EM REDD Roundtable

As climate talks hit the halfway point, negotiators have pushed further talk of safeguards back to June, 2015, in order to focus on creating a framework for Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions to halt climate change. We sat down with some of our trusted sources to find out where they felt REDD and INDCs stood.

7 December 2014 | Negotiators wrapped up the REDD Rule Book last year, but the technical committee was still charged with finishing guidance on safeguards as the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) developed the new text for Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions (INDC).

As this was taking place on Friday, we sat with five people who have been watching the talks closely: Gustavo Silva-Chavez of Forest Trends, Chris Meyer of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Josefina Brana-Varela of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Peter Graham, also of WWF. We were also joined by one delegate, who chose to remain anonymous. We call him Delegate X.

Steve Zwick: Why don’t we start by asking what you think are the most important developments of the past year.

Chris Meyer: I know you want to hear about policy, but for me the most important development was the assassination of four Ashéninka leaders on the Peruvian-Brazilian border, because it reminds us why we’re here. The fact that they were murdered in Peru, where we’re having these talks, and that the logging mafia killed them – this reminds us of the threats that indigenous people face every day, and it also reminds us of the fact that we’re fighting organizations that operate outside of formal institutions. Those are the realistic challenges that REDD faces.

Josefina Brana-Varela: And there’s a hope in that tragedy, too: I don’t think those murders would have been addressed so publicly 10 or 15 years ago, because there wasn’t so much attention focused on what was happening on the ground, and the indigenous peoples and social organizations active there didn’t have much of platform to make their voices heard. One reason we have that attention is because REDD+ has promoted so much transparency that has forced governments and other actors to address these issues, and act upon them.

Chris Meyer: On a positive note, there was Norway’s announcement at the Climate Summit in New York that they’re going to allocate $100 million from 2016-2020 just to indigenous people. I do have one big concern, however: namely, that the money isn’t going directly to indigenous organizations, but instead is going to have to pass through civil society organizations. That’s always been a big issue, and it continues to be.

Steve Zwick: We’ve got two working groups, one looking at the early-action stuff – the 2016-2020 period – and the other at post-2020. Where do we stand on the early stuff?

Chris Meyer: It’s a very interesting place from where we were than last year, because a lot of that is happening outside the COP. In Warsaw, we were trying to finish all the technical pieces, and we were successful.

I would say REDD had been plateauing until then, and that decision – the Warsaw framework – was a bit of an injection into the whole international REDD space. Now you’ve had the New York Climate Summit, where Norway, UK and Germany said they’re going to finance 20 bilateral deals. A lot of those will be through the Carbon Fund of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) which has $430 million in it and a pipeline of nine or 11 early proposals to access those funds. That would be $30-40 million each.

At the country level, you’re seeing a new multilateral deal between Peru, Norway and Germany, significant advances in Brazil, Indonesia is made significant advances. You look at the new president there, and he’s giving people a lot more hope that REDD will make more progress in the next government. You’re seeing a much more serious approach from multinational companies that are involved in commodities. They made a number of commitments at the climate summit, and even though I’m sure it’s not all on the up and up and up, it’s an improvement on a year earlier.

Gus Silva-Chavez: On the downside, Norway is still carrying the load, because except for them, we haven’t seen that much of an increase in public finance commitments. They have held fairly steady. If you look at some of the estimates of how much it would take to reduce global deforestation by 50%, you’re looking at $20-30 billion a year. Right now, if you add up everything, it’s about $7½ billion. That leads into the second issue, which is the lack of private sector participation. In the Ecosystem Marketplace State of the Forest Carbon Markets report, you’re looking at 300 million. That’s nothing.

Obviously after Paris, once we get the policy signal, hopefully things will change but that to me is something that is still worrisome. If you look at existing carbon prices, they’re low. One of the promises that the environmental community made to REDD countries was you potentially can get a lot of money for protecting rainforests. With really, really low carbon prices, with public financing probably starting to fade, I’m concerned that globally we may not be able to get to what we promised them.

Steve Zwick: And I guess that’s why we’re here – to work on a policy signal. On that front, the two big stories are the Safeguards issues under REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) and the guidelines for Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions (INDC). Can you tell us where we stand on both of these right now?

Peter Graham: On the question of safeguards, the negotiators were looking at whether there was a need for additional guidance on the implementation or reporting on the Cancun safeguards. Many REDD countries said, “We’re implementing them, figuring out our system, making sure everything is connected,” and they interpreted the calls for more guidance as additional demands being imposed even before they’ve been able to see if they have any problems or not. They’re basically saying, “You’re asking us to see how we’re doing before we do it,” and they don’t see it as fair.

Then there’s our community – we see us as trying to help them reduce risk, because we’re worried that if they get the safeguards wrong, they won’t get any funding through the Green Climate Fund when they link to REDD. Both arguments are well-meaning and based on genuine concern.

