Extra, extra. Read all about us in the HuffPost!

Congrats to our Week 1 Observer Delegation on its recent publication in the Huffington Post.  In it, we recap the first week’s activity, with an eye toward how it would set up the second week’s high level ministerial negotiations.  We specifically focused on the Gender Decision, land use and REDD, loss and damage, and the emerging elements of the new post-2020 climate change agreement.



More on the High Level Panel Event on the Land Use Sector and Forests

This post adds a bit more detail to Chris Knowles’ earlier post. The President of the Conference of Parties convened a “High-level panel event on the land use sector and forests” on Monday 18 November at COP19 . The President himself was in attendance, but his representative opened the meeting emphasizing the importance of the land use sector in both sources and sinks of greenhouse gases.

“It is clear we need to continue to include the land use in future agreements,” a representative read on behalf of the President. “This week we have the opportunity to have an open dialog on the land sector. We can send a strong signal that the land sector is important to all parties of the conference… The outcomes of this meeting will be shared with the COP President and ADP co-chairs.”


Co-chairing the meeting were the Minister of Environment of Finland and the Special Envoy for Climate Change in Indonesia. It was made clear that the point of the meeting was not to interfere with ongoing negotiations on other tracks (such as the REDD+ draft decision language that was recommended by SBSTA to COP for consideration), but rather to share ideas.  It appeared to be a boundary-less discussion of all three distinct land-use issues before the COP in Warsaw.

“Humankind is dependent on productive land resources,” the delegate from Finland explained. “Without the ability of trees and other vegetation, we would have already missed out ability to meet our 2° goal. This sector is too significant to be ignored.”

The Indonesian co-chair emphasized the importance of rural livelihoods to the economies and sustainability of many nations and protecting the rights of forest-dwelling and indigenous peoples.

What are we talking about?
Many countries stated that REDD+ is an important mechanism (Mozambique, Slovenia, Norway, Switzerland, Canada, Uganda, Brazil, and Gabon). There were nuances in the statements made regarding mechanisms for the land use sector in the future. Many emphasized the need for a REDD+ agreement with an established measurement, reporting, and verification system in the upcoming 2015 agreement, recommending that it be incorporated in the ADP negotiations (Namibia, Mexico, Ireland, Norway, and France).

Russia, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, on the other hand, talked about a “post-2020 new agreement”. In some ways, you might think that they are saying the same thing; the agreement to be made in 2015 is expected to go into effect in 2020. However, the United States’ statement gives you more of an impression of “kicking the can down the road”: “Formal negotiations on land sector should start after the framework of the 2015 agreement is clear.” This seems ominous.
This group of countries, all part of “The Umbrella Group”, also all mentioned the need to include all parties, or “include new parties”, a nod to the post-Durban agenda of moving away from the Annex I / developed vs non-Annex I / developing country split which has caused such strife with the Kyoto Protocol, as China, India, and other major economies were not considered “developed” at the time. The U.S., Canada, and Australia also all mentioned that the focus should be on man-made (“anthropogenic”) changes in land use. I suspect this is due to the large forest fires that the US and Australia are prone to, and the large quantity of permafrost in Canada which, when it melts, will emit huge amounts of methane, which has 34x the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

Quite a few common themes emerged from the statements given by the various countries regarding any new land sector mechanism:
  • The need for technical and financial support, and calling on Annex I countries to meet their commitments in this realm (Philippines, Uganda, Kenya, Bolivia, Papua New Guinea, Ecuador, Slovenia, Norway)
  • Simplicity (USA, Russia, Canada, Kenya, Papua New Guinea, Slovenia, Japan)
  • Flexibility (USA, Norway, Japan, and Gabon)

Themes that reflected some of the wisdom from the Global Landscapes Conference included:

  • Include both mitigation and adaptation; land sector projects have a strong synergy with both (Philippines, Portugal, Lithuania, Bolivia, Ireland, Austria, Gabon)
  • Take a holistic approach (Lithuania, Bolivia, Papua New Guinea, Mexico, New Zealand, Austria)
  • Use local methods, connect the grassroots to national policies, support for Traditional Ecological Knowledge for adaptation and mitigation (Philippines, Brazil, Kenya, Namibia)

Indonesia, Bolivia, Ecuador and the Philippines all spoke to the need to protect indigenous rights. Indonesia in particular sees REDD+ as an opportunity to benefit indigenous peoples. Canada spoke of “aboriginal involvement” but stopped short of mentioning rights or protecting indigenous lands.

