not of Canada, but the Island Nation of Papua New Guinea. She offered to come to speak at the UofA when she happens to come to our city. I offered a standing invitation.

It will be great to have an alternative voice speaking for Canada here in Durban, especially for the press who are otherwise forced to conclude that the Harper Government speaks for all Canadians. From the vocal Canadian youth here in Durban, and the recent opinion poll numbers, many Canadians would like to take a constructive approach to these internatonal talks.

You can keep up with Elizabeth May through her blog at:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Carbon Controversy

A most interesting debate is coming out here in Durban: should agriculture be able to generate carbon credits through carbon credits through sequestraton in soils?

The extremes of the debate are illustrated by the stance of FANRPAN, the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (based in Southern Africa), who have been repeating for three years the phrase "No agriculture, no deal." They believe that there is significant potential for African farmers to adopt farming practices that improve income, improve resilience, and sequester carbon, and that carbon credits may help to incentivize that adoption (www.fanrpan.org).

On the other hand, the Institute for Agricultural Policy and Trade has launched a concerted campaign to discredit and undermine the carbon credit approach. Their position is expressed on their website:

Yesterday that debate was played out over the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project, financed by the World Bank BioCarbon Fund. The project, whose design has been informed by the minimum tillage protocol of the Alberta offset market, was presented by the project leader, while a representative of IAPT criticized the project in their commentary. So far the project has helped 40,000 poor Kenyan farmers to adopt agroforestry and water harvesting, and seems to be a great example of Climate Smart Agriculture. It is implemented by a Swedish NGO, Vi Agroforestry http://www.viskogen.se/English/Organisation.aspx, which I know and respect.

The criticism seemed to focus on the fact that carbon finance cannot be relied upon to generate significant returns to farmers. I think that this struck most of us as a bit mean-spirited; all of us in the room were aware that carbon markets are not reliable right now: this doesn't mean that CSA is a bad idea. I found out this morning that this is not the first time that IAPT has criticized the project. Apparently they launched a fairly fierce campaign to undermine support in Sweden for Vi Agroforestry.

My feeling is that climate change related finance should be used to finance CSA; at the level of the farmer, it matters very little whether that finance it is generated by a fund or market mechanism. Projects of this type do not happen overnight; in the next few years there may be more funding opportunities for CSA. I question why an organization that does very little if anything for African farmers would try to discredit another organization that does.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Climate Smart Agriculture can be pretty smart

Agriculture and Rural Development Day was a resounding success, with over 500 people participants and an excellent set of plenary presentations, small group "learning events," and a fun engagement with the South African Minister of Agriculture. For me the highlights were threefold: 1. presentation of the summary of the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change by Sir John Bebbington, 2. showcasing of many examples of innovative agricultural development initiatives, and 3. coalescing of a common approach and simple message about the links between agriculture and climate change that may be simple enough to get the attention of the negotiators.

The Commission Report can be viewed at the following website. It includes summary analysis and a set of clearly articulated and workable recommendations. http://ccafs.cgiar.org/commission

Innovative agricultural development initiatives: a) a startup private seed company in Kenya that can't meet farmers' demand for seeds for drought-tolerant varieties; b) a regional agricultural development approach in Malawi that relies on a large commercial farm that provides training, development, contracts and inputs for local farmer groups; c) weather-indexed insurance in West Africa; d) a carbon farming project in Kenya that is increasing productivity and resilience, while generating carbon credits; e) a productive safety net project in Ethiopia that reaches over a million farmers; f) an insurance for work program in Ethiopia, .... to name a few.

The South African Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, has assumed de fact political leadership of the Climate Smart Agriculture initiative. She has done this in a few ways, including convening a meeting of African Ministers of Agriculture, participating very actively in Agriculture and Rural Development Day, and advocating strongly for agriculture in the COP. The goal for this COP: a resolution by the Ad Hoc Working Group on LongTerm Collaborative Action for the establishment of a Work Program on Agriculture under the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA). I certainly hope that Canada supports this.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A quick update on REDD

Yesterday I was shown a copy of the draft text that the REDD+ contact group has developed for SBSTA. Lou Verchot, who is now at CIFOR and a former friend and colleague from Nairobi, has this to say about the draft text. From my reading of the text, the text on safeguards is very similar to previous decisions, while the stuff on reference levels is new.

The bottom line seems to revolve around the challenges involved in measuring levels compared to changes. If a country can show that it is capable of accurately measuring levels of forest carbon in their various ecosystems, then it could be eligible for credits based on reduced deforestation, reduced degradation, conservation, and afforestation. If a country can only accurately measure changes in forest carbon (which is considerably easier), then it could be eligible for credits based on reduced deforestation and reduced degradation.

