Friday, December 10, 2010

The Cancun Deal

The president of the conference has produced a draft decision text that is receiving rave reviews from country after country in the plenary. The Mexican presidency is being praised for its transparency, adeptness and openness and for producing a decision that has package between the two negotiating tracks (something until now elusive).

It is clearly lacking in ambition and by no means is the end result that is needed. But all are hailing it as the lifeline that was required to re-instill confidence in the process and the foundation for a path forward.

The outcome on LULUCF and the forestry negotiations is better than I expected earlier in the week. There are three key elements of this outcome for me:
* There was no agreement to lock in the logging loophole (reference levels);
* There is an acknowledgment of loopholes and of the need to consider their impacts on targets and ambition;
* Options to the reference levels persist in the text for next year.

Other details:
- The guiding principles from the Marrakesh Accords continue to govern the framework
- The same definitions still apply
- A decision on whether to have a cap on credits/debits and how to exclude emissions from force majeure events (i.e. extreme fire years)will be decided in time for next December
- Parties' proposed reference levels were inscribed in an appendix, but no final decision was made to account using these
- The submission, review and replacement process for reference levels was agreed
- No other decisions on substantive matters were made (e.g. accounting for emissions from other activities, how to account for wood products, etc.)

One other outcome to note is that the negotiators came to an informal agreement on how to define and create a new activity for peatland management ('draining and re-wetting'). I suspect this didn't come into the final decision because many other issues couldn't, but it appears it is ready to formally decide next year.

Next year will be interesting...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The 11th Hour (literally)

It's 11 o'clock on Thursday night and the forestry negotiators are locked in a room behind me trying to hammer out an agreement.

By all reports it's going slowly. But only those content to settle for a 500 Megatonne loophole would say it's going well.

There is a lot of momentum at the 'technical' level. Almost everyone seems content to stitch up this deal.

There are a couple of wild cards on the table. How long will Tuvalu hold out with its principled objection? How long will the African Group hold out with its compromise? What will Ministers do? Will they rubber stamp rules that allow forestry emissions to increase without penalty?

My task now is to hang around outside this room and find out what I can when they finish. Then, we will have to react quickly to influence the political decision that will follow these technical negotiations.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Will Tuvalu's Tactical Moves Still Save the Day?

The 1.5 hours of negotiations on LULUCF planned today didn't happen.

The Island Nation of Tuvalu insisted on discussing concerns about process and getting assurances that its views would not be ignored.

The conventional wisdom is that a decision on LULUCF rules is needed here so countries can get on to the business of setting economy-wide targets. To most, this means there must be no delay and the decision must be made quickly. But Tuvalu appears ready to take a stand that it won't be blackmailed into accepting rules with low environmental integrity. If this is what is happening, good for Tuvalu! We will utlimately all benefit.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Africa Propose Compromise

I should apologize to anyone whose appetite I whet the other day with the teaser about a proposal from the African Group that I haven't followed-up sooner. It's been very busy here as always.

The proposal is a compromise that modifies the reference level approach by combining it with a historical average of data from the first commitment period. This proposal would cut the logging loophole in the second commitment period roughly in half while still giving all Annex I Parties at least part of the ‘break’ on emissions they have been looking for. It’s only a partial fix with its own short-comings, but it is an interesting compromise that could hold some promise for a deal in Cancun, if developed countries are really looking for one.

My sense is that they are not. They feel to close to getting everything they have been asking with the logging loophole.

I should also tell you that things are very much up in the air on the LULUCF negotiations in general.

The Ministers have arrived but without at manageable text on LULUCF for them to work with. There is an extra informal (closed door meeting) tomorrow morning to try to come to some agreement on the text that will be given to Ministers. The key oustanding question is still how Tuvalu's new proposal to go back to the old rules (with some tweaks) will be incorporated.

The best thing about the Tuvalu proposal was the requirement for countries to have to account for any conversion of forests to plantations or primary forests to secondary!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Whet Your Appetite Post

I'm sitting at the computer pool outside the last scheduled closed session of negotiations on accounting rules for land use, land-use change and forestry.

The time is ticking for these negotiators who have worked on and on for 3 and a half years to produce a draft decision that may still not be ready for Ministers as they begin to arrive. The idea is that Ministers must be given clear, simple choices to negotiate. They would quickly be lost and bogged down in the details and complexities of LULUCF.

As of yesterday there was no option that looked politically acceptable to all. And the only decent option for the environment had been roundly rejected by developed countries (Tuvalu's proposal from earlier this year to account for any change in logging emissions from the recent past - called 'net-net' accounting).

We learned yesterday that the facilitators of the negotiations were producing a new draft decision today that would include a 'compromise' being proposed by the African Group (of countries). I suspect they are in there discussing it right now.

This post is to whet your appetite for the news when they emerge...what has Africa put on the table? Is it really grounds for compromise? Is it an acceptable environmental outcome?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Prospects Grim in Cancun

It's end of day 3 in Cancun. As always, it's been a frenzied three days.

The negotiations began along the well-worn path of the last year: developed countries refining the new rules and processes they would use to avoid accountability for emissions from logging and other land uses like croplands.

Then things got interesting.

The island state of Tuvalu, as steadfast in its abhorrence of the 'logging loophole' as we are, put a whole new package on the table. It basically throws out everything that countries have been negotiating on for the past three years - no reference levels (loophole), no credit for carbon stored in wood products (loophole), no special provision for excluding emissions from fires (possible loophole).