Some very unique statements included Belarus’s emphasis that soils, and wetland/peatland rewetting, needed to be included; Sweden’s desire to link the land sector with energy sector, particularly in terms of biofuels; New Zealand and Ireland’s concerns that inclusion of agriculture not be detrimental to their agriculture-based economies; and Bolivia’s criticism of market-based approaches as “further commodification of Mother Earth”. More on this later.

Landscape Scale Approaches


The Global Landscape Forum at the University of Warsaw brought together NGOs from all over the world.  It is a new combination of what used to be two different events discussing forests and agriculture in mitigating and adapting to climate change: Forest Day and Agriculture, Landscapes and Livelihoods Day.

Many of the NGOs have projects in Indonesia, East Africa, and Latin America, primarily in the 16 countries which are supported by UN-REDD funds.  All 16 of these countries have submitted and had approved National Programme Documents.

Exhibitors NGO projects highlighted the role sustainable landscapes can play in providing food, shelter, income and ecosystem services and environmental goods.

“The objective [of the Global Landscape Forum] is to develop the potential of the landscape approach to inform future UNFCCC agreements and the achievement of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals.” – conference website.

At the moment, it appears many countries are continuing forward in building the internal mechanisms for REDD+ implementation, monitoring, verification, and reporting in anticipation of it being incorporated into the next international agreement, which everyone seems to be expecting in two years in Paris.


The permaculture practitioner in me was excited by the projects discussed in the “New generation of integrated watershed management (IWM) programs for rural development, resilience and empowerment” session. In particular, the work in Burundi, Tanzania, and Ethiopia discussed by Sally Bunning, of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Land and Water Division, is using techniques such as “contour trenches” (“swales” in permaculture terminology) to infiltrate the small amount of rainfall that falls on very arid areas.  The transformation of desert to green, productive landscapes were stunning.  Key to doing this was working closely with the farmers, using farmer field school approach in which farmers learn by doing, monitoring, and determining the progress for themselves.  In doing so, the farmers become advocates themselves and teach others, spreading the impact.


“Landscape scale approaches” are the hot topic here at the conference. What they’re talking about is the need for systems thinking that permaculture has developed and continues to refine, but they don’t use the word “Permaculture”. It starts with looking at the needs of farmers, the inputs, outputs, and small changes that can have large effects, and integrating issues at the small scale with consideration of patterns across the landscape. Designing from patterns to details.  Tony La Viña, a negotiator from the Philippines and one of the key negotiators on LULUCF in the Kyoto Protocol, calls the landscape approach “an integrated adaptation / mitigation approach to climate change.”

The final concluding remarks on this conference by CIFOR Director Peter Holmgren highlighted three key points for REDD+ and the UNFCCC:
  • more integration, of people and communities to landscape and national scale
  • get action going on the ground
  • be people-centered

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.



Dilemmas within REDD+: It’s Hard to be the Good One

In theory REDD+ is simple: Communities are paid to conserve their forests instead of logging them. Further up, countries get credit for reducing their rate of deforestation.

In practice, it creates some moral dilemmas for the virtuous community that conserves its forest. Consider a hypothetical group of 100 communities in a forested area.


There is a 3% rate of deforestation. It’s easy to identify the communities who did log their plots. Here’s the kicker: which of the 97 communities that conserved their forest should get the credit? Should the credit go to communities who were going to log but decided not to or the communities who planned to keep their area forested? How do we know who was telling the truth?


