DG’s Column

COP18 was not good enough: Time to rethink green sectors’ approach for 2015

BOGOR, Indonesia (11 December, 2012)_The UNFCCC COP18 in Doha worked overtime to finally agree not to disagree. While the green sectors (forestry and agriculture) have kept a historically low profile both in the results and in the commentaries, the straw to clutch is the planned 2015 climate agreement.

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BOGOR, Indonesia (11 December, 2012)_The UNFCCC COP-18 in Doha worked overtime to finally agree not to disagree. The Secretariat was quick to make a release that declares success and highlights four results:

  1. Amendment of the Kyoto Protocol;
  2. Timetable for negotiating a 2015 agreement;
  3. Decisions on new UNFCCC institutions, including the Green Climate Fund;
  4. Reiterating the ambition for $100 billion per year of climate finance by 2020, and acknowledging a total of $6 billion in pledges for the next years, exclusively from European countries.

There is no lack of commentaries to the COP18 results, and most of them paint a very different picture. Perhaps most strikingly, some major media (here and here) highlight the principle on “losses and damages” as the most significant result, not mentioned in the process-oriented UNFCCC release. For the first time a responsibility of rich countries to compensate poorer ones for the effects of climate change has been established. Seems to me that new channels for climate finance and support to adaptation and humanitarian crises can then be unleashed, away from more bureaucratic and slow-moving ideas pursued in the negotiations.

Comments from environmental NGOs (here, here, here and here), focus on the lack of commitment by developed countries in the negotiations, as well as in providing finance. The Kyoto Protocol is considered watered down, as the countries staying in represent as little as 15% of emissions. While these points are pertinent, I also observe that they are mainly about the UNFCCC process and its internal workings, which is of course understandable on the final day of negotiations. But at the annual high point of attention on climate change, there is a risk that the bigger picture is lost in process technicalities.

What also strikes me is the historically low profile of forestry and agriculture (the green sectors), both in the results and in the commentaries. The UNFCCC release makes a strange singular note that “Governments have further clarified ways to measure deforestation, and to ensure that efforts to fight deforestation are supported”. Besides reducing REDD+ to be only about deforestation, this official press release makes no mention of important progress on multiple benefits and drivers. True, a stalemate in the talks on verification meant that REDD+ did not make expected progress this time, and therefore apparently falls off the radar for communicators. For agriculture, Doha was even worse as the topic fell off the radar altogether, in the shadow of struggles to keep the main tracks of the negotiation process alive.

The straw to clutch is the planned 2015 climate agreement. This is the next opportunity to rearrange how the convention deals with real-world issues. We have a few years to provide new thinking, research and analyses from the side of the green sectors, to show how these fit into the climate change challenge and what solutions may look like.

Let me start right away with some thoughts:

The Green Climate Fund comes with a lot of expectations. The ambitious $100 billion per year by 2020 would indeed be a larger-than-normal budget to get things done in the countries that need it most. But consider that the World GDP now stands at $70 trillion per year. So we are talking about 1/700 of the world economy, or, actually, about 1/1000 as the 100 billion seems nominally and politically fixed, while GDP will likely continue to grow in the years to 2020. The increase of GDP has been on average 2.5 trillion per year since UNFCCC started its negotiations twenty years ago, i.e. 25 times the anticipated climate fund. On one hand, one hundred billion per year to deal with climate change then sounds like a bargain. But, on the other, can we seriously believe that these funds, should they materialise, will change the world in the way the UNFCCC process sets out?

Let us now look at the green sectors. A recent FAO report states that investments in agriculture in some 76 low and middle income countries is about $200 billion per year, dominated by private capital. The global investment in agriculture is at $5 trillion per year, and the trade in forest, agriculture and food products is worth around $2.5 trillion per year. So, what influence can we expect climate finance to have on the sectors that account for up to a third of our emissions, provide livelihoods for several billion rural people, are subject to important food security policies, and at the same time are the most affected by climate change?

Not much, given the lack progress in Doha, and the lack of attention to the green sectors.

There seems to be a case to rethink.

The green sectors have an 8000-year history of providing food and provisions for our civilization, while dealing with climate and climate change hazards. The climate challenge is arguably bigger than ever, and definitely requires more haste. But isolating the climate challenge within the green sectors is not possible. Climate change is an integrated part of these sectors that deals also with other challenges of our future. Forestry and agriculture are therefore not part of the solution – they are the solution.

So perhaps we should flip the coin and include climate change action in the normal business of the green sectors, rather than the other way around? Perhaps this will be more effective in meeting UNFCCC’s objectives than to wait for environment-driven negotiations to provide solutions? After all, the green sectors with their billons of dependents are the main stakeholders when it comes to climate change, so the incentive should be there.

Action from the green sectors perspective, on all scales and in the face of climate change, to secure and develop livelihoods, natural resources, low-carbon growth and food production seems like a smart approach – possibly even profitable. We can call this a landscape approach.

Some interesting discussions in this direction have happened in the margins of COP-18. A paper by Tony La Viña et al. suggests that the separate efforts on REDD+, agriculture and land use change could be combined, going towards a 2015 agreement. The Forest and Agriculture Days have agreed to come together into a Landscape Day as the issues are inherently cross sectorial. Similar discussions were heard in side events, and have been discussed on CIFOR’s blog (here, here and here).

So these are also exciting times! Building on the agreements, knowledge, ambitions and experiences in REDD+, including voluntary initiatives, and working with stakeholders across the green sectors could lead towards a new platform for 2015. Developing an understanding of a landscape approach will be central in this effort.

Maintaining the role of each of the green sectors as engines for green growth, mitigation and adaptation is critical, as is an open dialogue within the UNFCCC. But more than anything, we depend on partnerships where we are prepared to cross old boundaries.

For more stories from the UN climate talks in Doha, click here.

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  • Mike Underwood

    Very interesting if not unexpected having been to Cop 17 in SA Forest Day 5

  • There is much to be said for a landscape approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation integrating forests and agriculture. The synergies between the two are too strong to ignore. But one fear is that clubbed together in this way forests would get very little attention and the entire scene would most likely be completely dominated by agriculture in most developing countries. This was in fact the reason of separating forests from agriculture ministry in India many years back.

    Forests for energy would need greater attention for forestry sector to occupy its rightful place in climate mitigation strategies of the future. Energy from biomass, not tree oil seeds that can at best have a marginal place.

    At Doha the stalemate on verification of REDD achievements was essentially on account of a very orthodox stand on the part of developed countries. As a compromise they could have settled on sovereign verification but through a transparent process. Transparency could then have been used to expose deliberate poor verification wherever it occurred to the global community which could then have been followed by course correction in the subsequent COP meetings.

  • viet tran

    I strongly agree the author’s idea of combining forests and agriculture lands to be a united picture. However, the thing is of that, across regions to countries, government bodies prefer (or just only) to concern their vested interests in this play ground. Such that the case of Vietnam, the ministry of forestry and agriculture have been fluctuately united and separated many times, and sounds following the holders of politicians through generations. From this point,