The quid pro quo for this tossing out the window of all things bad and troubling in the negotiations is that accounting for everything would remain voluntary. It's hard to get excited about this approach, but easy to comiserate with the apparent desperation caused by the singular focus of developed countries on anything but accounting for emissions from land use.

It's still shocking how, in this convention on climate change and emission reductions, there is no preoccupation with emission reductions from land use - they can go up as long as the practices are 'sustainable'!

It's really not clear where things will go from here. There are now three options on the table on the basic accounting approach, all of which have entrenched opposition. And, ironically, the one thing everyone seems to agree on is that they want an agreement here in Cancun!

Meanwhile, small informal groups of negotiators have been locked behind closed doors trying to hammer out an agreement on the how to deal with natural disturbances and carbon stored in wood products.

Tomorrow may bring more surprises...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Logistics at Cancun Climate Talks Reflect Commitment to Reduce Emissions

The Cancun climate talks kicked off today. One of the venues is a brand-new convention centre. The other is an upscale golf course and spa. Both have bone-chilling AC (and wide open doors). The many thousands of participants are all bused an hour or more from their hotels in the morning and back again in the evening. The emissions boggle the mind.

The logistics show the same lack of regard for emissions as is evidenced in forestry negotiations and the broader negotiations toward a new global climate deal.

At the end of day one, I'm looking for some inspiration and signs of hope!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Clearest Explanation of the Logging Loophole proposed by developed countries

This is my communications masterpiece - a crystal clear explanation of how developed countries are trying to increase their logging emissions with impunity from a global climate agreement!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Last Chance: The Road to Cancun

I am back home in beautiful Ottawa looking out my window at the colours that make autumn so special in Canada. This beauty is in sharp relief to the thick smog the bus drove through on the way to the Beijingairport on Sunday.

The closing plenary in Tianjin showed that there is still hope for a better outcome to the forestry negotiations. Both the Africa Group (all African countries) and the Association of Small Island States spoke out strongly against the logging loophole: they both rejected the approach of using "projected reference levels" from the future to account for forestry emissions. This resistance and insistence on environmental integrity is important. Although developed countries may not want to take heed of this, we will do our best to make sure they do.

In the next seven weeks before the decision-making meeting in Cancun, I will be working with my colleagues to continue pushing for a strong outcome: campaigning, public outreach, communications and exploring compromises that have environmental integrity. We are in the final stretch.

In the meantime, I will be working to ensure that domestic policies and meausures for forests and climate change are up to snuff!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Signs of Hope

I don't know if it was the jeans but the winds shifted a bit in the forestry negotiations today. Glimmers of hope have started to shine on what was starting to look like a pretty bleak outcome to these talks.

The negotiating block of developing countries known as the G77 and China have been negotiating the outlines of a weak forest deal that would allow developed countries to increase their logging emissions with impunity. Today we started to see some more resistance to this proposal. Tuvalu called on the Chair of Kyoto Protocol negotiations to bring sanity back to the talks and African countries are starting to express their reservations as well. Other rumblings of discontent are also being heard in the halls.

We've been supporting this resistance with articles in the daily newsletter ECO, pitching stories to journalists, and reaching out to countries that could make a difference and who support deep cuts in emissions. The embedded video shows Julie-Anne Richards with the International Climate Action Network repeating the call for sanity in an intervention given in an open plenary meeting. We learned at the last minute that civil society would be given a chance to speak to all the assembled countries so we scrambled to get a statement together.

The last day of the talks is tomorrow and we've got a few last tricks up our sleeves. We may just leave these talks with something that we can work with moving towards the final decision-making round of talks this December in Cancun, Mexico.

(Video: Annex B Parties means developed countries with commitments under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce their emissions).

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Denim Protest

I left the suit at the hotel and came to the conference centre in jeans and t-shirt today as a small gesture of personal protest against the dirty forest deal that is being made here in Tianjin. The sense in the halls yesterday was palpable that the G77 and China are giving developed countries everything they want in exchange for a little transparency.

The logging loophole is just a step away from being enshrined in a decision at December's big decision-making climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico. The parties to this process have spent almost all their negotiating time over the last year discussing an approach that allows developed countries to increase their logging emissions with impunity, thereby damaging forests and undermining climate action. Alternative options were barely discussed. Emissions from other land uses like croplands and wetlands has scarcely been on the agenda. Accounting for these emissions is voluntary and hardly anyone is doing it. With so little time remaining before the final meeting in Cancun this could signal that countries have no intent to close this loophole either.

Anyone who asks me today why I am in jeans and t-shirt will hear that I am protesting the lack of ambition to protect forests and fight for the climate.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Forestry Negotiations in Tianjin China: Rolling towards the abyss!

Day 3 of the Tianjin Climate Talks has already past and the Great Fire Wall of China has kept me from posting before now. This post is being made through a friend back in Canada who kindly offered to help me get the word out.

The proposal to allow developed countries to use 'reference levels' from the future to measure their emissions compliance for logging continues to move forward. As one developing country negotiator described it to me: this thing now has wheels.

Unfortunately this proposal is taking us off a cliff from which environmental integrity in this process may never recover. It still amazes me that government representatives from developed countries that have caused climate change and have made commitments to fix it can say with a straight face that it is good policy to allow them to increase their logging emissions without penalty.

There have been two interesting developments in the last 24 hours. The first is that developed countries put forward a process to have expert technical teams review the proposed reference levels. It looks okay as far as technical review goes but all it will really demonstrate is whether countries have done a good job proposing bad reference levels.