Steve Zwick: And how about INDCs?

Peter Graham: As you know, INDCs are being discussed under the ADP (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action), and there’s been some contention around the representativeness of their text. Some parties and groups say the negotiating text represents of negotiation, but others didn’t feel that they’re position or the proposals they submitted were properly reflected. There was a stalemate on how to proceed but Parties began working with text on the screen on Friday afternoon.

So now the co-chairs have asked those interested in doing so e-mail their proposals to the secretariat, and they’re projecting those on the screen and going through them one-by-one, paragraph-by-paragraph, and providing comments.

Steve Zwick: How far does the text have to get before the talks end?

Peter Graham: As far as possible if you want to try and have a protocol in Paris that’s accepted for potential ratification, because under UN rules, you have to give countries six months to review any treaty or protocol.

That might not apply if we’re aiming for some type of agreement other than a treaty or protocol, because the six-month might not apply. But at the moment, because it is one of the options and one of the concerns, that is the timeline.

Steve Zwick: But don’t they have other meetings between now and June?

Peter Graham: Yes, but if they don’t make much progress here as a full COP, then it’s going to be difficult to get something by June. It’s going to be difficult one way or another. But they need to show significant progress here otherwise the faith in an agreement-capitals will be reflecting on the progress here and determine how much they should soften or harden their positions. It’s important.

Josefina Brana-Varela: Can we go back to REDD for a moment, because there are other issues still under discussion in the agenda – one is the Joint Mitigation-Adaptation (JMA) mechanism proposal by Bolivia, and the third is in the consideration for methodological aspects for non-carbon benefits – although that last one wasn’t on the agenda for Lima, and won’t be addressed until June. I bring it up because there has been some considerations about pairing the JMA discussions with the non-carbon benefits, because adaptation may be seen as one of the additional benefits that REDD+ can deliver; in this way, some Parties thought that it would be efficient to pair up both discussions still open in the negotiations.

Steve Zwick: I’ve never been able to understand this JMA thing. To me, it just seems like REDD minus the mechanism. Why is it still kicking around?

Gus Silva-Chavez: Because Bolivia won’t let it go. They’re keeping it hostage. Most of the time, whenever a Party comes up with a proposal that is not supported by a handful of Parties, they withdraw it, but Bolivia has just stuck to their guns, and they’re not going to back down.

Chris Meyer: We should make it clear that they don’t seem to be gaming the UNFCCC process by holding this so they can swap it for something else in another spot. They truly believe it’s different from REDD and this is the way to go.

Gus Silva-Chevez: The other issue is nothing under what has been agreed to so far prevents Bolivia from getting what they want out of mitigation and adaptation. So that’s where a lot of countries are coming from. They’re saying, ‘Hey, if you talk to a donor and convince them to pay for JMA, go for it. What you can’t do – and that’s what they’re trying to do – is impose your views on everyone else.”

Chris Meyer: The Danes are already putting money into Bolivia to finance this exact proposal. And that’s been a message that’s been given to them numerous times… you already are receiving support to develop your mechanism.

Josefina Brana-Varela: But we also have to recognize is that all parties in Doha agreed to include the alternative policy approaches in the text, and they recognized explicitly the JMA, so Bolivia has the support that it needs to keep this discussions going.

Delegate X: Bolivia did have help from some other countries, who drafted a text that they put forward. My understanding is that it would have exempted them from some of the requirements of the Warsaw package on REDD. In exchange, they would be willing to close this issue. It said they would encourage other Parties to contribute to these alternative approaches and support them. But also that they wouldn’t be held bound by all the decisions of Warsaw.

Josefina Brana-Varela: At this COP, the main discussion that needed to be resolved was the consideration of further guidance for safeguards, in particular focused on the summaries of information. This issue of safeguards is related to the core elements of REDD+, and it was important to conclude negotiations to focus now fully on REDD+ implementation. Discussions around the JMA have been controversial and difficult, and we anticipated that it was going to take longer discussions to be fully resolved. The longer Parties these topics open, the less time they will have to resolve them. I understand that their last chance will be the session of the Subsidiary Bodies next June, because in Paris, all the negotiation time will be allocated to the key elements for the new climate agreement. The priority before Paris should be to reach agreement regarding the need of further guidance for safeguards, otherwise this can be used as an excuse to consider REDD+ as incomplete.

Delegate X: I guess what we have now is this “go-your-own-way” approach on safeguards, where countries can pull forward the information they think is relevant under the existing guidance. But some of the potential donor countries were saying we want to specify the types of information and how it would be structured. There was a pretty widespread agreement that folks wanted a venue where they could share their experiences but not to have that implicated in the form of guidance.

