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What came out of Copenhagen on REDD?

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After two weeks of wrangling all that came out of COP-15 was the “Copenhagen Accord”. In a press conference on 19 December 2009, a clearly exhausted Yvo de Boer, described the Copenhagen Accord as “an impressive accord”.

Then he listed the problems: it is not legally binding, it doesn’t pin down industrialised countries to targets, it doesn’t specify what major developing countries will do, it mentions US$30 billion funding but says nothing about the responsibility for raising the money. “We have a lot of work to do on the road to Mexico,” de Boer said.

The Copenhagen Accord was not formally adopted by the Conference of Parties, because not all countries agreed to it. Instead, COP-15 “takes note” of the Accord, “giving it no force whatsoever,” as Friends of the Earth pointed out in a press release. First the US trashed the REDD negotiations, then it trashed the whole Copenhagen talks.

Nevertheless, the “Copenhagen Accord” has its fans: “a sound start” (Bob Deans, NRDC), “a step in the right direction” (Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general), “a great step forward” (David Axelrod, Obama’s chief adviser), “the first important steps” (Fred Krupp, Environmental Defense Fund), “a first step” (Carl Pope, Sierra Club). With all these first steps and starts you could be forgiven for thinking that Copenhagen was COP-1, not COP-15. But the UN has been discussing climate change now for 17 years. At this stage, the only step that the Copenhagen Accord takes is over the edge of the abyss.

Of course a REDD deal without an agreement to reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels spells disaster for the planet’s forests. That’s what came out of Copenhagen.

REDD is mentioned in the Copenhagen Accord:

6. We recognize the crucial role of reducing emission from deforestation and forest degradation and the need to enhance removals of greenhouse gas emission by forests and agree on the need to provide positive incentives to such actions through the immediate establishment of a mechanism including REDD-plus, to enable the mobilization of financial resources from developed countries.

“Scaled up, new and additional, predictable and adequate funding” is to be provided to “developing” countries, “including substantial finance” for REDD. The Accord explains that the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund will be worth US$10 billion a year from 2010-2012. Financing for “forestry” is included in this figure. By 2020, “developed countries commit to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD 100 billion dollars a year”. Not surprisingly, carbon markets are one of the ways of raising the finance:

7. We decide to pursue various approaches, including opportunities to use markets, to enhance the cost-effectiveness of, and to promote mitigation actions.

Towards the end of the Copenhagen meeting, six countries, the US, UK, France, Japan, Australia and Norway, pledged US$3.5 billion over the next three years to kick-start REDD.

During Copenhagen, REDD was discussed in two bodies: the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperation Action (AWG-LCA).

The SBSTA produced a draft decision on methodological REDD issues, which was adopted by COP-15.

The LCA draft text on REDD (FCCC/AWGLCA/2009/L.7/Add.6) seems to have entered a state of suspended animation on 15 December 2009. This draft is deeply flawed. It includes no mention of targets for stopping deforestation. There are no commitments for long-term finance. Safeguards are weak to the point of non-existent. Leakage is not meaningfully addressed. The principle of free, prior and informed consent by indigenous people is nowhere to be seen.

Indigenous People have been pushing for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to be included in the REDD text. The words are in fact in the text. But all the safeguards are carefully tucked away behind the words “promoted” and/or “supported”. To meet the “safeguard”, and therefore qualify for REDD funding, a government can say that it is supporting respect for the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples. Holding a meeting in the capital city and inviting five indigenous representatives would probably qualify. The word “promoted” is even weaker. The word “should” earlier in the sentence provides even more wiggle room.

Astonishingly, the chair of the REDD negotiations, Tony La Viña, described it as, “a good text, especially the scope and the safeguards.” But the “safeguards” in the REDD text amount to little more than a list of positive things that ideally should be done.

If, like Jeff Horowitz, co-founder of Avoided Deforestation Partners, you believe that we must save the forests at all costs and that doing so should allow the pollution in the North to continue, then this is the REDD text you were waiting for. “We can’t tell people to stop driving cars and trucks. But we can stop deforestation,” Horowitz told CNBC. “The value is in the carbon.”

For those who believe in the importance of human rights, indigenous rights, local peoples’ rights and land rights this is the time to withdraw support for REDD. No rights, no REDD.

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  1. By encouraging the US government to go for offsets, rather deep US domestic emissions’ cuts, Horowitz and his disgusting Avoided Reductions Partnership have helped sow the seeds of Copenhagen’s undoing.

    Now that we have no REDD agreement, and in that the Copenhagen failure will reduce the chances of there being ANY kind of US legislation this year, perhaps the trough-snouting US ‘conservation’ NGOs involved in the ARP will realise that their planetary treachery has also undone themselves and undermined their plans to profit from REDD schemes.