The other development was that there was an open session today to discuss an alternative to the reference level approach. The island nation of Tuvalu described its proposal to use emissions/removals from forest management in the first commitment period (2008-2012) as the basis for measuring increases or decreases in the second commitment period. Tuvalu and Belarus both made clear and compelling arguments for why a historical baseline is the only reliable basis for demonstrating whether we are actually moving towards our target of emission reductions. The European Union, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea were the principle defenders of the flawed 'projected reference level' approach.

At the request of Tuvalu, the co-chairs of the session opened the floor to comments from civil society and I was able to make an intervention. I recorded it low-tech style on my iPhone. Picture me in a room full of negotiators in a conference centre that looks like it was designed for giants!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Consensus View on Forests, Peatlands and Climate

This month the Forestry Chronicle printed the article Maintaining the role of Canada's forests and peatlands in climate regulation. The article is exciting for two reasons. First, it lays out a clear policy blueprint for how forests and peatlands shoudl be managed in the context of climate change and the imperative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Second, it puts to rest a very unhelpful dynamic that emerged in the pages of the very same journal - two years ago researchers from the Ontario Forest Research Institute wrote a flaming piece of rhetoric assailing the environmental community's assertions that forests should be protected to help fight climate change.

This new article presents the consensus findings of a two-day workshop in Ottawa that brought together government scientists, university academics and ENGO policy experts to develop management recommendations to maintain the role of Canada's forests and peatlands in climate regulation.

Here are the recommended management actions:
  • Reduce deforestation and increase afforestation
  • Avoid logging of natural forests
  • Employ forest management practices that enhance carbon storage:
    • 1. reduce soil disturbance and maintain coarse woody debris
    • 2. silvicultural activities to increase productivity and accelerate regeneration
    • 3. extend rotation periods
  • Employ forest sector practices to enhance carbon storage and minimize greenhouse gas emissions:
    • 1. capture methane emissions from forest products at landfills
    • 2. increase recycling and switch production to longer lived forest products
    • 3. use energy in wood waste for power production
  • Minimize the extraction of peat soils
  • Minimize soil disturbance
    • 1. minimize ground disturbance in areas with saturated soils
    • 2. avoid disturbance to permafrost
  • Reduce the adverse climate impacts of fire and insect disturbances
    • 1. suppress fire and insect events where appropriate in the managed forest
    • 2. restore the natural resilience of forest to disturbance
    • 3. use salvage logging where appropriate to reduce harvest of undisturbed forest
The participants in the workshop were Mathew Carlson (Canadian Boreal Initiative), Jing Chen (University of Toronto), Stewart Elgie (University of Ottawa), Chris Henschel (CPAWS), Werner Kurz (Canadian Forest SerAlvaro Montenegro (University of Victoria), Nigel Roulet (McGill University), Neal Scott (Queen's University), Charles Tarnocai (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada), and Jeff Wells (International Boreal Conservation Campaign).

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Political Heat Not Reaching Forestry Negotiators

The political heat was turned on the logging loophole at the UN Climate Talks this week in Bonn, but those negotiating the loophole appeared unfazed.

The negotiations were framed with a statement by the Chair that forestry rules should be developed that strengthen ambition. As mentioned in my previous post, presentation after presentation at a Monday workshop on countries' targets showed that they are doing the opposite. These presentations drew attention to the logging loophole and showed that all the loopholes taken together mean that developed countries could actually increase their emissions under their 'reduction' pledges made in Copenhagen. John Vidal of the Guardian wrote on the farce these loopholes are making of rich countries' Copenhagen pledges.

The forestry negotiators showed no sign of this heat after they went back behind closed doors. Some new draft texts came out this morning and nothing has really changed. I believe that this is because, with so many countries concerned primarily with the different 'national circumstances' of their forestry sectors, no one is sure what the political solution actually is. This gives the negotiators of a lot of room.

But it is clear to me that they won't change direction until they are told to by their political bosses. These bosses should be sensitive to the revelation that rich countries are playing a dangerous game with the future of the planet, pretending to reduce emissions when they are actually planning the exact opposite.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Minding the Accounting Gap in Bonn

I am once again in Bonn at a UN Climate Conference, struggling alongside my colleagues to make forests in developed countries part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

The good news is that the issue has been given some good exposure. The International Climate Action Network was invited to present its views at a special session on forest management accounting before the start of this week’s meeting. I gave CAN’s presentation, which clearly laid out the 460 Mt CO2 ‘accounting gap’ resulting from the proposed rules, which would mean that developed countries could increase their emissions relative to historical levels and not have to account or be penalized for it. The presentation also compares this proposal with other accounting options on the table.

With the exception of a proposal from the island state of Tuvalu to account for emissions changes in the future compared with emissions in 2012, none of the formal options on the table will close the accounting gap. If the gap is not closed, forest management accounting will undermine the ambition of developed countries.

This fact was further illustrated today in a presentation made to the Parties by the Stockholm Environment Institute, which described the effect of the various loopholes or ‘alternatives to real mitigation.’ The ‘accounting gap’ was one of the many loopholes that mean developed countries could significantly increase their emissions while still meeting the emission reduction pledges they made in Copenhagen.

Underlying the forest management accounting gap is the troubling fact that developed countries are all forecasting that they will increase logging rates, thereby increasing pressure on forest reservoirs of carbon, and diminishing the forest sink. These actions violate commitments that all countries have made in the UN Climate Convention and the Kyoto Protocol to protect, conserve and enhance sinks and reservoirs.

