Climate talks on “African soil” must help developing countries fight climate change, says Sierra Leone’s negotiator

DURBAN, South Africa (25 November 2011)_Sierra Leone hopes to gain international support so it can move ahead in preparing for REDD+, says one of the country’s climate negotiators, adding that with the U.N. climate talks “being held on African soil” there is pressure that it lead to concrete steps to help developing countries adapt to global warming.
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Photo by Daniel Tiveau/CIFOR.

DURBAN, South Africa (25 November 2011)_Sierra Leone hopes to gain international support so it can move ahead in preparing for REDD+, says one of the country’s climate negotiators, adding that with the U.N. climate talks “being held on African soil” there is pressure that it lead to concrete steps to help developing countries adapt to global warming.

Scientists warn that Africa is likely to be one of the most vulnerable continents to the impacts of climate change. Sierra Leone is leading the fight with their ‘National Carbon Programme’ which, steered by the National Secretariat for Climate Change, will develop three integrated REDD+ and Payment for Environmental Services (PES) schemes across the country. The programmes hope to protect over 2.5 million hectares of forested land.

“This is a clear example of how Sierra Leone is learning from and avoiding the mistakes being made by other countries in the subregion which have struggled to raise the profile of climate change at the national level,” said Dr. Peter Saidu Turay, Sierra Leone’s National Focal Point on REDD+ and Climate Change Related Matters. National level support is vital, he added, “to ensure effective decision-making in REDD.”

The fate of the Kyoto Protocol – set to expire in 2012 – will be discussed at next week’s COP17 negations, however, environmentalists and climate experts fear that many industrialised nations, such as Japan, Canada and Russia, will opt out of a new agreement to reduce global carbon emissions.

The outcome of the decision could place a bigger burden on countries such as Sierra Leone, who are already vulnerable to food shortages and resource scarcity, as a result of changing weather patterns that scientists warn may be a result of rising global temperatures.

Without an agreement, developing countries may lose the funds pledged to support the development of mitigation and adaption schemes, such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Deforestation (REDD)+, which is a scheme designed to slow the rate of deforestation which releases huge amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

“The biggest challenge will be getting industrialised countries to sign a legally binding agreement on climate change abatement and in fulfilling their financial commitment to help developing countries adapt to climate change,” said Dr. Turay in written responses to questions from CIFOR’s Forests Blog (find an edited transcript below).

However, despite the challenges at the international level, Sierra Leone is one of many African countries already moving ahead with developing a REDD+ strategy and has identified its first REDD pilot project – The Bumbuna Watershed Protection Project.

Dr Turay remains hopeful that a COP on “African soil” will yield results and that the Cancun agreements have set a precedent for countries to work together to achieve small, yet “tangible results.”

“The COP17 in Durban will either make or break the Kyoto Protocol but if we build on the strategy taken in Cancun, then we will definitely emerge with more concrete decisions to prevent some of the negative impacts of climate change,” he said.

See below for an edited transcript of CIFOR’s interview with Dr. Peter Saidu Turay.

Q: What are Sierra Leone’s hopes for COP17 and progress on negotiations over REDD+? 

A: We believe that COP17 has high prospects for progress in the negations for REDD+ and other aspects of the climate treaty, given the achievements of COP16 in Cancun, Mexico, last year, and work done by the African and other Working Groups in the period preceding this COP.

Durban will either make or break the Kyoto Protocol but if the strategy applied in Cancun is taken into consideration, we will definitely emerge with more concrete decisions that will help in furthering the cause of arresting the negative impacts of climate change.

Sierra Leone has taken an informed decision to learn lessons from the gains made in Cancun where a concerted effort was made, by all Parties to the COP16, to take smaller steps, work assiduously throughout the year by holding special working-group meetings, and achieve tangible results – on a country’s needs basis – that could be demonstrated, or accounted for, in the forthcoming COP17.

We have worked very hard with our colleagues in the African and other Working Groups and have been able to come up with new and very positive decisions we believe will make COP17 the success it was intended to be, and should be, because it is being held on African soil – one of the most vulnerable continents to the negative impacts of climate change.

What specific proposals, if any, will Sierra Leone be making at COP17 in general and particularly on REDD+?

In terms of specific proposals, we hope to see progress in the following areas:

1. Legally binding agreement on climate change; but, in its absence, a politically binding one that encourages rapid implementation of measures that could address global warming and climate change in LDCs, and in Sierra Leone, in particular;

2. Continuation of the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012;

3. The 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius temperature and 350 ppm atmospheric concentration of Carbon Dioxide thresholds; and, finally,

4. Adequate and timely provision of funding to implement adaptation and mitigation programmes.

We have worked hard to get onto the international radar on REDD by developing a strategy for the implementation of REDD+ through a programme called the National Carbon Programme, which is a merger of REDD+ and Non-REDD policy, business and legal frameworks backed up by a series of projects that will be implemented nation-wide at sub-accounting levels.

More importantly, this strategy will allow us to establish the National Secretariat for Climate Change which will be the main advisor to the Government on Climate Change.  This is a clear example of how Sierra Leone is learning from and avoiding mistakes being made in other countries in the subregion which have struggled to raise the profile of Climate Change to a sufficiently high level required for effective REDD decision-making.

Over and above the issue of strategizing for REDD+, the national REDD and Non-REDD Programme has designed a series of REDD+ and non-REDD projects.  The feasibility study of one of these projects – The Bumbuna Watershed Protection (REDD+) Project – was completed in April 2010. It is Sierra Leone’s first REDD+ project, which will be piloted for the country to experiment and learn on this issue.  Thus the project implementation will be integrated in the eventual national R-PIN and RPP documents and national Carbon Credit trading strategy. It should also be able to avoid issues such as double accounting of emission reductions, national objections and reference levels.

What are the main challenges you perceive to making significant progress in the talks at Durban?

One of the main challenges will be the lack of commitment, by Annex 1 or industrialized countries, to sign a legally binding agreement on climate change abatement and in fulfilling their pledges by putting their money where their mouths should be.  That is, by helping LDCs, especially the most vulnerable ones like her, to implement their adaptation and mitigation programmes through technology transfer, provision of adequate funds to support programmes, capacity building and MRV operations.

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