Working to Get Forests Into the Next Climate Agreement

by Lydia Olander | December 9th, 2008
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 2 comments

Lydia Olander reports on the climate talks from Poznań, Poland.

For folks interested in addressing climate change, all eyes are on Poznań, where negotiators from around the globe are meeting to plot the next steps for an international climate agreement. Key issues under discussion are:

  • tighter caps on greenhouse gases in developed nations,
  • new mechanisms for significant reductions from developing nations like China and India, and
  • forests.

That last issue is what brought my colleague Brian Murray and me to Poznań, where a winter fair in the city’s Old Town feted the thousands of us visitors with ice sculptures and live music. Specifically, we were there to share our efforts to include Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) in the new agreements. (See earlier post for more on REDD).

The two-week conference, held annually and officially called the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is actually two parallel events occurring simultaneously: a series of closed-door meetings held by formal negotiators and a seemingly endless array of side events (panels, presentations, and receptions) hosted by official observers like Brian and me (observers include non-governmental organization staff, carbon market entrepreneurs, business people, the media, and students). In total about 9,000 people are attending this year’s conference.

Addressing Deforestation Likely Means Big Emissions Cuts, Fast

Now back to REDD. Deforestation and changes in land use cause around 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Three primary concerns kept forests from being sufficiently included in the Kyoto Protocol (which expires in 2012):

  1. equity – the idea was that developed countries should fix the problems they had caused rather than paying developing countries to do so;
  2. sovereignty – there was concern that protecting forests would lock away lands that developing nations need for economic development; and
  3. accountability – the approaches for including forests were not sufficient to ensure that reductions would be real and permanent.

Because these original concerns have in part been resolved, forests are back on the international agenda. Given the world’s accelerating level of greenhouse gas emissions, avoiding dangerous climate change through steep emission cuts is no longer feasible without tackling forest issues. Plus, addressing deforestation could mean greater, faster emissions cuts at lower costs compared to, say, a new clean-coal plant that could take a decade to construct and put into operation.

Side Events on Deforestation

On Friday, panelists from Bolivia, Liberia, Indonesia, Panama, and the World Bank discussed their work to build capacity and develop projects designed to move REDD forward in tropical forest countries. That evening we met with members of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy and many of the U.S. delegates (e.g., official negotiators from the state department, USAID, USDA and other agencies, as well as members of Congress and their staff).

On Saturday – “Forest Day” – we participated in an all-day event organized by the Center for International Forestry Research. Our session featured U.S. policymakers sharing ideas on how the United States is likely to deal with forests. Speakers included:

  • William Hohenstien, director of the USDA’s climate change program (a Duke alumnus);
  • Misty McGowen, a legislative aide to Senator Mike Crapo (R- ID), a member of the agricultural committee; and
  • the California Resources Agency’s Anthony Brunello, a key player in the recent agreements between California and numerous rain forest states in Brazil and Indonesia, the two countries with the highest rates of deforestation.

The main thrust was how best to design the international forest program. Consensus around most of the key design questions appears to be a growing, specifically:

  1. While there needs to be accounting at the national level, countries should be able to use a variety of different approaches, from national policy changes to individual projects financed by private capital;
  2. Both a fund approach (along the lines of traditional overseas development assistance) and linkages to the global carbon market will likely be needed to achieve the desired outcome; and
  3. We need to start as soon as possible and consider guarantees for early actors.

Another important consideration is expanding REDD to include the broader forest sector (afforestation/reforestation, and forest management), as well as all land use (grasslands, rangelands, agriculture, etc.) to help reduce problems stemming from a partial program.

REDD Must Move to Primary Negotiations

The last event we co-hosted aimed to update attendees on the state of play for forests in three arenas:

  • the ongoing international negotiations,
  • the European Union deliberations, and
  • planned action in the U.S. Congress.

The EU, formerly a big opponent of including forests, has taken a large step forward in considering how forests should be part of the international agreements.

Right now, the discussions on REDD are part of the technical group’s discussions in the formal negotiations. REDD will need to move to the primary negotiations soon if initial agreements are to be reached before next year’s talks in Copenhagen.

All in all, it was a productive, whirlwind visit to Poland, and we enjoyed seeing some familiar faces: Liz Willetts (Duke, MEM 2008), Katia Karousakis (Duke, MEM 1999), and Nora Greenglass (Duke, MEM 2006). I ended my stay with a diverse group of attendees at a late-night dinner in a brick-walled cavern under the market square and its welcoming ice sculptures.

Lydia Olander is the senior associate director for Ecosystem Services for Duke’s Nicholas Institute. Read her full bio.

filed under: faculty, guest


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  1. Daniel Wedgewood
    Dec 10, 2008

    Lydia, How is the Obama Administration likely to weigh in on the next climate agreement? Dan” title=”Obama

    • wendy
      Dec 10, 2008

      Lydia Olander replies – Dan, President-elect Obama has been forceful in his support for serious action on climate change. See his statement from the Bi-partisan Governors Global Climate Summit that Arnold Schwarzenegger hosted in November. ( _obama_to_deliver_taped_greeting_to_bi_partisan_gover/) Expectations are high that an Obama administration will have the leadership necessary to move forward this politically complicated issue both domestically and internationally. It is essential to have a positively engaged United States for the international negotiations to make much progress. Obama’s energy and climate team will likely be selected this week and we are watching closely. ” title=”Obama leadership is key

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