Should a perfect REDD deal get in the way of a good one?

Wangari Maathai, CREDIT: CIAT

by Vanessa Meadu and Jeff Haskins

The release of a draft agreement outlining a framework for REDD has created a new sense of optimism among some observers of the negotiations that a mechanism aimed at protecting rainforests as a means to mitigate climate change will be included in the next global climate agreement. But for others, the draft text, which arrived in the inboxes of journalists, negotiators and others overnight in Copenhagen, raised more questions than answers, because it lacked specific details on crucial items, such as specific targets for reducing forest emissions or the amount of financing that would be invested.

This morning, participants in a Forest Day 3 sub-plenary session on mitigation shared through a live survey their opinions on a number of issues pertaining to the REDD negotiations. This is the first time that Forest Day organizers have surveyed participants as a means of measuring consensus about an outcome statement from the event. Such statements from the two previous Forest Days have helped shape forest-related negotiations in Poznan and Bali.

One of the issues about which most participants agreed was the scope of REDD, i.e., which land uses should be included or excluded for emissions reductions credits. Over half of the respondents expressed optimism that Copenhagen would result in a REDD-plus deal that includes forest conservation, sustainable management of forests, and carbon stock enhancement.

This convergence is also evident in the current negotiations. One expert at Forest Day commented that “some form of sustainable management of forests and forest conservation will be part of the program… REDD should protect against the conversion of indigenous forests. However, COP15 is almost halfway over, and there has been little agreement about the rest of the REDD options on the table.”

So, how likely is it that a deal will be struck, and how can parties move forward?

During her keynote speech, Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom commented that parties should focus on agreeing on a general REDD+ framework and work out the details later, depending on local conditions.

Dr. Peter A Minang, global coordinator of the ASB Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins, agreed, but pointed out that it may be too early for parties to do even this. “It’s still not clear which parts of a REDD deal should be general and which parts should be tailored to national circumstances,” he said. “Different countries have different capacities for implementing REDD, different financing requirements and different views on how to safeguard indigenous rights.”

In the afternoon, Tony La Viña, a negotiator for the Philippines and facilitator of the REDD contact group, dropped by to give participants an update on the latest state of negotiations. “There is room for optimism,” he said. The text has enough detail, but is short enough to allow for a decision. He explained that many issues such as structure and scope are generally agreed, and safeguards including ones for indigenous rights and biodiversity protection are approved in concept, although the legal language is not firm. “I think we can have an agreement that’s good for forests, good for climate and good for people and communities,” he said, but warned that anything can happen in negotiations, and a REDD deal may still depend on how an overall climate change deal develops.

A REDD agreement in Copenhagen must be more than an empty shell. It must also take into account the importance of getting the technical details right, so that participating countries can meet their full REDD potential. Negotiators will need to find the right balance between a good deal and a perfect one, so that REDD activities can begin to remove carbon from the atmosphere and generate good lessons that will make the mechanism better as it moves forward.

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