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Forests and climate change: what happened at Lima?


Two days later than expected, the twentieth annual UN climate change conference drew to a close in Lima last weekend. Emissions from forest loss and degradation are second only in size to the burning of fossil fuels. So what progress was made on forests and REDD+ in Lima?

Firstly, let’s look at the negotiations

Well… not much progress here. In fact, the overall agreement being negotiated made very little progress to WWF’s disappointment. This is frustrating, but not necessarily surprising – few climate conferences have met expectations! Negotiations on forests and REDD+, however, have often been a shining light of success where there was little else.

Forests are largely discussed as part of the REDD+ track – i.e. national action and international support to developing countries to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, and the conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. There were three main issues to be discussed, namely whether and what further guidance should be issued social and environmental “safeguards” on REDD+, the promotion of non-carbon benefits (e.g. for livelihoods or biodiversity) and a proposal from Bolivia for a combined mitigation-adaptation mechanism for REDD+. Frustratingly, no decision or conclusion was reached on any. At best, we can hope that the exchange of views on safeguards guidance might help to reach consensus when it is brought back for discussion at a meeting in June.

The Amazon rain forest. Loreto region, Peru.

And, outside the negotiations?

Thankfully, this is a more positive story and here are three reasons why.

Firstly, four major forest nations – Guyana, Indonesia, Malaysia and Mexico – formally submitted reference levels on their forest emissions for review, and Colombia announced they would do the same by the end of 2014. These countries follow Brazil, which was the first to submit reference levels in June. These six countries contain a very large proportion of the world’s remaining tropical forests.

When a country implements REDD+, the results need to be measured against a starting point or “baseline.” The forest reference emission level is that starting point, and is a step towards the country being able to measure and validate reductions and receive international payments for achieving them. So these are significant developments indeed.

Secondly, the large gathering of the world’s forest and climate experts in one place is obviously a fantastic opportunity to share experiences, celebrate success and motivate more practical action. For example, the, now traditional, Global Landscapes Forum that CIFOR organise took place and gathered a wealth of knowledge and views. WWF was able to showcase some its work in the Amazon, for example on the concept of “Indigenous REDD+” and new research identifying 25 deforestation fronts in the Amazon.

“More than 34 million people live in the Amazon region, across 9 countries, including 385 indigenous groups, 60 of them in voluntary isolation.”

Finally, we can welcome the “Lima Challenge.” With support from WWF, Colombia, in collaboration with Peru, led this declaration which was supported by 14 forest nations. In essence it is a statement of intent to use their own effort and resources to reduce deforestation and degradation and, moreover, that they would take this even further with additional support from the international community. It is a direct follow up from the New York Declaration on Forests made in September 2014. It is also a challenge to donor governments to take them up on their offer and to stand by the shared commitment made in New York: to at least halve forest loss by 2020 and end it by 2030.

In some respects, the Lima Challenge is a mirror of a similar joint statement made by the governments of Norway, Germany and the UK. They committed in the New York Declaration to, between them, “provide results-based payments to up to 20 new [REDD+] emission reduction programs proposed by 2016.” At the same time it exposes the lack of broader donor commitment on results based finance and confidence in long-term demand.

What should we make of this?

An optimist would say… that because the negotiations have already delivered the Warsaw Framework for REDD+ – a set of seven decisions creating ‘the rules of the game’ – the lack of new negotiated agreements is a symptom of the new phase of REDD+: focused on real world action. And that the New York Declaration on Forests used up the limited political capital available in securing its goal and that, in time, Governments will be prepared to offer more action, funding, policy changes or just compromise.

A pessimist would say… that as we close in on the Paris milestone, government negotiators are toughening up. That agreement will be harder to reach than ever. And that without a credible global deal on greenhouse gas reductions the carpet would be pulled from under REDD+.

I tend to be an optimist. But one thing is for sure, the parties at Lima let the world down with a lack of commitment on pre-2020 action. The Paris agreement will only come into force in 2020 but the world needs to peak total emissions by the end of the decade to have a decent chance of avoiding dangerous climate change. Tackling deforestation remains one of the most effective and affordable strategies for pre-2020 action, and can deliver many other non-carbon benefits to boot.

WWF will continue to encourage and enable practical action towards the goal of Zero Net Deforestation and Degradation by 2020 – for example our Sky Rainforest Rescue programme in the Brazilian state of Acre which is demonstrating approaches to reduce deforestation, or our targeted actions in Colombia, DRC, Guyana, Indonesia, and Peru, that aim to promote REDD+ at scale. We will do this simultaneously with and in order to support a high ambition long-term international agreement that incentivises action on deforestation worldwide.

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