ClearSky Climate Solutions, CEO, Keegan Eisenstadt was on the ground in Durban for the UNFCCC 17th Conference of the Parties. He was present for what was an incredibly busy couple of weeks. Participating in a schedule filled with formal negotiations, technical side events, meetings with government actors, NGOs and civil society organizations from around the world. Keegan had numerous educational discussions with other participants and left with many ideas of how ClearSky can more thoroughly participate in the climate change sector.
While the formal outcomes of the meeting are something of a mixed bag, the result was not as bad as projected in the run up to the COP17. EU leadership, and a determination by all the major Parties to build upon the successes of Cancun, led to a result that may act as the foundation for future progress on mitigation and adaptation. The 194 countries in the convention agreed to be legally bound, in an agreement to be signed no later than 2015, to cut their emissions of seven greenhouse gases starting no later than 2020. This outcome is very important, as it has removed the fault line separating the developing/developed countries that has hampered years of talks by bringing countries such as China and India under a mandatory reductions framework. This has effectively removed the key barrier that has kept the US from the negotiating table, and its importance cannot be underestimated. ‘The Durban Platform’ is an important step on the way, but not a destination. Its importance is in the clear signal it sends that regulatory clarity on future carbon markets are expected by the end of 2015.
Implications for Forests and REDD+
Two sets of negotiations were held in Durban with regard to REDD+: (1) a technical discussion, (under the auspices of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice, SBSTA), which focused on safeguards and reference levels and (2) a broader discussion regarding the overall architecture of the agreement (Ad Hoc Working Group for Long-term Cooperative Action, LCA ¶63-73), which revolved around the private sector and market mechanisms, and whether these would have a role to play in financing REDD+. Key advancements were made in both areas that were stronger than most observers expected, and which served to reinforce the community-oriented approach at ClearSky.
The key element of the REDD+ decision in Durban was on sources and delivery of finance. The Durban Platform is the first time that 194 countries have agreed, despite ideological differences, to include explicit mention of market-based approaches to funding REDD+. The decision confirms that private sector has a role to play, and considers that market-based approaches can be developed, subject to maintaining environmental integrity, to deliver performance-based funding to REDD+ activities. The decision encourages financing from private sector actors to overcome a large funding gap in public resources to achieve the required reductions in deforestation. Importantly, the positive signal that markets can play a driving role in REDD+, opens further opportunity for work on REDD+ projects like the work it is currently developing in the tropics.
A second, important REDD+ discussion in Durban looked at the issue of incorporating effective social, environmental and governance safeguards for local communities and biodiversity. Significant progress was made on defining the criteria, monitoring systems and types of information that must be conveyed in reports on safeguard implementation and delivery for projects in all countries. Discussions focused on the frequency of safeguard monitoring/reporting and the types of information that needed to be monitored. The monitoring and reporting of safeguards is vitally important to ClearSky, because it allows us to see if national level REDD+ programs are being implemented with the Free Prior Informed Consent of indigenous peoples and local communities, and ensure that their rights are being respected. There had been strong push back against reporting of safeguards from some forest countries on sovereignty grounds – but the agreement to include a robust safeguards decision won the day.
The consistent message from donor countries, NGOs and the private sector is that only through the rigorous application and accurate reporting on safeguards can stakeholders ensure that positive and equitable REDD+ outcomes are achieved. Durban produced a strong and detailed framework to deliver this. Some observers, including Pact, lamented the fact that the explicit guidelines on the content of safeguard monitoring were not decided upon, and were left to be defined at a later time.
The final main negotiating point regarding REDD+ at Durban related to reference levels for forest carbon. It was agreed that the formation of applicable reference levels can be stepwise and iterative, and the decision acknowledges that subnational forest reference emission levels and/or forest reference levels may be used as an interim measure on the way to a national accounting framework, ensuring the viability of the ‘nested approach’ – which potentially incorporates previous ‘project based’ actions.
Considering the persistent global economic situation, Durban was a much better outcome than most observers expected. It was a surprising ‘shot in the arm’ for carbon markets as a tool, and sets the stage for aggregating all the emissions from 194 countries into the UNFCCC process over the next 8 years. REDD+, as in the past 3 years, was a big winner. This time, however, the Parties were able to rise above previously entrenched positions to set the stage for the creation of innovative and transformative financing solutions that make forests worth more standing than cut. The extensive discussions on safeguards were a vindication of the role of communities, forest dependent and indigenous peoples in ensuring the sustainability of a future REDD+ mechanisms – whether it is project-based, sub-national or national……it is the people living in the woods who will determine their future.