Quick Stop on Durban COP-December 5
Over the weekend, we saw the creation of two key documents: the SBSTA decision on reference levels and the formulation of that decision as an agenda item for this week's high-level talks. Several delegates said the text provided enough guidance on reference levels for developing countries to begin moving forward, even though it fell short of the most optimistic expectations.
A wave of optimism rolled through Forest Day on Sunday in Durban, as Tony La Viña, facilitator of the SBSTA REDD+ Contact group, offered an optimistic assessment of the SBSTA decision - one that several agreed.
"This is the best REDD+ decision to come out of this process since the Bali Action Plan, albeit in a world of much lower expectations," says John-O Niles, Director of the Tropical Forest Group.
Others, however, say the text offers more of the same.
"The new text fails to do what it is supposed to do," says Joerg Seifert-Granzin, an economist who advises the Katoomba Incubator. "It was supposed to provide guidance on how to establish emission levels, but it only repeats things that have already been agreed on."
He points out that a previous text, issued on December 1, offered precise guidance on a range of technical issues, including a clear definition of which national circumstances would be considered for establishing emission levels, and which would not. The current draft merely states that different approaches can be used.
The decision also calls for consultations and expert meetings, but Seifert-Granzin points out that expert meetings were held last month, and they resulted in draft conclusions which were supposed to feed into this month's talks. Instead, they were simply alluded to but not considered.
Niles concedes the shortcomings, but says it's the best we could hope for under the circumstances.
"Basically, as a result of this, SBSTA, through a COP decision, will establish a process with fairly specific information about what the UNFCCC is looking for," he says. "They have established a review process but need guidance, and that will be done at SBSTA 37. We couldn't get any more here."
He says that the level of specificity is good enough that developing countries can begin moving forward.
"We have been asking developing countries to submit information on baselines and reference levels for years," he says. "Do you know how many reference levels have been submitted? Zero, because countries, up until now, didn't know what to submit to the UNFCCC . And up until this draft decision, they didn't know if the UNFCCC would do anything with the submitted reference levels."
"Now they have substantial and specific guidance on what information to submit. Data sets, methods, models, and assumptions should form reference level submissions and this information should be transparent, complete, and consistent because it will go through an independent technical assessment. And importantly, they know that their reference levels at that point are only proposed - they are not yet codified. This will encourage countries to submit reference levels that can pass a transparent review process."
We came in this morning expecting to top off a fairly optimistic curtain-raiser, but several other delegates are throwing a wrench into that assessment.
Turning to the Kyoto Protocol track, LULUCF draft revisions are still ongoing. Of course, at this end of the ICC corridors, the biggest elephant in the room is the extension of the Kyoto Protocol.
Most conversations around LULUCF are taking place as if an extension can be achieved or - as one party points out - are assuming that most decisions made here will hold even if there is no extension or a gap in binding agreements.
"We've received legal opinions that everything about Kyoto except the legally binding targets can remain in force after 2012." But most observers we've spoken with expect that there will be an extension or stop-gap solution of some kind - albeit Europe-sized. Three options for a successor of some kind are emerging in the AWG-KP, though IISD says there's currently no consensus around any one option.
So what to watch coming out of LULUCF talks today (Monday)?
The spin off group looking at LULUCF under the Kyoto Protocol for developed countries meets this afternoon. As of Friday, no progress had been made regarding the Annex I "logging loopholes" that include allowing developed countries to "opt in" to accounting for forest management emissions and removals.
Currently, around half of EU countries have chosen to report managed forest emissions under Kyoto Protocol Article 3.4 - in most cases, coming from those countries that stand to benefit from reporting.
Convincing Annex I countries to account for all of their forestry activities region-wide and on a mandatory basis isn't an easy task. It's clear to observers that they will only capitulate if allowed to utilize projected reference levels as opposed to historical levels (ca. 1990).
In a nutshell, this means that rather than determine business as usual (BAU) according to historical or even current levels, some parties want to include future projected emissions in their calculation of BAU.
Because they also anticipate increasing their forest harvesting rates for the supply of bioenergy and other uses, setting BAU according to future levels accommodates an increasing rate of emissions. And if increasing emissions levels become BAU, this allows for increased emissions without consequence.
"The point of this conversation was to bring all those managed forest emissions onto the books," mused one observer. "However, the rules that developed countries have been developing would make forest management accounting mandatory while not bringing those emissions onto the books."
Right now, a few countries (mostly developing countries) are working to produce alternative text that does not include projected reference levels. Unfortunately, observers report that the issue has become a trading card in the larger discussion about the fate of the CDM and Protocol - i.e. let us have projected baselines or we'll just bow out of a second commitment period.
Observers expect that the "logging loophole" text will likely remain intact until it's passed onto ministers later this week.
Grab Bag: Highlights from Tony La Viña's Forest Day Update:
"I would have preferred a much more detailed guidance from the outset, but when I started looking at the content, the possible content and making it more detailed, I realized that we are flying blind into this. That there is very little experience of safeguards in the world that is directly related to REDD. And it is actually better if you have that experience first, before we detail the guidance. So I actually welcome this pace for a year, maybe even more, so that there is real experience on the ground so we know what kind of information really is needed to enforce the safeguards."
"I welcome this decision of SBSTA which actually says 'We will review what we have on the basis of consistency, comprehensiveness, effectiveness and transparency in the way the information around safeguards is provided. The work is cut out for is the next year to do that, but it is all in the spirit of advancing implementation."
"The real breakthrough, I think, as well in the SBSTA decision is the decision on reference levels. For a while there yesterday afternoon, we actually thought that there would be no agreement, simply because it is so technical, there is so much to be dealt with. We had a very big political issue around adjustment according to national circumstances which some of us are concerned about and can have impacts on environmental integrity. But we were able to sort it out and I feel quite happy with the results. At least it gives guidance in fact in how they will now construct reference levels. The more important thing for environmental integrity is that countries agree that they will be assessed, that their offer of what their forest reference levels or forest emission levels will be will undergo an assessment process..."