More on this later.

Newly released draft REDD+ text is robust and emphasises transparency but fails to address verification, says CIFOR scientist
Written by Michelle Kovacevic, Forests blog Editor
DURBAN, South Africa (2 December, 2011)_The UNFCCC’s scientific sub-committee SBSTA has released a draft text on REDD+ that will go forward to a plenary session of the COP on Saturday for discussion and approval.

Louis Verchot, CIFOR’s leading climate change scientist, said the text is robust and calls for transparent processes within safeguard and carbon emissions reporting but does not address how these systems will be verified.

“It looks like there is a fairly comprehensive approach to reporting on safeguards and carbon emissions but it does not address what will be required for verification of these systems,” Verchot said.

“Until these sort of things are worked out, without knowing who will be accountable and how are they going to be held accountable, there may be reticence to put money on the table for REDD+.”

REDD+ is a set of steps designed to use financial incentives in order to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from deforestation and forest degradation. The draft text, which was released yesterday (find it here), is a recommendation from the Subsidiary Body of Scientific and Technological Advancement (SBSTA) to the Conference of the Parties about how to address some of the most pressing issues that will allow countries to advance with REDD+, such as how foregone emissions will be calculated, how carbon emissions will be reported and verified (MRV), and how safeguards will be reported and enforced.

No mention of finance

While there is still no real news on the financing side, it is expected that this will be addressed by the ad-hoc Long-term Cooperative action body (LCA) in their draft text to be released tomorrow. Says Verchot, “we need to ensure that decisions on financing will set a goal for the world to achieve emissions reductions.

“What’s slowing down REDD+ implementation on the ground is this uncertainty of any long-term sustained funding being available. Until we can get a commitment on that, projects are going to move forward on a limited basis with start-up funding, but they are not going to be able to scale up or make long-term commitments to the communities where they are beginning to work.

“We need to get financing nailed down sooner rather than later.”

Standards for safeguard reporting and non-performance

One of the text’s strengths is in its comprehensive approach to safeguard reporting, particularly the inclusion of indigenous groups, says Verchot.

“They are proposing that countries have to demonstrate effective participation of relevant stakeholders, in particular indigenous peoples and local communities. Countries would have to show how they have done this by, for example, presenting meeting reports to prove that there have been consultations.”

While encouraging accountability and transparency, the text does not set any standards for achievement of the safeguards and how to address underperformance.

“If, for example, a country makes a decision that is contrary to what the indigenous people are asking for, there is no clear indication of how repercussions will be handled or how decisions around that will be made,” he said.

“What has been put forward here are standards for reporting, not standards for performance and we need to see decisions on performance standards to move forward with REDD+.”

MRV is strong, allows flexibility but verification has yet to be addressed

In an interview with CIFOR’s Forests Blog last week, Verchot mentioned that countries were looking for clarity on carbon emission accounting particularly on whether to use Reference Emission Levels (RELs), where only deforestation and forest degradation is occurring, or Reference Levels (RLs) if countries want to incorporate conservation and sustainable management of forests.

The draft text has allowed for countries to be flexible in choosing which carbon accounting system they use and allowing for different systems to be implemented within a country.

“They are now allowing forest emissions levels to be aggregated up to the national level, and that, I think, is a very practical approach. It means that a country like Brazil could set a RL for the Amazon, another one for the Caatinga dry forest, another one for the Atlantic forest and then aggregate them up and come up with a national forest reference level.”

This is also important if a country has different forest areas on opposite sides of the deforestation spectrum, says Verchot.

“In a country like Indonesia, which has Java (mostly deforested and forest cover is somewhat recovering) and Papua (high forest density with mainly forest degradation and not much deforestation) both RLs and RELs may be applicable. The text allows national REDD+ programs to use both types of carbon accounting and then aggregate them to come up with a national reference level.”

“The text also recommends a stepwise approach to carbon emissions reporting which will allow countries to start simply and it recommends that RLs ad RELs be based on data”, says Verchot.

“At least in the initial stages, this system may not cover the whole national territory but eventually countries must do this. For a country like Brazil, which is doing a great job in the Amazon but they have no data on the Caatinga, Cerrado or Atlantic Forest, this allows them time to build up these measurement levels. I think its impractical to expect everyone to start with a fully functioning national forest inventory in the next five years with all the technical requirements that are needed to put in place, especially in such large countries. The proposed approach is pragmatic.”

