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Copenhagen: REDD all over, lofty goals, lesser ambitions

Sunday was Forest Day, and I celebrated it along with several hundred people at a forum chalk full of science and policy presentations about integrating efforts to integrate forests into the global warming framework. This annual event is in its third year, and the efforts of those present would appear to be paying off: Negotiators working on the deforestation text have reached agreement on all but a pair of issues, which will likely be kicked up to environment ministers.

The negotiations over REDD (for reducing deforestation and forest degradation) have progressed more quickly than most issues, and many think the programme could be a signature accomplishment in Copenhagen. But REDD negotiators do not control the money, and it’s not year clear whether it will make it onto the list of fast-action items.

As far as the text itself goes, some environmentalists are still worried about the text on safeguards against converting forests into plantations, but by and large the observers I talked to are pleased with the actual framework. Several pages of text generally lay out in broad-form a system that would allow rich nations to offset some of their emissions by paying to preserve forests in tropical countries, although many of the details would be left to be worked out by a technical group next year.

One of the two outstanding issues is whether to put in specific targets: the EU had proposed a 50 percent reduction in deforestation by 2020 and a halt to deforestation by 2030, but the current text drops the mid-term goal and includes the 2030 goal in brackets, which means the text is disputed. The second is whether nations will be required to develop national baselines for the rate of emissions from deforestation (a proposal designed to prevent illegal loggers from simply moving down the road) or whether they could develop regional plans of some kind.

Perhaps biggest problem, according to John O. Niles, director of the US-based Tropical Forest Group, is that the text does not specify a date for when many of these details must be worked out. There are few details as to how tropical countries need to account for their forest carbon, no deadlines, and no system for reviewing the baseline assessments that they submit to enter the program. “It just sort of says, ’Let’s get started,’” Niles says. “But maybe that’s all they could get here.”

Meanwhile, the debate over the biggest issues – over emissions and money from developed to developing countries – continues apace, with all eyes on the United States and China. The good news is that negotiators have at least agreed on which document they are negotiating. That document even includes a place for some key goals, such as reducing global emissions by an unspecified amount by 2050. That said, countries haven’t increased their commitments, and scientists who have been busy modelling the proposals are saying what they have been saying for months: current proposals would commit the world to something like 3.8 degrees of warming by 2100 – nearly double the oft-cited goal of 2 degrees.

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