30 November 2012

Africa: 'Redd+ Can Only Benefit From Sharing Expertise' - So Why Are Biodiversity and Climate Negotiators Not Talking to Each Other?

Country negotiators in the UN climate change and biodiversity talks need to communicate better before developing their national positions, in order to push the development of environmental and social safeguards for climate mitigation schemes such as REDD+, say experts.

Countries often select civil servants or other experts to act as negotiators at UN meetings; however, only a handful of the same negotiators attend both the meetings on biodiversity (UN Convention on Biological Diversity, or CBD) and climate (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC).

This lack of overlap and coordination between the two Conventions is becoming a major problem for the progress of international REDD+ agreements and needs to be rectified, says Kelly Hertenweg, negotiator for Belgium and expert at the Federal Public Service of Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment.

"I can understand a lot of countries have different ministries, a lot of countries have very separate processes, but please talk to each other before drafting national positions [on biodiversity and climate change]. REDD+ can only benefit from sharing expertise," she said.

This comes following a call from Brazil at this year's Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting, asking Parties to streamline their discussions to avoid "creating barriers to REDD+ rather than [using] it to its full objective."

According to Tony La Vina, Dean of the Ateneo School of Government and facilitator of REDD+ negotiations for the UNFCCC, one issue being keenly affected is the delayed development of environmental and social safeguards for climate mitigation schemes such as REDD+.

"UNFCCC and CBD are independently developing advice and guidance on REDD+ and safeguards. We believe that the parties and stakeholders alike would benefit from synergistic guidance ... it doesn't really help to have separate plans," he said.

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) is a scheme housed under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which aims to mitigate the effects of climate change by financially rewarding developing countries to keep their trees standing (and their carbon stored in forests).

However when trees are valued only for their potential to sequester climate-changing greenhouse gases, they become merely bundles of "carbon sticks," said Robert Nasi, director of the CGIAR Research Programme on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

"The greatest value of REDD+ comes from the largely overlooked indirect benefits such as improved governance and infrastructure provision," he said.

To address issues of forest governance, respect for indigenous rights, protection of natural biodiversity and emission displacement (leakage) under REDD+, seven voluntary safeguards were put in place following the 2010 UN Climate talks in Cancun, Mexico.

While these have been developed at subsequent COPs, experts at last year's climate conference in Durban expressed disappointment in the "very weak" text on REDD+ safeguard information systems (SIS) aiming to protect local communities, indigenous peoples and biodiversity.

The text reduced requirements from collecting data and measuring impacts of REDD+ to merely reporting how developers implement safeguard measures (see the text here).

Safeguards have become merely principles to adhere to, said Louis Verchot, a senior climate scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research.

"If we're performing or not performing, it's not going to matter, because we're not going to measure it."

In October of this year, the CBD drafted advice to REDD+ negotiators attending this week's UN climate talks in Doha (page 130) to discuss a basic biodiversity risk identification and risk mitigation process for national REDD+ activities.

The CBD's advice warns against the conversion of natural forest to plantations; afforestation in areas of high biodiversity value; lack of tangible benefits to indigenous and local communities and lack of equitable benefit-sharing and; the loss of traditional knowledge.

"This [CBD text] is quite relevant for discussions [in Doha] so there is no reason not to have a reference to the CBD text. It would be a first [for this to happen] because in general, and it was very strongly expressed by Brazil, [the CBD] don't interfere in UNFCCC processes," said Hertenweg.

There is fear that without better coordination, the focus on forests will completely shift to the climate convention, which does not place biodiversity at the core of discussions.

"Forests are no longer an ecosystem that falls under the mandate of the CBD, they are just a forest carbon stock that falls under the mandate of the UNFCCC," said Simone Lovera from the Global Forest Coalition.

Both private sector players and countries at the phase II level of REDD+ are looking for strong decisions on sustainability criteria (biodiversity and governance) to both generate and safeguard investments in REDD+.

"Certainly the Philippines have pushed for safeguards and we have found a common ally in the private sector in pushing safeguards forward," said La Vina.

A final decision on timing and frequency of reporting on Safeguard Information Systems (SIS) is on the agenda at this week's discussions at Doha.

With additional reporting by Vanessa Reid.

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