Newly released draft REDD+ text is robust and emphasises transparency but fails to address verification, says CIFOR scientist

DURBAN, South Africa (2 December, 2011)_The UNFCCC’s scientific sub-committee SBSTA has released a draft text on REDD+ that will go forward to a plenary session of the COP on Saturday for discussion and approval.
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Photo courtesy of UN Climate Change/flickr.

DURBAN, South Africa (2 December, 2011)_The UNFCCC’s scientific sub-committee SBSTA has released a draft text on REDD+ that will go forward to a plenary session of the COP on Saturday for discussion and approval.

Louis Verchot, CIFOR’s leading climate change scientist, said the text is robust and calls for transparent processes within safeguard and carbon emissions reporting, but does not address how these systems will be verified.

“It looks like there is a fairly comprehensive approach to reporting on safeguards and carbon emissions but it does not address what will be required for verification of these systems,” Verchot said.

“Until these sort of things are worked out, without knowing who will be accountable and how are they going to be held accountable, there may be reticence to put money on the table for REDD+.”

REDD+ is a set of steps designed to use financial incentives to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from deforestation and forest degradation. The draft text, which was released yesterday (find it here), is a recommendation from the Subsidiary Body of Scientific and Technological Advancement (SBSTA) to the Conference of the Parties about how to address some of the most pressing issues that will allow countries to advance with REDD+, such as how foregone emissions will be calculated, how carbon emissions will be reported and verified (MRV), and how safeguards will be reported and enforced.

No mention of finance

While there is still no real news on the financing side, it is expected that this will be addressed by the ad-hoc Long-term Cooperative Action body (LCA) in their draft text to be released tomorrow.

Says Verchot, “we need to ensure that decisions on financing will set a goal for the world to achieve emissions reductions.

“What’s slowing down REDD+ implementation on the ground is this uncertainty of any long-term, sustained funding being available. Until we can get a commitment on that, projects are going to move forward on a limited basis with start-up funding, but they are not going to be able to scale up or make long-term commitments to the communities where they are beginning to work.

“We need to get financing nailed down sooner rather than later.”

Standards for safeguard reporting and non-performance

One of the text’s strengths is in its comprehensive approach to safeguard reporting, particularly the inclusion of indigenous groups, says Verchot.

“They are proposing that countries have to demonstrate effective participation of relevant stakeholders, in particular indigenous peoples and local communities. Countries would have to show how they have done this by, for example, presenting meeting reports to prove that there have been consultations.”

While encouraging accountability and transparency, the text does not set any standards for achievement of the safeguards and how to address underperformance.

“If, for example, a country makes a decision that is contrary to what the indigenous people are asking for, there is no clear indication of how repercussions will be handled or how decisions around that will be made,” he said.

“What has been put forward here are standards for reporting, not standards for performance, and we need to see decisions on performance standards to move forward with REDD+.”

MRV is strong, allows flexibility but verification has yet to be addressed

In an interview with CIFOR’s Forests Blog last week, Verchot mentioned that countries were looking for clarity on carbon emission accounting, particularly on whether to use Reference Emission Levels (RELs), where only deforestation and forest degradation is occurring, or Reference Levels (RLs) if countries want to incorporate conservation and sustainable management of forests.

The draft text has allowed for countries to be flexible in choosing which carbon accounting system they use and allowing for different systems to be implemented within a country.

“They are now allowing forest emissions levels to be aggregated up to the national level, and that, I think, is a very practical approach. It means that a country like Brazil could set a RL for the Amazon, another one for the Caatinga dry forest, another one for the Atlantic forest and then aggregate them up and come up with a national forest reference level.”

This is also important if a country has different forest areas on opposite sides of the deforestation spectrum, says Verchot.

“In a country like Indonesia, which has Java (mostly deforested and forest cover is somewhat recovering) and Papua (high forest density with mainly forest degradation and not much deforestation), both RLs and RELs may be applicable. The text allows national REDD+ programs to use both types of carbon accounting and then aggregate them to come up with a national reference level.”

“The text also recommends a stepwise approach to carbon emissions reporting which will allow countries to start simply and it recommends that RLs ad RELs be based on data”, says Verchot.

“At least in the initial stages, this system may not cover the whole national territory but eventually countries must do this. For a country like Brazil, which is doing a great job in the Amazon but has no data on the Caatinga, Cerrado or Atlantic Forest, this allows time to build up these measurement levels. I think it’s impractical to expect everyone to start with a fully functioning national forest inventory in the next five years with all the technical requirements that are needed to put in place, especially in such large countries.  The proposed approach is pragmatic.”

What the text does not address, however, is how the accuracy of this reporting will be verified, either nationally or independently, and SBSTA needs to review these issues, says Verchot.

“By the next COP, SBSTA will need to recommend what will be required for emissions verification. The options are whether countries can verify it themselves, whether there is external third party verification, or whether donor countries provide verification of what recipient countries are doing. We need a decision on this.”

For other reports from the event, visit the blogs of these organisations:
The Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC)

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  • Long term financing is key. Hence all this good planning may be wasted if the the ad-hoc Long-term Cooperative Action body fails to come up with substantive proposals on long term finance for REDD+.