Steve Zwick: You man the REDD+ Committee that the Coalition for Rainforest Nations was advocating for?

Delegate X: Not the Committee necessarily, although the folks who were advocating for the Committee jumped on it and said, “Yeah, this is what we want, too! The committee would be a perfect forum.”

That proposal [for a Committee] does not have wide acceptance, but the forum does. They’re talking about a place to share experiences and not comingle finances. They even had a text that included the forum, and it was just seven or eight paragraphs long, and five of the paragraphs were agreed and clean, but they couldn’t get there. It was hung up on these other issues that they couldn’t resolve – mostly about additional guidance for safeguards.

Chris Meyer: A lot of the pushback on guidance for safeguards was from some of the countries who have advanced significantly in developing their safeguard information systems (SIS). They pushed back because they said, “We’ve already done a significant amount of work on this. Let us start implementing and revisit it later.”

Steve Zwick: Isn’t there some truth to the idea that countries are overburdening the process with too many safeguards? Letting the perfect be the enemy of the good and all that?

Chris Meyer: That’s what Brazil is saying. Their argument is essentially, “Hey, if you guys don’t like what our safeguards report has, you don’t have to buy our credits.” Well, yes that’s true – let the market be the guidance after the fact – but you don’t want countries doing a lot of work and presenting stuff and then having donor countries or people who would buy those credits saying, “Your safeguards aren’t good, and we’re not buying anything.” That’s the dynamic.

Josefina Brana-Varela: REDD countries keep saying, “It’s in our own interest to present something of quality because we are the ones that want to get the support, so the incentive is for us to present something good. Why are you working under the assumption that we’re not going to deliver good safeguards?”

But donor countries are saying, “We think a little guidance would be useful to guarantee consistency and to guarantee that the information is going to be there.”

Gus Silva-Chavez: Safeguards also bleed into finance, because they can cost money, so countries will say, “Fine, if you want to create additional safeguards, that’s going to cost my country money. How much money are you willing to give me to do this?” And the answer, of course, is, “We’ve already paid for REDD phase one and phase two. Now it’s pay-for-performance, and anything on top of what we already agreed to in Warsaw is either something you finance yourself or find other ways to finance it.”

Delegate X: Additional guidance could also help to level the playing field among countries who have different levels of capacity. It’s one thing for Brazil to say, “We don’t want additional guidance; we’re good to go; we’re ready. Stop insinuating that you can’t trust us,” but those other countries who aren’t there yet are going to struggle to compete in that kind of environment.

Chris Meyer: Brazil has already submitted their reference level, and they also note that, in the Green Climate Fund (GCF), REDD is the only mitigation activity that’s been approved for financing. This means Brazil is coming into Paris next year with a solid reference level and solid safeguards. This means they’re the only country that’s both ready to get money out of the Green Climate Fund and to offer a clear reference level with reliable tons for their INDC.

At the same time, they’ve been making that push again to look at the GCF and maybe be the first past the post even. And now there’s almost $10 billion in there. You could be looking at them being the first to get the money from the GCF and, if you’re looking at INDCs, they’ll pay for a certain amount themselves, but want external money for the rest.

Steve Zwick: INDCs are just starting to go through the text? Peter said they’re going through it now. What happens next?

Gus Silva-Chavez: It could bloat – I remember one year, the REDD text blew up from 10 pages to 70 pages and then the challenge was how to get from 70 back down to less than 10. I would say that one of the outcomes out of Lima is going to be a large amount of ADP text that has everyone’s proposal in it.

Delegate X: They’re also talking about two texts. One of them would show all of the party submissions. Parallel to that would be the synthesis document. So the Parties can kind of see how their submitted text got translated or consolidated, if any consolidation happens at all. This will be the job of the chairs: to get Parties to consolidate and say, “It looks like you’re talking about the same thing.”

Steve Zwick: I thought they had to have the negotiating text done and next week, it goes to the COP?

Gus Silva-Chavez: ADP text goes back to the COP next week, and then they say, “Based on progress made, based on what everybody wanted, this is the way forward for next year.” March is going to be the deadline for submissions. and then by June you legally have to have the negotiated text ready for Paris, but that means you still have six months to work on all of this.

Steve Zwick: What will they be submitting from March on if it’s still just a negotiating text?

Gus Silva-Chavez: My understanding is that the INDCs to be submitted by March will be a range of number coupled with explanations saying, “This is how we came up with this number. These are the policies that we expect to use to implement or meet our INDC.” Basically, numbers with context.

Chris Meyer: Also for some countries like least-developed countries (LDC), we’re not expecting them to come in with numbers, but more activities. For forest conservation, it could be something like a CDM activity. Or agricultural activities in the land-use sector. It could also be – and this is something that EDF is pushing for – you recognize the indigenous territories and land titling because we know that in the indigenous territories there’s a lot of forest carbon. EDF just put out a paper about it with partners. We suggest to a bunch of LDCs that maybe have large tropical forests, they can focus on recognizing indigenous territories instead of trying to put down numbers necessarily.