Credit can be given based on how much a community has improved (reduced its deforestation rate). Here, the virtuous community is screwed. A community with a baseline of 30% deforestation can easily improve to acquire REDD+ credits. If a community has conserved fully, it has a deforestation rate of 0%. It can’t get any better, so it gets nothing.


Moreover many drivers of deforestation are beyond the control of local communities. A farmer sitting on marginal soil next to the Amazon may slash and burn the rainforest to grow enough food so their family doesn’t starve. Meanwhile, a nearby rancher decides to log the rainforest to increase grazing land for her cattle and get a slightly higher profit on her beef. Should they be treated the same?

Incorporating Indigenous Rights and Perspectives

“It is not the institutions that define the work we do… it is our relationships.” — Tim Bull Bennett

When considering what topic to follow through the chaos of COP19, and feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the acronym soup, I retreated to a topic I know: advocating for incorporation and respect for Indigenous perspectives, drawing on my six years of work with the Onondaga Nation. The Onondaga Nation (one of the six nations of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy) has been involved in advocating for indigenous rights at an international level with the United Nations since 1977, and was instrumental in the creation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007.

Dan Wildcat, Oren Lyons, and Lindsay Speer

Dan Wildcat, Oren Lyons, and Lindsay Speer

My initial thought was to track how indigenous rights, as embodied in the Declaration, were being considered, incorporated, or ignored by the UNFCCC. REDD and REDD+ have been of particular concern to indigenous peoples, and it seemed important to watch the negotiations carefully and critically.

The Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Working Group meeting at Dartmouth College on November 4th and 5th reminded me that the indigenous stance is not only protective; it is equally proactive. Just as indigenous peoples will feel the brunt of climate change, as land is lost to the sea and plant and animal populations shift, they also have many of the answers. Their stories, songs, and oral histories contain baseline data about the state of the environment. So many of their communities have already experienced relocation during the 1800s; they have significant lessons to share about cultural harms of relocation and strategies for cultural resiliency.

Corn, beans, and squashThe meeting spent a good portion of the first day discussing traditional ecological knowledges (TEK – and the “s” is not a typo; rather, it is a deliberate nod to the diversity of kinds and ways of knowing), their applicability to climate change, as well as the importance of ensuring that the knowledge is not just another thing taken, misunderstood, and misused by the dominant culture.

Robin Kimmerer, Potawatomi, professor, and author of Braiding Sweetgrass, presented a possible structure for good relationship between TEK and traditional western science. She used the metaphor of the Three Sisters, a traditional companion planting methodology of corn, beans, and squash used by the Haudenosaunee. The corn is planted first, providing the structure for the beans to grow up, and the squash shades the ground and suppresses the weeds. Traditional ecological knowledges are the corn; western science is the beans. Without TEK, western science just grows itself into a tangle all over the place. But if western science can look to TEK to point the way, it can grow up into the light in an orderly way, and find the solutions we need. The squash is ethics, and we all are the gardeners.

What would the negotiations look like if the UNFCCC were to think in this way?

Wild About Wildlife

I’ve always been an animal lover. I grew-up with a myriad of pets; mostly dogs, but also rabbits, an African Grey pAfrican-grey-parrot-perchedarrot, lizards, turtles, fish, cats, and a tarantula. My parents instilled in me a great love for all wildlife and a sense that creatures deserve love and care just like people do. I remember wearing “save the rainforest” t-shirts in elementary school and thinking every stuffed animal I came across was cute, not matter the species.

It was this love of wildlife that partially lead to me the study of environmental law, as animal law and wildlife law falls under this umbrella. While earning my JD, I delved deeper into this field, leading Penn State Dickinson’s Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, bringing Animal Law back as a course offering, and writing my law journal comment (which was published this past spring) on CITES, focusing specifically on the illegal trade in white rhinoceros horns.