What the text does not address, however, is how the accuracy of this reporting will be verified, either nationally or independently and SBSTA needs to review these issues, says Verchot.
“By the next COP, SBSTA will need to recommend what will be required for emissions verification. The options are whether countries can verify it themselves or whether there is external third party verification or donor countries provide verification of what recipient countries are doing. We need a decision on this.”
Further Reading
· SBSTA REDD+ draft text
· An overview of forest and land allocation policies in Indonesia: Is the current framework sufficient to meet the needs of REDD+?
· Forest tenure reform in the age of climate change: Lessons for REDD+
· Moving ahead with REDD
· Simply REDD: CIFOR’s guide to forests, climate change and REDD
· REDD, forest governance and rural livelihoods: The emerging agenda
· Getting REDD to work locally: Lessons learned from integrated conservation and development projects

The cops at COP

A few days before my departure for Durban, the lunchroom conversation in my department centred on what a dangerous place Durban would be. Other big international meetings held in Durban over the last few years have experienced big problems with petty crime. Apparently 800 delegates to the World Parks Congress were robbed.

This certainly isn't the case at these meetings. There are police everywhere. A couple ago I asked what I thought was a security guard to call a cab for me. He said no problem and spoke into his radio. As I was waiting I had a nice conversation with the police officer; lots of locals like to compare the order of the UNFCCC COP wiith the disorder of the World Cup Soccer Matches held here last year. I was soon in conversation with 3 other officers. A small platoon of police witnessed my sunside run yesterday morning. It is refreshing to see lots of delegates out running, walking and biking on the streets.

One of the officers explained that the deployment of police to Durban was likely just causing a displacement of crime from these areas of Durban to other areas that now have lower police coverage.

Climate Smart Agriculture

In 2010 a cluster of United Nations and pan-African organizations released a little book entitlted "Climate Smart Agriculture." Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) "seeks to incease sustainable productivity, strengthen farmers' resilience, reduce agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration." The little book and the concept are getting a lot of attention here at COP17.

I've attended two side events on the topic so far. CSA seems to resonate with the programs and priorities of donors. For example, a representative of the Norwegian Government explained that CSA fit perfectly with their two development priorities of climate change and food security. The French food giant, Danon, explained how Climate Smart Agriculture resonates with their multi-million dollar Corporate Social Responsibility initiative that seeks to improve the well-being of smallholder farmers well-being while reducing GHG emissions. The World Agroforestry Center is delighted with the concept: planting and protecting trees in agricultural systems is one main practices that is promoted in CSA initiatives. In their CSA initiative, the Government of Ethiopia is providing farmers with seedlings for 100 million Faidherbia albida, a tree that is remarkably well-suited for integration with crops.

But people are asking the questions: how smart is Climate Smart Agriculture? We are told that CSA requires more careful adjustment of agricultural practices to natural conditions, a knowledge-intensive approach. Yet we know that agricultural extension systems remain weak in Africa. Other studies have shown that inorganic fertilizer (nitrogen and phosphorous) is the key to raising the productivity of Africa's agriculture and organizations like AGRA focus on improving access to fertilizer and markets. And to prove that CSA sequesters carbon that could justify carbon offset payments, doesn't it require huge investment in measurement and reporting that would be more costly than the value of the carbon offsets that would be generated?

More work is needed. Fortunately, today is Agriculture Day at the UNFCCC so perhaps some of these questions will receive adequate answers.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

REDD+ Ambitions for Durban

The work of the UNFCCC COP is designed to develop resolutions that all Parties (country members) can agree to. Resolutions are reached on specific topics, guided by groups of national specialists are called Contact Groups. A key topic, and the one that most concerns me is REDD+: Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation. COP 16 in Cancun made considerable progress with development of REDD+, though it concluded without agreement on four important issues. Yesterday I attended the first COP 17 meeting of the Contact Group on REDD+. It was great to learn about their ambition to develop a new resolution on REDD+ for consideration by the COP. It is hoped that it will adequately address at least two, if not three, of these four issues.

The four unresolved issues are: 1) finance; 2) safeguards; 3) reference emissions levels; and 4) monitoring, reporting and validation (MRV). Regarding fnance, it is widely agreed that a fully functional REDD mechanism will require finance to the tune of $40 billion per year. At Cancun a few governments (esp Norway, USA, Britain) have come up with $5 billion to start things off. It is generally agreed that mobilizaton of larger amounts of funds is beyond the purview of the REDD+ Contract Group; rather it is a matter for the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long Term Collaborative Action.

So the Contact Group will not try to make more progress on finance. Howver, they will try to make decisive progress on safeguards and reference levels If they still have time and energy, they will see what they can do on MRV.