The challenge for this week is to translate understanding of this problem into politically acceptable solutions. Political acceptability has so far proved elusive, given the strong focus of most developed countries to avoid ‘punishing’ their forest sectors, rather than keeping their eye on ensuring emission reductions in all sectors.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Bonn Climate Talks: Part 10 - Where from here?

Though the cough I earned with much hand-shaking and long hours of campaigning persists, the Bonn Climate Talks themselves have wrapped up.

The forestry issues were not resolved in Bonn as some had expected/feared, but these talks have clearly set the stage for some kind of resolution at the next round of talks in August.

In fact, it's probably fair to say that the biggest outcome from the last few days of the talks was a proposal to hold a 'pre-sessional' workshop on LULUCF before the next week-long meeting in Bonn officially begins. ENGOs have written a letter to John Ashe, the Chair of the negotiations under the Kyoto Protocol, to request that observers can attend this meeting. His response may well determine whether a logging deal is stitched up behind closed doors.

For my final post from the June Bonn Climate Talks, I have attached this graph that was shown by the EU at a session on the effects of LULUCF rules on countries' overall targets. The graph shows very neatly the effect of different approaches to reference levels being taken by developed countries:
  • Most developed countries have 'conveniently' set their reference levels to exactly equal the emissions they forecast for 2012-2020, thereby hiding net increases in emissions from accounting. These countries show neither credits, nor debits in this graph;
  • Norway and Russia have both chosen 1990 as a base year to account for emissions from forest management. Both countries plan to increase net emissions from today but will earn credits because current emissions are lower than they were in 1990;
  • Japan is manufacturing credits for itself by arbitrarily choosing a zero sink as a reference level. That means it will get credits as long as its national forest is a net sink, even though it plans to increase net emissions during 2012-2020;
  • The most striking feature of this graph to me is Switzerland: it is the only country whose proposed reference level would deliver debits. Like the other countries, its forest will remain a net sink; Like the other countries, it plans to increase net emissions. Very much unlike the other countries, it has acknowledged some accountability for this increase in emissions and proposed a reference level that is between the historical average the forecast increase in emissions. The result will be a carbon price signal to do better carbon management in forests... enough to crown a hero in these negotiations.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bonn Climate Talks: Part 9 The Games Continue

I am back home in Canada, but the work continues in Bonn to close the logging loophole!

The campaign got two major boosts yesterday. The first was an article covering this scandal by John Vidal of The Guardian. Even better, the youth organized an inspired demonstration of the logging loophole (check out the video!)!

Meanwhile, the talks themselves took a few twists and turns in the last couple of days. Tension grew in Tuesday's informal negotiations when developed countries began to push back even on G77 and China's modest demand for transparency behind the 'projected reference levels' for forestry emissions (the source of the logging loophole). It seems the discussion on reference levels will continue at the next session in August, and the focus will be on 'packages' of approaches... we're not quite sure what that means yet...but it doesn't sound like simple, transparent environmental integrity.

The discussion yesterday and for the remainder of the session then turned to how to deal with carbon in harvested wood products and from natural disturbances. If you're following the spirit of these negotiations, you can guess that developed countries want to include in accounting carbon stored in wood products (because they can get a credit) and exclude from accounting emissions from natural disturbances (because they would get a debit).

In case you're getting confused, take a look at a glossary that appeared in the ECO newsletter yesterday. That should clear everything up.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Bonn Climate Talks Part 8: The Chorus Grows

On Day 7 of the talks, the chorus is steadily growing to transform the forestry accounting framework with a goal to reduce emissions. The following countries have now all made public statements in supporting this goal:
  • The African Group (53 countries);
  • COMIFAC - the Central African Forest Commission (10 Central African countries);
  • The Coalition of Rainforest Nations (13 countries in Africa, Caribbean, Central America and South America);
  • India.
By contrast, developed countries continue to obfuscate with talk of 'proper incentives' and 'business-as-usual' management.

It becomes more and more clear each day that the "projection of forest management activities" in a country's baseline is absolutely foolhardy:
  • it hides increased net emissions;
  • it is based on unverifiable assumptions;
  • it leads to wild inconsistency in baselines between countries.
In a negotiating session today on 'the numbers' - i.e. countries' overall targets to reduce emissions, several developed countries made it clear that they will only move to the upper end of the range of emission reductions they have offered if they get the LULUCF loopholes they seek. In this context, moving to the upper range becomes totally meaningless.

Closed-door negotiations resume again tomorrow and there will be three sessions in total this week.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bonn Climate Talks Part 7: Continuing to Fight for the Forests

The forestry negotiations came back into the open on Saturday in a public session. Two main events occurred: The Group of 77 (G77) and China (a negotiating bloc of developing countries and China) delivered a proposal designed to limit the damage of the weak forestry rules being contemplated here. The second is that Russia delivered a proposal to hide increased net emissions and maximize credits.

The G77 and China's proposal has two main elements:
  • A rigorous, independent, expert review of a county's proposed reference level for forest management emissions; the reference level would be adjusted if they are shown to be either fraudulent or flawed.
  • A cap on the credits that a country can get from forest management;
The approach is pointed in the right direction, but unfortunately does not get the job done.

The review will increase transparency and take care of methodological problems. And the Group clearly hopes that the review can also get at substantive problems with the reference level as well: they propose that it can be used to adjust reference levels if they do not meet a set of guidelines still to be established. I think it makes sense to develop these guidelines, but also that the criteria for setting a reference level must be improved. In particular, countries should not be allowed to build new policies into their baseline (e.g. higher harvest rates).

