Wrapping up Week 1 of Land-Use Negotiations

LULUCFParties have three distinct land-use issues before them in Warsaw: a framework to account for mitigation from land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) in Kyoto Protocol countries; a mechanism for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, sustainably managing forests, and conserving and enhancing forest carbon stocks in developing countries (REDD+); and issues relating to global agriculture.

Adopted for the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period and later amended by the Durban Agreements, the LULUCF mechanism received little debate in the first week of COP19.   Parties punted methodological issues related to LULUCF in the Clean Development Mechanism and technical considerations for the post-2020 land-use framework (by agreeing to continue working on it in 2014).

Conversely, parties spent a significant amount of time on REDD+ issues.   REDD+ was adopted as part of aga and adaptation the Cancun Agreements. COP 19 is poised to move the mechanism forward by deciding four items:  two methodological issues, coordination of finance for REDD+ implementation, and results-based payments. Parties focused on the methodological matters in week one, and by the end of the week had already spent three late nights sequestered in a room hashing out text. However, the COP will not consider these draft decisions unless they form part of a package with decisions on coordination of finance and results-based payments.  In week two, parties will abruptly switch gears and start negotiations on financial matters related to the full implementation of REDD+.

Finally, a workshop last week discussed adaptation of agriculture to climate change. However, Parties cannot agree whether to negotiate issues related to agriculture here in Warsaw.  While several developed countries supported creating a contact group, the G77+China pointed out that Parties had neither agreed to nor requested discussions beyond the workshop, defeating consensus on the issue and putting a hard stop on agriculture negotiations at COP19.

Looking across LULUCF, REDD+, and agriculture reveals a pathway for increasing the role that land useREDD plays in climate change mitigation and adaptation.  In week two, parties may take their first steps in that direction when high-level officials discuss how land — including forests – factors into the post-2020 agreement. This meeting creates an exciting possibility for both developing and developed countries to begin thinking about how to make the land-use sector a central player in addressing climate change adaptation and mitigation under the UNFCCC.



A Waiting Game

Today’s post is going to be short and sweet. The subsidiary bodies under the Convention, the SBI and panic-buttonSBSTA, are scheduled to close tomorrow at noon. As usual at this point in negotiations, Parties still have a significant amount of work to do and have thus sequestered themselves in the many meeting rooms here at the National Stadium to work through the remaining issues. REDD+ negotiators still have to deal with draft decisions on RL technical assessment (which they were unable to complete last night), measuring, reporting, and verification, and coordination of finance for implementation of REDD+ activities.

With every last REDD+ negotiator locked away, there is not much for us in civil society to do but wait and see what happens. The work programme on results-based finance for REDD+ begins tomorrow, adding yet another item to negotiators’ already full plates. Parties will first hear the report from two workshops held earlier this year on results-based finance to progress the full implementation of REDD+ activities.

Results-based finance means different things to different Parties. The (arguably) majority view is that it refers to payments to REDD+ countries based on verified reductions of CO2 emissions resulting from the five activities defined in the Cancun Agreements: reducing emissions from deforestation, reducing emissions from forest degradation, conservation of forest carbon stocks, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. Although this might seem relatively straightforward, it is decidedly not. And, because I promised this will be a short post, I am going to leave you in suspense—stay tuned for tomorrow’s report on REDD+ finance!


It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn

At seven this evening, when many people were packing up and heading home after yet another eventful day at the National Stadium, REDD+ negotiators were getting started their third session of the day. This particular session is on the technical assessment of REDD+ reference levels—basically, a method for evaluating the baselines REDD+ countries plan on using to evaluate their progress toward reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

Things have been going swimmingly for the REDD+ technical assessment thus far. Earlier this year in Bonn, Germany, Parties worked cooperatively to come up with a draft text that actually looked pretty darn good. Here in Warsaw, Parties continued in a cooperative spirit and allowed the chairs of SBSTA’s REDD+ contact group to rework the Bonn text into a form that would be “adoptable.” All that Parties had to do tonight was walk in the room and say, “Yes. We accept this text.”