Now, while earning my LLM, I am continuing my academic pursuit on the intersection of environmental and animal law by conducting my thesis on the Endangered Species Act, extinction and climate change. Climate change is the second greatest cause of species extinction as of the 21st century, constituting a “threat multiplier,” meaning climate change intensifies all other threats to species and ecosystems.* Because of the environmental impacts of climate change, such as melting arctic ice, rising sea levels, changing ocean ecology (such as ocean acidification), declining forests and increasing desertification, species and their habitats are becoming increasingly threatened.

My thesis research inspired my interest in working with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) at CoP logo19 in Poland. WCS is a global conservation group, the goal of which is to save wildlife, ecosystems, and biodiversity through a landscape based approach. WCS has projects mostly in Africa and Asia that look at climate change mitigation and do a lot with REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation plus conservation, the sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks) and carbon conservation. Their projects focus on ways they can work through existing programs, like REDD+, to help with ecosystem adaptation to climate change. The Carbon for Conservation program focuses specifically on protecting 20 million acres of tropical forests, preventing approximately 60 millions tons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere over the next few years. WCS’s projects, like Carbon for Conservation, work with the local people and governments to reduce deforestation, while aiding in growth and development and protecting endangered species.

I am very excited to pursue my passion and love for wildlife and to be part of the discussion to help save creatures all over the world from the threats of climate change.

* Patrick Parenteau, Species and Ecosystem Impacts, in The Law of Adaptation to Climate Change: U.S. and International Aspects 307, 307-49 (Michael B. Gerrard & Katrina Fischer Kuh eds., 2012) (the greatest threat to species is land use change).

Gearing up for COP19

I am eager to go back to a COP. My first and only COP was COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. I went as the Policy Director for the Cascade Climate Network which is a regional super organization of youth activists from environmental groups in Oregon and Washington. It did not go well. I was thrown out along with the other NGOs into the cold of a Danish winter. Luckily, some Danish anarchists let my delegation stay in their concrete bunker for the rest of the COP. Our whole strategy was dependent on us being in the venue. We overhauled our approach and focused on building awareness and political pressure in real time from supporters in the US. The whole experience was jarring to me and caused me to refocus on local environmental issues for a while.


I am currently a second year JD/Master of Environmental Law and Policy candidate at Vermont Law School. I also am a Research Associate at the Institute for Energy and the Environment, focusing on how environmental data is used during permitting for Arctic oil drilling.

Gearing up for COP19

My hobby is boxing


I will be working with the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) on safeguarding forests and forest livelihoods. My role is to flit from meeting to meeting and take notes so that CIEL is aware of all of the developments regarding safeguards in results-based finance. Currently, forest protection under the UNFCCC is based on the REDD+ (link) mechanism. There is a debate about how much of the finance should be tied to results, how strict the safeguards should be, when they should kick in, and how they will be monitored. Non-carbon benefits aren’t included now, but may be added into the REDD+ mechanism. Indigenous groups are pushing for more participation as equal partners, stewards and monitors.


I am looking forward to having a real (indoors!) COP experience.

The Cancun Agreements

Agreements were made. This is important. The process did not fail and the UNFCCC will continue in the long term quest to achieve internationally binding targets.

 I have seen several achievements consistently mentioned in the media. (1) Commitments made by global economies for 2020 were recognized/the Copenhagen Accord was adopted, (2) a global environmental fund was established, and (3) an agreement was reached on REDD+, improving protection of tropical forests. See What happened (and why): an assessment of the Cancun Agreements, by Robert Stavins from grist.org for a great summary of achievements. 

 There are a few important issues which have not been as readily reported…

 Indigenous People and REDD+: While Bolivia was the only state to object to REDD+  there were many interest groups protesting the language of the REDD+ agreement.  In fact, most protests regarding COP 16 were not related to the overall lack of binding commitments, but related to a specific provision in the REDD+ agreement regarding land tenure. Many indigenous groups worried that the new agreement, which requires monitoring and verification would affect their ability to continue their livihoods on lands that they have lived on for centuries but don’t actually ‘own.’ According to a popularly circulated pamphlet at COP 16 “Why REDD is Wrong,” “Over 1.6 billion people depend on forests for some aspect of their livelihoods, but only about 9 percent of the world’s forests are legally owned by forest-dependent and Indigenous communities. People without land rights have no legal power to influence REDD projects.”  There are other advocates who say that REDD+ agreements aren’t planned for any regions where these specific protestors are from.