The cap and the review is the best that G77 and China seem to think they can get in the face of an unwilling dance partner that is focused on hiding emissions and protecting its forest sector from the negative side of carbon prices. We should and could do much better if developed countries were willing to step forward to help the climate.

This limitation was illustrated by a two-part proposal made by Russia in the same session:
  • a country should get no penalty for increased net emissions until its entire forest sink is wiped out;
  • there should be no limit to the credits a country can claim for its forest sink if it uses a historical baseline (this was clever because Russia is using a historical baseline and most of the concern so far has been expressed about the projected reference levels).
These two things proposals combined mean that Russia could get credits for increased emissions and virtually never receive debits.

The Island of Tuvalu, clearly concerned with the direction things are going, asked the Chair of the negotiations to hear what civil society had to say about the proposals. The Chair agreed to hear from us. After a few hurried conversations with my colleagues in the room, I delivered the following points:
  • We want to see emissions from logging reduced and none of the proposals on the table do that;
  • We acknowledge that the proposal from G77 and China is pointed in the right direction, and especially appreciate the focus placed on the importance of historical emissions in assessing the countries' projections;
  • The adjustment of the reference levels must not erase the effect of new policies that have been implemented (e.g. increased harvest rates);
  • We agree that a cap needs to be considered, but for all circumstances, not just projections;
  • We completely disagree with Russia's proposal because it completely avoids accounting for increased net emissions;
Some final points on what must be done to turn this thing around:
  • The goal of forest management accounting must be to reduce emissions, and not allow them to increase;
  • Make forest management accounting mandatory (it's incredible that some countries still want it to be voluntary after making the rules so convenient for themselves);
  • If there is a cap, it should only be on credits - there is no need to cap debits after the great lengths developed countries have gone to remove debits from the equation (e.g. through the reference level, excluding natural disturbance emissions, accounting for carbon stored in wood products);
  • Make the reference levels permanent so they can't always be revised;
  • Further constrain the criteria for setting reference levels, and do not allow countries to build new policies and increased harvest levels into their reference levels.
Here is the text of G77 and China's proposal (note they say the footnote is not complete):

11 ter. [For the second commitment period, additions to [and subtractions from] the assigned amount of a Party resulting from forest management under Article 3, paragraph 4, and from forest management project activities undertaken under Article 6 shall not exceed X percent of its assigned amount pursuant to Article 3, paragraphs 7 and 8.] 11 quarter. [ REFERENCE LEVEL DEFINED Immediately after a decision is adopted on LULUCF under the KP for the second commitment period, the reference levels inscribed in the appendix shall be registered by the UNFCCC Secretariat. INFORMATION PROVIDED ON REFERENCE LEVEL CALCULATION No later than six months after the COP/MOP adopts a Decision on the treatment of LULUCF for the next commitment period, Parties shall submit to the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP/MOP) information on its reference level for accounting of emissions and removals from [forest management] [forest land]. The submission shall contain a transparent information and comprehensive description of all the elements used to calculate the reference level in a transparent, complete, consistent, comparable and accurate way, thus conforming to good practice in LULUCF, and including, inter alia, the assumptions, model, and data, including data on harvesting, age structure dynamics and consumption of domestic wood, and of how the items contained in footnote 2 of paragraph 11 have been taken into account. PROVISION FOR REVISION OF THE REFERENCE LEVEL Before the start of the commitment period reporting, if an inconsistency between historical data on [forest management][forest land] and the registered data applied for estimating the reference level is demonstrated by a Party, an Annex I Party that is Party to the Kyoto Protocol shall submit a revised reference level along with the revised information on elements used to calculate the reference level and justification for the new, revised value. FIRST REVIEW As part of the review process of Annex I Parties annual inventory report in 2012, a review of the reference levels and information contained in the registry shall be carried out, following guidelines on reference levels to be developed and adopted by the COP/MOP no later than its eighth session, in accordance with relevant decision related to Article 8 of the Kyoto Protocol. REPORTING BY ANNEX I PARTIES START FOLLOWED BY ANNUAL REVIEW Upon reporting for the commitment period to which the reference level refers, as part of the national inventory report to the Kyoto Protocol, Annex I Parties shall submit information regarding the reference level which allows to verify consistency between data and methodologies used to calculate the reference level and those used for the purposes of accounting, including, inter alia, consumption of domestic wood. Review of that information and of information contained in the registry shall be carried out, following guidelines on reference levels to be developed and adopted by the COP/MOP no later than its eighth session, in accordance with relevant decision related to Article 8 of the Kyoto Protocol. If an inconsistency between the elements used to calculate the reference level and those used for the purposes of accounting is identified, the accounted quantity shall be recalculated, in order to remove the effect of the inconsistency on the amount of RMUs to be issued.] -- 1. When applying the reference level upon accounting, an adjustment shall be applied in order not to credit, among other inconsistencies: i. Reduction in consumption of domestic [wood] [HWP] for production of energy during the commitment period compared to the reference level; ii. Substitution of consumption of domestic [wood] [HWP] with imported wood during the commitment period compared to the reference level;

Friday, June 4, 2010

Bonn Climate Talks Part 6: Shake-up in LULUCF Negotiations

Today was a dramatic and busy day in the forestry negotiations. We spent much of the day talking to delegates about the proposal to review developed countries' emissions reference levels (the source of the logging loophole). We are concerned that while the review offers increased transparency, this increased transparency will not reduce emissions. We are still pushing developed countries that they must abandon their emissions loophole. So far, none among them have stepped up to take a leadership role here.