But that would be too easy. Instead, we’re hearing reports (this session is closed to observers, so our information is coming from colleagues allowed inside the room because they are on Party delegations) that, even though Parties previously professed to like the text, it is currently being torn apart. This is normal. There is always going to be at least one Party that is unhappy with some part of the draft text and asks that it be reopened for discussion. And, since this is a Party-driven process, the Chairs must comply, thus opening the floodgates to a host of proposed revisions and additions. As one colleague wrote a couple of hours ago in reference to the current state of the text, “[b]rackets galore.”


Parties settling in for a long (and likely sleepless) night of REDD+ negotiations.

Now, although this is wholly expected, it is also incredibly frustrating. Parties and civil society have spent years thinking about and planning what goes into this decision, and its fate is going to come down to one night of intense squabbling and horse trading. But, of course, this is all part of the process and strategy of negotiations. Put on the pressure to see if you can get your opposition to make a deal. We, as civil society, have to trust that there are Parties in the room that have the same values and positions as we do, and that they will fight for a decision that achieves the best possible outcome based on those values and positions. And, in this case, we do. So, although it seems right now like everything is going to hell in a hand basket, I continue to hope that I will wake up tomorrow morning to a decision that supports a robust, effective, and efficient REDD+ mechanism.

What’s Next For the Land-Use Sector?

If you haven’t figured it out by now, let me fill you in on a little secret: I am a land-use geek. I am obsessed with anything to do with the intersection of forests, croplands, grasslands, and/or wetlands with climate change adaptation and mitigation. So when rumors began to fly earlier this year that Parties to the UNFCCC were beginning to seriously consider how to treat the land-use sector in the “protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties” to be agreed under the Durban Platform, I was instantly intrigued. Today was an especially exciting day for me because it was the first time I heard Parties speak in concrete terms about a way forward for post-2020 treatment of the land-use sector under the UNFCCC. And guess what? What I heard was actually GOOD!!

Before you take me for an absolute lunatic (too, late, right?), let me explain. Annex I Parties to the Kyoto EPSON DSC pictureProtocol currently account for greenhouse gas emissions from their land-use sectors under Articles 3.3 and 3.4 to the Protocol and the rules laid out in the Marrakesh Accords. The rules for land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF) were designed with an “anything goes” attitude stemming from the sector’s exclusion from Parties’ emission reduction targets. In a nutshell, the LULUCF mechanism under the KP is not necessarily environmentally robust. (Disclaimer: This is a generalization. There are some Parties that do a relatively good job with LULUCF. There are also Parties that take advantage of the system to the detriment of both the land and climate system).


In contrast, development of the REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries) mechanism under the UNFCCC started with basic principles that include equity, environmental integrity, safeguarding and promoting the traditional knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, and contributing to the ultimate objective of the Convention. Although REDD+ will certainly not be perfect, it is shaping up to be significantly more environmentally robust than LULUCF.

The big question in my mind has been what happens when LULUCF and REDD+ come together in a post-2020 agreement. Does treatment of the land-use sector rise to the level of REDD+, or does it sink to the level of LULUCF? The indication I got today was that at least some Parties are willing to aim high and to push for a mechanism that is beneficial to the land, the people who live with and on the land, and the climate. Although this is certainly no guarantee, it certainly gives me the hope and impetus I need to head to the National Stadium tomorrow to continue pushing for the best land-use mechanism possible under the UNFCCC.



Shadow Negotiations

Negotiations as we see them played out in the halls and meeting rooms of Warsaw’s National Stadium are just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the Party-driven process lies a web of interactions between Parties and their civil society constituents, various groups and perspectives within civil society, the Secretariat and Parties, the Secretariat and civil society, etc. These “shadow negotiations” in many ways parallel the governmental negotiations, and have the potential to support, undermine, spur, inform, and/or otherwise influence what happens over the next two weeks at COP 19.


For the past several years, I have been a Shadow Negotiator (can you tell I set up this entire blog post mystery_man
just so I could make myself sound mysterious and cool?). A large part of my work here in Warsaw, as in COPs past, is to engage with various groups of NGOs and Parties to inform and support the Party-driven process. I currently work within a group of environmental NGOs focused on issues related to land use, forestry, and agriculture under the Convention and Kyoto Protocol. Our goal, generally speaking, is to help Parties reach agreement on robust, equitable, and environmentally-sound policy mechanisms that support the ultimate goal of the Convention.