Safeguards. The worry is that REDD+ will cause countries and communities to think of forests as just sticks of carbon, and forget about the hundreds of millions of poor people who rely on those forests and the wonderful functions that the forests provide for us all. To reduce this threat, REDD+ policies and intiatives should incorporate a number of safeguards, including, for example, free, prior and informed consent from affected populations. Anyone interested in safeguards can check out the expert consultation that was held on this topic in Panama in October 2011. http://unfccc.int/files/methods_science/redd/application/pdf/redd_expert_meeting_safeguards_cochairs_summary_131011.pdf

Reference levels. This is pretty tricky. The idea is that countries will be paid for not chopping down forests. But it would be ridiculous to pay them for every last tree every year. A more sensible idea is to pay them for chopping down less forest than the amount that we could reasonably expect them to chop down if no payment were made. This reasonably expected amount of deforestation is called the reference level in REDD+. And how, you may now ask, will the reference level be set? Figuring that out is the business of the Contact Group, and again, the contact group can rely on the results of another expert consultation held a few days ago:

The first challenging job of the co-chairs of the Contact Group is to take the outcomes of the expert consultations, and the advise of all parties, and come up with a draft resolution. They share the draft with the 200-odd contact group members, listen to members nit-pick at the wording for hours and hours, and, hopefully, come up with wording that all can agree to. That resolution will then be given to the Chair of the SBSTA to take along the next steps of the COP agreement process.

Lets wish them all the best.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Canada taking on illegitimate role in Durban

I've gotten used to Canada being atop the podium of the sarcastic "Fossil Awards" at the UNFCCC. The umbrella group of non-governmental organizations, Climate Action Network, awarads fossils to countries that are most obstructive to multi-lateral agreement at the climate change talks. At COP17, however, Canada is clearly seen by countries and NGOs as the main obstacle to agreement. If the Kyoto Protocol is murdered in Durban, Canada will be seen as the prime suspect.

Yesterday, Canada won two fossil awards for two statements by Peter Kent, Canada's Minister of Environment. In one of these statements, Kent said that the Kyoto Protocol is outdated and needs to be replaced by a binding agreement that involves more of the large emitting countries, such as China. It is widely reported that Canada will formally withdraw from the Protocol on Dec 23rd, 2011. In another statement, Kent said Canada came to Durban to "play hardball" with developing countries that were using historical guilt to bully countries like Canada into paying most of the cost of GHG emission reduction.

One of the big decisions to come out of Durban will be whether or not the global community decides to extend the Kyoto Protocol, which will expire at the end of 2012 unless a firm agreement is secured for its continuation. The vast majority of countries favour this, as the Kyoto Protocol is the only rule-based mechanism that mandates GHG emission cuts. By contrast, the Cancun agreement is only notional, suggesting the types of emission reductions that countries pledge to make.

There may be a role for a country that is willing to "play hardball" in Durban to push for more inclusive binding agreements. But I argue that Canada has absolutely no legitimacy to take on this role. Yes, it signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol, yet has done virtually nothing to meet its obligations. Given the way that the federal and provincial governments tussle over environmental and resource policy, it would take real political will to have real action in Canada. Yes, Canada says that they want concerted action by all large emitters to reduce climate change, but at the end of the day it really seems that Canada sees nothing wrong with global climate change. Yes, there will be a few more extreme weather events, but it will open up the north to resource development and make the long winters a bit more bearable. Peter Kent is willing to play hardball with developing countries in Durban, but not show real leadership on the issue back home. The hypocrasy is amazing.

What the COP Negotiators are Reading . . .

The work of the negotiators kicked off today with the opening sessions of the Ad Hoc Working Groups for the Kyoto Protocol and LongTerm Cooperative Action. The opening statements that groups of countries made served to clarify the main points of disagreement that will occupy negotiators' time here in Durban.

An interesting element of these statements was the recurrent references to three reports that have recently made headline news. If you want to read what the negotiators read, try these for bedtime reading this week:

UNEP Emissons Gap Report. This report shows that the commitments made in Copenhagen are not nearly enough to reduce emissions to the levels needed to ensure that average global warming is no more the target agreed last year in Cancun, 2 degree C. The report identifies cost effective ways to address the gaps. (google unep emissions gap report)

The International Energy Associations report, World Energy Outlook 2011. This shows that 2010 saw the highest increase in global GHG emissions, despite the global economic showdown. The report raises concern about investments being made in high emission energy sources and high subsidies on fossil fuels. (http://www.iea.org/WEO

IPCC Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation. The IPCC is virtually certain that climate change is already having an impact in many parts of the world on the frequency, severity and location of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, droughts and flash floods. (ipcc.wg2.gove/SREX).