Steve Zwick: Or Indigenous REDD, which is finally starting to come into focus. I spent a lot of time at the indigenous pavilion, and it was fascinating to see the proposals that some of the indigenous people are putting forward for using REDD to support their “life plans” or development plans.

Delegate X: Those were the people REDD was intended to help. The question we have in this process is if we’ve achieved a mechanism that can actually deliver on that. Or do they need to interact with institutions in their own countries? Do they need to form some sort of new body that enables them to access REDD? Because now we have this top-down structure, but it’s unclear – at least to me – how the resources percolate to the people doing that who want to serve that purpose for their own good but also for providing this benefit to the rest of the world.

Josefina Brana-Varela: I think the life plans is a planning instrument that took place depending-I mean there are good experiences and bad. It depends on who is developing the tool. When you have a participatory process and people from the community are taking an active role in identifying the uses and what is being done in what part of their land, and what they want to do, etcc, I think it’s a powerful tool. It can at some point get embedded into the architecture of REDD at the country level. If we’re talking about national entities, regional governments, municipal governments working in REDD at scale and having their development plans, their zoning, why not indigenous groups? I think it’s doable. It’s a process and we should be respectful of the timing of the process. The only caveat I see is: how can we be effective for this to be a single effort contributing to one vision of REDD in a country? Because at the end of the day, we can’t forget that REDD is a national commitment. Everything that happens at the national level in a country at the different levels needs to contribute to that. The tricky part is how are you going to create institutional arrangements and structures that need to be in place to communicate and connect the points from the life plans, the subnational REDD strategy action plans, and the national vision that a country has on REDD. It can be done. It could be powerful for countries especially for countries with a high presence of indigenous groups. But it needs to be done carefully.

Chris Meyer: I think there’s a misunderstanding that Indigenous REDD or the idea of it is not compatible with REDD and the beauty and difficulty of REDD is it’s a very big tent. Any activity you’re doing and then the “plus” – conservation of forest stocks, sustainable forest management and enhancement of forest stocks – those are the sort of activities that encompass indigenous people too and fits for them. In these life plans, they have already activities that do any of those five activities. REDD is the financing mechanisms that allows that to happen. It’s not that they’re incompatible. If they can get the organization correctly at the national level and the benefit distribution to then finance and make those sets of activities in the life management plans priorities. There’s a lot of science coming out saying they should be priorities if REDD is going to be successful.

Steve Zwick: EDF had a report that showed more that half the territory that’s indigenous and protected is under threat from mines, roads, etc. What are the implications of that report to get REDD funding for indigenous territories?

Chris Meyer: It demonstrates that if countries in the Amazon are serious about achieving emission reductions, they need to consider how some of their current policy impact indigenous territory especially around economic development – mining and oil concessions – and how those are going against they’re forest conservation REDD plans. In addition, COICA, who was a partner in the study, also laid out a bunch of different proposals that they need: land titling is one thing countries can do to help protect forest carbon stocks. Additionally, indigenous people need direct sources of financing. This goes back to the difficulties they imagine of getting funds through national governments is that they’ve been marginalized in the past. There is the call that there not be two or three layers between them and the money, but that they’re able to access more funds directly to do the different activities. Finally, they do want capacity to monitor their own territories to protect themselves from people who are encroaching and to understand better what is happening on their land related to forest carbon stock. Countries are in peril of not being successful with REDD if they don’t take into consideration indigenous issue and the forest carbon stocks in their territories.

Delegate X: What I think people are starting to recognize more and more is that now we have these funds that are potentially poised to deliver billions of dollars to countries or to mobilize it. It’s a transaction with a country. So it’s the country that sort of gets to determine [what happens to it]. Let’s say we have some possible plans for building roads, for allowing mining concessions and stuff like that at the national level. There’s a lot of uncertainty about the value that those are going to deliver to our country. We’re also potentially going to have to lay out a lot of money ourselves to build the infrastructure and to do all the things to make those financial flows happen. So if we had more certainty around the REDD money and if those deals were sort of coming forth, then at the country level, we could say we actually have a lot more certainty and we stand to gain quite a bit of money from taking these concessions off the table. Or shelving these plans to build more roads and everything else. That is the way in which it could reduce those threats to the indigenous territories, by triggering the national level decisions to say we’re not going to continue with these plans because we’ve got this REDD approach, which is a much more attractive option for us.

Steve Zwick

I edit Ecosystem Marketplace, which is a news service focused on environmental finance. With this blog, I hope to offer coverage that is a bit lighter and more holistic than what we offer on EM.

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