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.