These reports, by reputable scientific organizations, stack up to an inevitable conclusion for most parties: figure out ways to enforce emission reductions now or really screw up the global climate for generations to come.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

17 Reasons Why I’m Going to COP17 in Durban, South Africa

On Friday of this week (November 25th, 2011), I will begin my flight from Edmonton to Durban, via London and Johannesburg. It is a long way to go, so a legitimate question is why am I going to the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)? Lots of reasons, I think that I can come up with 17 of them, one to match each COP.

1. Especially since 2007, most of my research has focused on the potential for land use, forestry and agriculture to mitigate climate change. If I’m interested in climate change, what better place to be than a global meeting on climate change?

2. My colleagues and I at the University of Alberta (led by Marty Luckert) have a research project on climate change and livelihood vulnerability with Rhodes University in South Africa. Eight of the South African team members will be at the COP in Durban, so I will have a chance to review progress and plans with them.

3. I will be meeting with several scientists and directors from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), my former employer and the research organization that has so far hosted and supported four of my University of Alberta graduate students (David Kaczan, who worked in Tanzania; Caitlin Schmidt and Yvette Thompson who worked in Cameroon; Rifat Shams who is now in Bangladesh). I’m looking forward to sharing the results of the students’ work with my ICRAF colleagues and others.

4. With one exception, I have been able to attend all of the COPs since 2005. I feel that it is a privilege to be involved in these important global negotiations, even if real progress is much slower than it needs to be.

5. The area of climate change negotiation in which the international community has made most consistent progress over the past 5-6 years is Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+), the area that I have been most involved with. Because of this, I have often left COP meeting with a more positive feeling that those who are focused on getting particular governments (eg Canada) to agree to binding GHG emission reduction targets. The research that my colleagues and I are doing is relevant to the operationalization of REDD+ and this is a good place to spread the word.

6. The weather forecast is for +25⁰C in Durban this coming weekend.

7. One area of the climate change negotiations where progress has been slower has been agriculture. It is widely recognized that agriculture is a major source of GHG emissions, and that changes in agricultural practices can reduce or increase those emissions. Livestock production as a source of emissions is strongly emphasized by the global NGO movement. I will attend Agriculture Day, which will try to address this myriad of issues. I hope to spread word about lessons that can be learned from Alberta’s program for agricultural offsets.

8. As an official member of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) delegation, I have the right to sit in on the formal deliberations of the SBSTA (Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advise) and the SBI (Subsidiary Body on Implementation). I sit way, way back in the room, and won’t stay too long, but I will still get to experience the body language and tones used by negotiators who are able to very politely tell each other off.

9. I will undoubtably get to see the Government of Canada and our Minister of Environment, the Honourable Jim Baird, receive yet another armful of “Fossil” awards for backtracking and intransigence from the Non-Governmental Organization community.

10. I will be able to attend several of the many many (certainly more than 200) side events which are organized throughout the two weeks of the COP to highlight issues, and showcase research results, that are relevant to climate change negotiations. Our colleagues at Rhodes University are co-hosting a side event on November 30th on “Gender, Justice, and Social Learning: Exploring Theory and Practice in Adaptation”.

11. The World Agroforestry Centre is hosting and co-hosting several side events, including Making climate-smart agriculture work for the poor; Climate-smart agriculture is Evergreen; and Landscape approaches: The place of agroforestry, afforestation and reforestation in REDD+. I was involved in most of these efforts before coming to the University of Alberta, so am looking forward to seeing the progress that they have made and the response that they get from conference attendees.

12. The Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) has invited me to attend their Dry Forest Symposium on Thursday December 1st. The purpose of that symposium to is help CIFOR map out a research agenda for sustained use and conservation of the dry forests of Africa.

13. Beginning at COP 13 in Bali, Indonesia, CIFOR and the Collaborative Partnership on Forests have been hosting annual Forest Days in conjunction with COPs. These events have brought global attention to the crucial role of forests in climate change mitigation, as well as the challenges involved in sustainable forest management. For the first three years, I helped to draft the Forest Day declarations that were used to communicate results to the formal negotiation processes. This year I will attend Forest Day 5, focusing on understanding the latest research and policy issues related to REDD+.

14. COP meetings are often celebrity events – where else do I get a chance to attend lectures by the likes of Bill Clinton, Al Gore or the array of Nobel laureates who attend these meetings?

15. It was -25C in Edmonton last weekend, and +25C in Durban.

16. It will be fun to meet old and friends colleagues from an important past phase of my life and career.

17. Who knows, there may be a significant breakthrough in some dimension of the negotiations and I will get to witness history being made.

More from Durban!!!