The negotiations got a shake up when the Central African Forest Commission (COMIFAC) made a formal statement saying that all the LULUCF loopholes must be closed. It is likely that the statement could have some significant political ramifications and it will take a few days to see how this unfolds.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Bonn Climate Talks Part 5: LULU Chefs Decry Logging Loopholes

Participants in the climate change negotiations were greeted this morning by the "LULU Chefs," who were demanding that the logging loophole be closed in the negotiations on LULUCF (Land use, land-use change and forestry).

The fun demonstration by tcktcktck was put on to keep attention on the issue as governments met for a closed-door session today, discussing the emission accounting rules for forestry. Our campaign is having a visible effect on the negotiations as countries are paying much more attention and seem to be taking our concerns more seriously than in the past.

This is the most active and volatile area of the negotiations here. From hour to hour we hear different accounts of what's going on and the deals that may be made. It's frustrating to have to fish for information and get partial accounts of what's going on. It's easy to make hasty judgments so it's important to be careful to have all the information. Today were learned that developing countries proposed a review process to make sure that the choice of forestry emission baselines by industrialized countries is transparent.

We continue to insist that emissions must be reduced from forestry and land use. Nothing else makes sense in the context of a climate agreement. Some countries definitely support this goal but how this support is translated into action in the broader political context is always uncertain. We will meet with many countries tomorrow to continue making our case.

There will be another round of closed negotiations tomorrow followed by an open session on Saturday where developments from the week will be aired in public.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bonn Climate Talks Part 4: Chorus to close loophole grows

Everything seemed to change today. Whereas yesterday it felt very unclear whether we would have the chance to close the logging loophole, today I feel much more confident.

A number of important things happened:
  • The Chairs of the negotiations have confirmed that there will be an opportunity for substantive negotiations here;
  • The coalition of African countries (the Africa Group) formally spoke out in their official intervention in favour of reducing emissions from forestry in developed countries;
  • The Central African Nations pointed out in their formal intervention the many flaws in the proposed forestry rules for developed countries and highlighted the discrepency between the rigor that is expected of developing countries wanting support to reduce deforestation and the free-for-all approach being proposed by wealthy nations for themselves;
I take all these things as signs that there will be a chance to address our serious concerns with the draft forestry rules. We are not alone.

It is also clear from speaking to people that our message about the 400 Mt loophole for forestry is getting out and reaching high places. Hopefully we will see that translate into pressure to solve the problem within the technical negotiations.

You can watch my friend and colleague Sean Cadman make the case at the Climate Action Network media conference today.

(You can also watch him laughing at me while filming my video blog)

Monday, May 31, 2010

Bonn Climate Talks Part 3: No Clarity on Forestry Negotiations

On day one of the Bonn Climate Talks, there is no clarity on what will unfold within the forestry negotiations.

Depending on who you talk to the rules are a done deal, there's time to fix them, there's no time to fix them, there's time to go deeper into the data and assumptions, we can change the text, we can't change the text, there will be a political deal, there will be no deal...!

We are meeting with the Chair of the negotiations under the Kyoto Protocol tomorrow, so we will get straight from him what his strategy is for the meeting.

In the meantime, we have starting meeting with heads of country delegations here and expressing our concern that we need a high-level political fix to the forestry emissions loophole. We are at least getting recognition of the problem. We will have many more meetings throughout the week, including with the heads of the European Union's delegations tomorrow.

Finally, we are breaking into the mainstream media with two great stories today, one at length about the forestry emissions loophole, the other highlighting it as one of many problems that need to be solved.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bonn Climate Talks Part 2: Arriving in Germany

I arrived yesterday in Bonn, Germany and began working right away, despite the jetlag.

Part of the day was spent in a strategic planning exercise with other environmental groups, but the main focus of the day was to start rolling out a plan to find a country that would propose new text to close the logging loophole in the draft agreement under the Kyoto Protocol, which would allow developed countries to increase their emissions without penalty.

It's not possible that such an agreement could be made here in Bonn, but introducing the text into the draft agreement would be a powerful move that would set-up future lobbying as well as draw important attention to the issue.

Early signs are positive; we'll see where it goes.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Campaign Kicks Off to Close the Logging Loophole

I am off to the Bonn Climate Change Talks to help lead a campaign effort to close the logging loophole.

Developed countries have proposed to allow themselves to increase annual logging emissions by 400 Mt CO2 (roughly equivalent to the annual emissions of the entire country of Spain) without penalty or even acknowledgement. They want to hide this emissions increase by using a baseline for forest management emissions equal to what they plan their emissions to be between 2013 and 2020!

At this round of talks we are bringing our campaign to the highest level - the heads of delegations, Ministers, heads of state and heads of government. This problem needs to be fixed.

I can't imagine a worse start to climate talks in 2010 than solidifying a deal to let developed countries increase their forestry emissions when they are trying to focus on reducing greenhouse gases globally.

I will be chronicling the effort with frequent video posts. Looking forward to your comments and engagement!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Will Emissions Loophole be Finalized at June Climate Talks?

The up-coming UN climate talks in Bonn this June could determine whether the World is prepared to allow developed countries increase forestry emissions as part of a global climate deal.

The Chair of negotiations under the Kyoto Protocol has stated in his 'scenario note (para 15a)' (a kind of blueprint for the talks) that he wants to see forestry rules finalized at this meeting.

A call to finalize the talks in Bonn could create significant pressure to simply approve the draft decision that is on the table, which includes the logging loophole. The result is an increase of nearly 400 Megatons of CO2 every year that would be hidden and without penalty (see figure).