  2. What a deforestation debacle. The degraders and destroyers of forests continue to smile and spit in our faces.

    REDD in its present form could not and cannot work. We have scuppered the fundamental needs of human communities who are guardians of our great forests because of fear and allowing the continued cancer to casio economics to rule.

    For in the end if we who so called control the long term future of our great forests cared for them this situation would not have come to fruition.

    With 1/4 of humanity having been betrayed by our lack of wisdom we will now enter a relatively short period of time when climate chaos will come into being.

    SEEBif gives a glimmer of hope but even that was betrayed because in reality we did not care enough. We should all be ashamed of ourselves.

  3. Being ashamed is much too passive.

    We should be taking action to ensure that unsustainable / illegal timber does not enter the EU, USA and Japan for a start. Arguably, we have a duty to do so. When was the last time there was an exposé.

    We should do the same with palm oil supplied from most sources in East Asia (including RSPO members who are dragging their feet but who include enterprises with great influence) – at least until proposals to expand palm oil plantations in Indonesia, Papua and Sarawak have been scrapped.

    It is likely that most of these products are supplied through well known ports..

    If major NGOs in the USA have their snouts in the trough, there is a risk that the aid funds of the EU and its member states (one hopes inadvertently) achieve the same in Europe.

  4. redd is the best techonology that could save the mother earth as it stresses on saving big plants than only on mere afforestation and now on such a climax situation the existing plants need to be saved as there capacity to provide oxygen,food,shelter,fibre cant be compensated by planting young saplings.

  5. @debahuti acharya – I think you’re mixing up the idea of stopping deforestation with REDD. The former is a good idea (subject, of course, to upholding the rights of the people who live in and around the forests). The latter is a plan to trade the carbon stored in forests to allow greenhouse gas emissions in the North to continue. To state what should be obvious: Allowing greenhouse gas emissions to continue would result in runaway climate change and would result in vast areas of forests going up in smoke. Probably not a good idea, then.

  6. The US$3.5 billion (Euro 2.4 billion) pledged to kick-start REDD over the next three years is criminally pathetic in relation to the global trade in forests commodities, including timber, that drives deforestation. For example, the European Commission recognises that Europe’s trade in illegal timber alone causes losses to timber producing countries of Euro 1.8 billion every year – equivalent to Euro 5.4 billion over three years. As such, Europe’s illegal timber trade will likely cost timber producing counries more than twice what they could possibly receive from the entire “REDD Kick-start fund”. In fact, Europe’s illegal timber trade will cost timber producers Euro 3 billion more over the next three years than they could collectively expect to receive from the REDD funds pledged thus far. In other words, REDD pays forested countries less than Europe is already costing them by buying their illegal timber. To make matters worse, just prior to the pledge of funds outlined above, in December the European Council of Agriculture Ministers decided not strengthen the EU’s legislative aproach to illegal timber, essentially meaning it will remain legal to trade illegal timber in Europe. Policy coherence? Due Diligence? More like robbing Peter – to pay Peter

  7. Jago

    Yes, but there is another way of seeing this: that REDD funds, however big or small, will simply ‘subsidise’ corrupt governments such as Indonesia – one of the biggest culprits in the illegal logging world, if I am not mistaken – from clamping down on illegal activities that are supposedly robbing their treasuries of forestry revenue.

    The losses to tropical countries from illegal forestry activities have been known and well enough documented for many years. Seeing as how these losses run into the billions of dollars, yet the costs of stopping them, and collecting all the appropriate forestry taxes would probably only be tens, or at most hundreds of millions of dollars. So, by any simple economic analysis, it would be worth tropical countries investing in whatever it took to stop the illegalities. But, of course, they have failed to do so…

    Why do we think that is? Well, probably for the same reason that they have tended to keep *legal* forestry taxes at rock-bottom levels: because the more profits (‘rent’, in the economic parlance) that the logging industry can capture privately, either through legal or illegal activities, the more there is available for bribes, backhanders, ‘informal taxes’, paying for election campaigns etc, which you and others in EIA have been very good at exposing.

    This is why REDD in the absence of massive improvements in governance in most tropical countries is not only likely to be a total waste of money, it is possibly also going to be counter-productive. It will simply provide yet another means for corrupt forest sector decision-makers to carry on pocketing the benefits of illegalities and not enacting the forest sector reforms that desperately needed, and may even entrench endemic courruption. The promise of easy REDD money is already undermining efforts to bring some of the worst illegalities under control through the FLEGT programme.

    REDD payments should probably be conditional on achievement of a certain level of success in stopping illegalities, and perhaps signing up to the EU-FLEGT process. Moreover, REDD’s future paymasters, such as the World Bank, should look hard at the level of legal forestry taxes, such as area fees, stumpages taxes, export levies etc, and see how much these can be raised FIRST, in order to raise the required funds for forest protections, before throwing good REDD money after bad policies. Otherwise, all that will happen is that the inefficient and illegal operators will just become more inefficient, and the fat cats will get fatter.