Like Party groupings such as AOSIS and the Environmental Integrity Group (EIG), our group coalesced from the larger community around common interests and negotiating objectives. Also like Parties, we often negotiate and compromise within our coalition to come up with shared positions and proposals that we present back to the UNFCCC community.  Our proposals range from the treatment of natural disturbances such as wildfire and pest outbreaks that result in large emissions of GHGs from forests, grasslands, and other lands; to recommendations on how to help developing countries gain better access to satellite images of their forests. Much of our work is coordinated over email and phone in the months leading up to UNFCCC negotiating sessions.  I cannot tell you how many hours I have spent on conference calls—I absolutely dread getting my cell phone bill for the two or three months preceding the COP each year!

After our smaller group has developed a policy proposal internally, we then shop it around to a few
“friendly” Party delegations to see what they think of it. We try to engage a range of views; if a proposal is
DRAFTstrongly support by some countries and flatly rejected by others, we know that it is probably not going to be helpful in moving the negotiations forward. However, if a critical mass of Parties think our proposal is useful and could make a positive contribution to discussions, we then begin the painstaking process of putting it in writing. Although we are not quite as fastidious in this phase as the Parties, who once famously spent 24 hours debating a semicolon, our drafting process involves a significant amount of wordsmithing, not to mention enough track changes to crash Microsoft Word at least once every ten minutes. This part of the process is definitely NOT my favorite.

But I do love the part that comes next. After we have our final proposal drafted and edited to (almost) perfection, we get to take it to a UNFCCC negotiating session. Here in Warsaw, we are working with two texts, each of which deals with a different part of the REDD+ technical agenda. After giving negotiators a chance to read and digest our proposals, we start holding “bilaterals.” These meetings are opportunities to get a more thorough understanding of what is going on in the Party-driven process, to try to move that process toward a more environmentally effective and equitable result, and to meet some very cool and very dedicated people from all over the world.


For me, there is no better feeling than to have a negotiator you know and respect say, “thank you for your input. It really helped us to come to better place in negotiations.” It may not seem like much, but it makes all the many months of preparation, rejected proposals, and cell-phone bills worth it. To know that our efforts, in some small way, helped to move the UNFCCC process forward and reach a better result than what otherwise would have occurred—this is why I do what I do. 





Once more into the fray

When I finished my final UNFCCC negotiating session in June 2012 ahead of my first year of law school, I had a feeling I would find my way back to the international climate policy process some day. I had no idea, though, that it would be only seventeen months before I would once again pull my yellow UNFCCC observer badge over my head and go to work.

WHRC logo and link to websiteI am currently a second year J.D. and Master of Environmental Law and Policy candidate at Vermont Law School. Before coming back to school, I spent six years with the Woods Hole Research Center, an environmental non-profit based in Falmouth, Massachusetts. Although I wore several hats at the Center, one of my favorites was policy analyst working on issues relating to land use, sustainable development, and climate change. It was in this role that I began attending UNFCCC negotiations in 2008, and continued to participate in anywhere from four to seven or eight meetings a year until leaving for VLS.

My job at UNFCCC negotiating sessions was to follow discussions related to developed countries’ land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF), reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD+), and agriculture. The Center is home to some of the world’s leading experts on land use and the global carbon and nitrogen cycles, and my specific task was to promote climate change policies and mechanisms that are based on the best possible scientific ngreenglassunderstanding of the way our world works. It wasn’t always an easy job, and I’m sorry to say that too often political and economic considerations diminish the environmental integrity of even the most nobly intentioned efforts to combat climate change. However, giving up and doing nothing is not an option, so we solider on.  I came to VLS in part to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to make me a more effective advocate for scientific and environmental integrity in efforts to address climate change, and I am excited to return to the UNFCCC process and to see if the last year and a half of law school has been worth it (spoiler alert—I can already tell you it has).

In Warsaw, I will continue to focus on LULUCF, REDD+, and agriculture, and will probably throw the clean
development mechanism (CDM) into the mix for good measure. I intend to closely monitor the technical discussions on reference levels for REDD+, a topic on which I spent considerable time in my prior life and have continued to follow from afar. On the ground, I will collaborate with colleagues from the Union of
alphabet soupConcerned Scientists (UCS), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Conservation International (CI), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the Climate Action Network-International (CAN-I), and many others. I am excited to renew old relationships and create new ones in my new role as a member of the VLS delegation to COP 19!