Climate Action Network International held a side event at the April 2010 Climate Talks discussing the problematic state of the draft LULUCF decision. You can watch the webcast of this side event including questions and comments from the audience.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Forest Offsets Will Add to Environmental Harm (unless there's a re-think)

As details begin to emerge, it is becoming clear that forest offset frameworks in North America will likely threaten further damage to the climate and to forests.

Forest offset frameworks have been in development for the last couple of years. Details of these frameworks are now starting to emerge, and it doesn't look good.

The BC Pacific Carbon Trust has issued a call for $3 million worth of 'forest sector opportunities,' an apt term for a program that focuses on financial support only for intensive forestry activities: fertilization, select seed use and afforestation. Of these three, only afforestation has significant climate mitigation potential, but only in the long term.

Completely absent from the PCT's Forest Offset Guide are any activities with significant short-term mitigation potential focused on actually reducing emissions, for example from the avoided harvest of old-growth forests. Environmental groups responded harshly to this announcement, which followed a government pretense to listen to concerns about the plan.

The Western Climate Initiative has also just released its Offset System Essential Elements Draft Recommendations Paper for public comment. The document describes the essential elements that offset protocols must have to be eligible for use in the emerging WCI system. On at least three key points it comes up short. First, there is no strong test of additionality; WCI proposes to only consider additionality to legal requirements. Failing to do more than this means many projects will not 'offset' emissions at all, but simply allow them to continue without penalty.

Second, there are no ecological safeguards to ensure that no other forest values are sacrificed for carbon benefits. This type of safeguard would possibly prevent the type of fertilization projects promoted by B.C.'s Pacific Carbon Trust.

The third major failing apparent in the paper is the acceptance of a 100 year permanence requirement for 'sequestration' (forest) projects. It's based on a rule-of-thumb (that isn't strictly accurate) that CO2 has a 100-year lifetime in the atmosphere.

Really it's a bit of a rhetorical flourish: it sounds good but accomplishes little. Although 100 years sounds like a long time, what it really means is that forest offsets cease to be about reducing emissions, and at best only delay them. The same approach is emerging as a an apparent industry standard. You can also see it in the Pacific Carbon Trust's Forest Offset Guide and the Climate Action Registry's Forest Project Protocol

One of the dangers of establishing a false foundation of integrity is that there will inevitably be those that seek to undermine it. The second draft forest offset protocol developed by the Forest Carbon Standards Committee (not yet available for public review) proposes only 50 years rather than 100 ... apparently just because it's easier. This approach ceases to even be about delaying emissions, and actually becomes about a system of financial incentives to increase them over the long-term.

This has been my proposal: redefine permanence as permanent, and do not ever allow intentional reversals or emissions from forest carbon projects.

One of my core observations from having been involved in many of these offset discussions is that they become much more about making the system work and delivering workable incentives (or sometimes just rewards for good behaviour) than about actually reducing emissions.

The worst example of this that I've come across is the serious lobby by some of the American forest sector representatives participating in the Forest Carbon Standards Committee discussion to earn offset credits for the carbon stored in all wood products that are manufactured, regardless of where they come from and even without any consideration of a baseline. The apparent logic: wood is good, give us credits.

Add to all this the proposed Logging loophole from Copenhagen, which would allow developed countries to hide any increases in emissions and still generate fake credits if they want them and the outlook is grim. Forest-based climate mitigation is looking like a total shell game with no climate benefits and probable ecological harm.

A lot of this could be fixed by embracing a couple of simple principles when it comes to forests and climate: focus on real emission reductions and, do no ecological harm. Sadly, such basic tenets have so far been beyond reach of decision-makers on forest offsets.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Europe Frames UN Forest and Climate Negotiations

I have written a lot on this blog about the 'logging loophole' in the Copenhagen climate negotiations. This loophole would allow developed countries to escape accountability for forestry emissions by hiding them in a "projected" baseline, rather than measuring actual changes in emissions.

The collapse of the formal UN talks in Copenhagen left accounting rules for Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) hanging. Without any decision, environmental groups, campaigning hard at Copenhagen against the logging loophole, were left wondering about the state of play: had they sown enough doubt about this approach that it could be seriously challenged and pushed back this year? Was it a fait accompli, with even developing countries willing to swallow this bitter pill in order to simply move on?

Two recent communications from the EU have confirmed that the environmental integrity of LULUCF accounting rules is still very much in question, and therefore still attainable. The communications focus on the problem of poor environmental integrity in LULUCF accounting rules and explicitly identify the need to choose between historic and projected reference levels for forest management.

First, the European Parliament adopted this text on February 10, 2010: The European Parliament, 20. Calls for the environmental effectiveness of Annex I emissions reduction targets to be the guiding principle as regards the EU approach to international accounting rules for forest management and LULUCF, to flexible mechanisms and to the banking of any overachievement during first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol towards post-2012 targets;

Yesterday, the European Commission released its communication, International climate policy post-Copenhagen: Acting now to reinvigorate global action on climate change" is out now.

The communication highlighted LULUCF rules as having the potential to further erode the weak emission reduction targets coming out of Copenhagen:

Accounting rules for land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) emissions from developed countries: While the EU has no difficulties in matching these requirements, it is an issue of particular importance for major forestry countries outside the EU and environmentally critical. The current rules under the Kyoto Protocol, if continued, would entail lowering the actual stringency of the current emission reduction pledges and imply that reductions can be claimed without additional actions, which brings no real environmental benefit. In an extreme scenario, the worst-case LULUCF accounting rules would weaken the real level of ambition of developed countries by up to an additional 9% in relation to 1990. This would mean that for the lower end of the pledges we would in fact allow for an increase in developed country emissions of 2.6% above 1990 levels and for the higher end of the pledges we would only see a 2% reduction in relation to 1990.

