In The Field

Poznan: After a meltdown, resolution on deforestation

Things weren’t looking good on deforestation last night. Delegates cancelled a public session yesterday afternoon, presumably to keep from airing their dirty laundry, and then got bogged down in a closed-door session that lasted until 10 p.m. Things weren’t looking much better this morning, but they reached a decision a short while ago that seems to have everybody – including environmentalists – moderately satisified.

“It’s not as much as we would like to see, but it does represent some forward progress,” says Stephan Schwartzman, a deforestation expert with the Environmental Defense Fund.

First, we need to reiterate a bit of background: This decision comes out of a technical body, not the entire Conference of the Parties (or COP, in the local lingo). The document says in so many words that the methodologies for tracking and assessing emissions from deforestation are ready to go (specifically citing work by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). That kicks the issue up to the COP, which will need to settle on a system for wrapping them into the treaty itself.

Advocates had been pushing for a decision by COP itself, one that would formally put the issue on the larger agenda and give a date for somekind of feedback. The delegates eventually decided not to push for a COP decision, electing for wishy-washy language suggesting that guidance from the COP “would facilitate” progress as the technical folks continue sorting out the details in meetings next year.

Believe it or not, just getting this represented a major breakthrough. Objections of one sort or another came from all over the map. The US delegation initially balked because it didn’t want to tie the hands of the Barack Obama administration next year, for instance, while Brazil raised questions about whether the science is actually ready.

The delegates also came under intense pressure from indigenous groups to include language on the rights of native people. Many of the parties would like to see something on the matter, but linking to something like the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples presents a host of legal issues, given that many signatories to the climate convention are not signatories on the declaration. Language on the issue was removed from one of the early drafts, sparking protests outside the press room yesterday. In the end, delegates settled on language calling on parties to submit ideas for later discussion.

It’s not clear exactly how all of these impasses were breached, but the international spotlight undoubtedly played a role.

“The world is watching,” Schwartzman says. “They didn’t want to leave here looking like do-nothings, bickering about parochial issues while the world around them burns.”

No word yet on whether delegates will be able to bridge an impasse on the other big issue in Poznan: Launching the adaptation fund to help poor countries prepare for a warmer world.


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