From the Indigneous Environmental Network

Advocates of REDD also point to the fact that the Outcome of the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention is the first document “Taking note of relevant provisions of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”

Land Use Land Use Change and Forestry: The  loophole continues. During an earlier blog, I mentioned that there are several options on the table to decide how to account for forest management emissions during the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol including… (1)  Tuvalu proposed text to use the first commitment period as a mandatory historical baseline. (2)  The Africa Group proposed a compromise text which combines historical baselines with projected baselines and (3)  Developed countries propose a continuation of voluntary accounting.

Although not a surprise, it seems the developing countries “won” and now can set their own reference levels…The current text “Requests each Annex I Party to submit to the secretariat, by 28 February 2011, information on the forest management reference level.”

The Global Environmental Fund: While the fund has targets of over a 100 billion per year, many developing countries have not been receiving money already promised by developed countries. The World Bank will be the trustee for this fund, but the World Bank doesn’t have the best track record at delivering money in an efficient manner (see blog post President from Guyana wants his money).

Bharrat Jagdeo – President of Guyana wants his money.

After committing a Guyanan forest the size of England, in exchange for a billion dollars from Norway, Jagdeo needs this $ to keep political will with his people. Norway delivered the money to the World Bank but it has yet to be delivered where needed. Jagdeo promised all indigenous people solar panels. He promised to accelerate the process of determining land tenure and promised the availability of grant funds to several communities. Jagdeo said, if this REDD+ project cannot work in Guayanaa where he does have the will to make this work, and with Norway as a generous partner, it will not work anywhere.

Students Protest REDD+ with REDD+ Herring

Rob Walton gets mixed reviews on Walmart’s progress

In a conversation with Achim Steiner (Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme) & Peter Seligmann (Chairman and CEO, Conservation International) Walton describes progress Walmart has made in the sourcing of their products.

Walmart UNEP & Conservation Intl. conversation

Given the focus on Indonesia at this COP, Walton describes how Walmart stopped sourcing palm oil from recently deforested areas – such as those in Indonesia. This started in England, based on consumer preference and now the same more sustainable suppliers are being used throughout the world. Walton also described how Walmart is no longer sourcing Brazillian meat from areas recently deforested.

I almost felt bad for the guy because as he walked off the stage, some guy yelled ‘make Walmart vegetarian” and then the media went after him because it is easy to raise cattle on recently deforested land for 80% of their life and then bring then to sustainable land at the point of sale. Obviously they can do more, but I think its nice they are making some baby steps. According to Walton, they thought they would go after low hanging fruit but ended up taking on the whole enchilada.

Forest Day panelists believe an agreement may be reached on REDD+

Forest Day started off with a  speech by President Calderon, who said we must “empujar todos” (“push all”) towards a REDD+ agreement. An agreement on REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) is predicted by many high level panelists to be one the biggest outcomes from COP 16.

Forest Day 4: Photo courtesy of www.cc2010.mx

“REDD + is an enormous prize within our grasp” –  John Ashton, the special representative for climate change at the UK Foreign Commonwealth Office.

Tony La Vina, Chair of the REDD working group, said there are “exceptionally good dynamics at the REDD+ negotiation.”

During Forest Day, attendees were surveyed on a variety of topics. Here are 2 interesting results:

Q: How important is it to monitor the co-benefits of REDD+? Response: 65% of attendees support monitoring even if it effects emission reduction effectiveness.

Q: How should forests be included in a post-Kyoto climate agreement, through a REDD ++ agreement? Response: There was very low support to support additional measures post-Kyoto, likely based on the fear that additional requests now would affect the success of  the current REDD + negotiations.