The Commission's staff working document supporting this communication explicitly observes that the question of whether reference levels are based on historic data or projections as one of the key unresolved issues in LULUCF (section 1.2.3, page 7):

Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry

Accounting rules for Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) will have an important impact on the level of ambition of the target of several Annex I Parties. Developed countries’ emission reduction targets can therefore not be finalised until the future LULUCF rules have been agreed and taken into account

In addition, important parameters still need to be discussed and agreed such as
  • the way to set the reference level (based on historic data or projections),
  • cap, and
  • threshold for the eligibility of force majeure events;
Parties need to decide whether accounting for forest management, cropland management and grazing land management should become mandatory after 2012 as foreseen by the Kyoto Protocol or whether they will stay voluntary.

The communication from the European Commission also concedes that we may need to wait for the UN meeting in South Africa at the end of 2011 to sew up a new legally binding treaty. A focus on getting key decisions in place this year should give the breathing room required to fix the LULUCF negotiations and close the logging loophole.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Countries forget about forests in their pledges

The UN Climate Change Secretariat reports that 55 countries, representing 78 % of global emissions have made their pledges under the Copenhagen Accord.

The pledges give no indication of the effect that accounting for sinks will have on targets for developed countries. Only Belarus and New Zealand mention that targets are premised on clear (Belarus) and effective (New Zealand) accounting rules for Land Use, Land-use Change and Forestry (LULUCF).

The uncertainty of forest accounting rules creates much uncertainty for what these pledges actually mean. It also creates the same dynamic that existed when countries negotiated the current flawed rules: countries are now making pledges before finalizing the rules. This creates an incentive for weak rules that make it easier to reach overall targets.

So much for learning from our mistakes!

There is still no clarity on how negotiations will unfold this year. The Secretariat has just formally invited views from countries on 'the need' for additional meeting time and the timing, duration and number of such meetings. Submissions are requested by February 16.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Post-Copenhagen Whisperings on Forests

A principle occupation of people working on climate change these days is keeping their ear to the ground for signs of what is to come next. This makes for short blog posts, but I thought it would be worth passing on what I know.

Most forestry negotiators from developed countries seem to expect to pick up where they left off in Copenhagen in 2010, and feel that they are fairly close to a deal on rules for forest management accounting that includes the use of projections (logging loopholes).

Most also expect that these talks will occur at the annual June meeting in Bonn if not sooner.

Keeping my ear to the ground...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

UN Climate Game is Back On - With it Rules for Forests

Yvo de Boer, the Executive Secretary of the UN Climate Chane Secretariat has given a press conference signalling that he expects the detailed climate negotiations that stalled in Copenhagen will carry on in 2010. Noting that Copenhagen did not produce the final 'cake,' he asserts that it provided all the necessary ingredients for baking it.

He pointed to three main ingredients in the Copenhagen outcome:
  • The climate change challenge was raised to the highest level of governments;
  • The Copenhagen Accord reflects a political consensus on the necessary long-term global goal of limiting average global warming to below 2 degrees C;
  • The detailed negotiations under the UN process, while not wrapping up, did result in a nearly-full set of draft decisions to implement rapid climate change action;
The forest negotiations were part of the detailed negotiations that resulted in draft decisions. While these are not nearly agreed, the basic elements of a negotiated outcome are there: developed countries are demanding the freedom to increase their emissions without accountability and developing countries are demanding a limit on credits from the sector.

Environmental groups will be looking at how to take the time that the stalled Copenhagen talks has provided to change the debate and close the logging loophole.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What happened to forests at Copenhagen??

No one seems quite sure yet what the implications of the Copenhagen Accord will be. It is a three-age political agreement between six Heads of State (U.S., Brazil, India, China, South Africa, Maldives) that is vague on ambition and lacking any legally binding nature.

A big question is what happens to the draft legal agreements that nations of the UN had been working on for the past two years to extend the Kyoto Protocol and bring in the US and support developing countries? The official UN mandate for countries to work on these legally-binding agreements has been extended, but will they ever be finalized now that there is a new, loosey-goosey game in town? Just today news came out that Australia, Canada and Papua New Guinea have chosen to associate themselves with the Accord.

This uncertainty extends to provisions for developed countries to account for emissions from forestry (LULUCF) and the creation of a new mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation in developing countries (REDD). The Copenhagen Accord recognizes the need to establish a REDD mechanism, but does not do so.

The Accord is totally silent on forestry emissions in developed countries - the negotiations on this topic were cut short when Heads of State arrived. In some sense this was a good thing because they were headed in the wrong direction: every developed country would be allowed to increase their forestry emissions without any penalty, as long as emissions didn't increase more than predicted.

Environmental groups staged a good fight against this idea in Copenhagen - in favour of Making Forests Count and against the logging loophole. We also proposed a very fair basis of accounting: account for all changes in forestry emissions relative to a historical average using all existing data that has been provided to the UN(from 1990 - 2007). Some champions emerged, notably France, who challenged the EU to take a position with environmental integrity.

I would say that we can still win this fight except, as I've said, it's not entirely clear there is still a fight to be won - will there be a new Kyoto agreement on forestry accounting rules? Will there be a Kyoto beyond 2012. The answer to both these questions must be yes if we are to have a fair, ambitious and legally-binding global agreement to tack climate change... but the next few months will tell whether that is in the cards.