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NAMAs, AFOLU, and the Coming Forestry War

Climate change negotiators meeting in Bonn, Germany, have spent two weeks dumping their wish lists into the negotiating text for the next global climate-change treaty, bloating it from a merely contradictory and confusing 53 pages to an incomprehensible and completely irrational few hundred pages. That's by design, for once the next round of talks begins in August, there will be few if any additions to the text and plenty of deletions as negotiators take pot-shots at each other's insertions.

Digging through the current mess and speaking with negotiators, it becomes clear that all sides have clearly identified the areas of disagreement when it comes to ways of accounting for reductions in greenhouse gasses through changes in agriculture, forestry, and other land uses (AFOLU).

I'll be posting a detailed (and hopefully comprehensible) analysis of this disagreement on Ecosystem Marketplace either late next week or early the week after, but thought it would be worthwhile to post my current understanding on this blog. If anyone sees errors or omissions here, feel free to contact me at

Broadly speaking, my initial understanding of the situation is this: developing countries mostly want to extend the existing Kyoto Protocol, while developed countries mostly want to scrap it and start with something fresh. That's because developing countries mostly feel they have more to gain by keeping the existing structure intact, while developed countries mostly feel they have more to gain by keeping only bits and pieces of the current protocol.

Developing countries, for example, really like the Kyoto framework that exempts them from mandatory caps. In Bali, they responded to calls for them to take on new obligations by proposing to undertake "nationally appropriate mitigation actions" (NAMAs), which are to be tied into sustainable development and capacity-building. Developing countries can initiate NAMAs on their own, or they can be undertaken with funding from the developed world and may include offsets. The Center for Clean Air Policy conducted an excellent side event that shed as much light as anything else on this subject. You can view it here if you have Real Player, and we will be examining this issue in more detail on Ecosystem Marketplace.

Developed countries, on the other hand, point out that many countries categorized as "developing" actually have higher GDPs and higher rates of growth than many countries categorized as "developed", and have been pushing for these countries to take on grown-up reduction targets. These same developing countries, on the other hand, really like certain elements of the protocol - such as those that that let them pick and choose which types of AFALU changes they will account for and which they will ignore.

Yes, you've read that right: under the current Kyoto Protocol, developed countries can get credits for sustainable land use that captures carbon, but instead of measuring the entire amount of carbon either captured or emitted through the country's total land-use practices, individual countries can decide which land-use activities they want to measure and which they want to ignore.

It's a sticky issue, especially because payments for reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) in developing countries don't offer any such outs, and because developing countries can't yet get payments for other land use beyond forestry.

As a result, developing countries are demanding more accountability on AFOLU in the developed world, while developed countries are demanding some sort of commitment from developing countries.

The emergence of NAMAs as a compromise has raised a whole new set of questions. The Philippines, speaking on behalf of the G-77 + China, is pushing for NAMAs to be something done above and beyond global reduction targets, while others have suggested categorizing REDD offsets as a NAMA. That suggestion has run into stiff resistance from developing world negotiators, who say re-categorizing REDD at this late stage - especially by putting it into a category that doesn't fully exist yet - could complicate the process even further and make it even less likely that agreement on REDD offsets will be reached in Copenhagen.

That likelihood, by the way, is looking less and less certain - no one I spoke to in Bonn expects a final accord in Copenhagen; everyone expects by the middle of 2010, however.

I apologize if all this seems confusing, but it's all still coming into focus for me as well. You can expect a more comprehensive (and comprehensible) treatment of this subject on Ecosystem Marketplace at the end of next week.

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