In The Field

Barcelona Climate: safeguarding primary forests under REDD

And now back to the case of the missing 10-word phrase, which says that any payments for reduced deforestation should include “safeguards against the conversion of natural forests to forest plantations.” Just for amusement, here’s the gist in UN climate speak: It was in “”">Non-paper No. 11" but was left out of “”">Non-paper No.18" when negotiators gathered for a final session before departing Bangkok last month.

“Non-papers” are basically papers with new negotiating text, compiled by facilitators, that are periodically released in order to assess progress and move things forward. Apparently the logic when the practice began was that nobody wanted to give too much weight to unapproved language. At any rate, when this particular section was winnowed down, the phrase was lost.

For the Ecosystems Climate Alliance, a coalition of interest groups that is tracking the REDD debate, this safeguard is critical to ensure that payments for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) do what they are intended to do, which is protect forests. Because plantations can also meet the legal definition of a forest (a separate issue that many are pushing to change), they say countries could get paid to clear native forests and replace them with plantations, which actually increases emissions.

I discussed the issue with a REDD expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, Doug Boucher, after the Bangkok meeting, and his assessment was that the massive spike in emissions from clearing forests would be enough to prevent such activities. And indeed, it’s hard to believe such a practice would be allowed, or that companies or countries would want to invest in it even if it were.

But it also depends on what, exactly, is being measured: overall emissions or forest cover. Non-paper 18 has three options for tracking deforestation, including one that is based on forest cover alone. If that language moved forward, based on the current definition of “forest,” the loophole would remain, says Peg Putt, who works on forest and climate issues for The Wilderness Society, itself a member of the alliance.

In the end, the Europeans took the blame for removing the forest-conversion safeguard but claimed it was an accident. The European Commission’s chief negotiator, Artur Runge-Metzger, says they have since proposed something to plug the gap, and environmentalists expect to see the new language when the next non-paper is released tomorrow morning.

“There is agreement from all but one party,” Putt told me. “I’ve heard it may be the United States, but that might be pure speculation.”

Such speculation is unfortunately common here, due to the fact that the formal talks generally take place behind closed doors. Perhaps we’ll find out more tomorrow morning.


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