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Comment on the COP21 - the end of negotiations draw near

Forests in spotlight as COP21 climate talks approach endgame

As the 21st UN Climate Conference reaches its final days in Paris, how is the outcome shaping up for forests? On Wednesday 9th December, the first text of the Draft Paris Outcome was released and parties met to give their views on the text. With negotiators working through the night, a new version is expected on Thursday afternoon. Forests are a potential sticking point on the agenda, with the EU playing a crucial role in shaping what happens.

Hours before the draft text came out, the EU and Brazil opened the door for land and forest carbon offsets by proposing to set up a new Clean Development Mechanism (which they are calling the Sustainable Development Mechanism) and by stating that offsets would not need to be permanent, but only ‘long-term’.

Since the sequestration of carbon in land and forests is not permanent, this suggests land and forests could be used to offset continued fossil fuel emissions. These ideas have made their way into the latest draft text.

Fern sees this language, visible in paragraph 36 of the decision text, as an opening for forest and land-related offsets, which we consider to be a disaster for the climate, given that carbon stored in land and forests is not permanent, and land-based sinks are inherently at risk of reversal to the atmosphere. Attempts to further weaken offsetting mechanisms in order to introduce forest carbon credits merely underscore the fundamental incompatibility between forests and carbon trading.

With already 1C of warming, the window of opportunity to keep warming to below 1.5C is rapidly diminishing, meaning effort is needed from all sectors in all countries, leaving no room for offsets, especially if they are not permanent, as is the case with forest and land. To limit temperature rises, there is a need to increase carbon sequestration in land, and the best way to do this is by recognising forest dependent communities’ rights to their land. And  this must happen in addition to ending reliance on fossil fuels.

Furthermore, REDD+ continues to be discussed in Paris. A ministerial facilitation group chaired by Ecuador, Switzerland and the Republic of Congo is largely discussing one paragraph of the text (Article 3 bis of the current text), where debate is over whether or not REDD+ must be referenced in the Paris outcome.

A group of countries called the Coalition for Rainforest Nations seems to want REDD+ defined as a mechanism (essentially referring to REDD+ as a market approach), while Brazil and others don’t see a need to ‘anchor’ REDD in the new agreement, given that it is already established through the Warsaw Framework.

Currently the draft is a reference to previous COP decisions on forests. And while the purpose of the agreement includes human rights, currently only the preamble explicitly makes reference to the rights of indigenous peoples.

Any mention of land or land use has disappeared from the draft, and a reference to ecosystems integrity remains only ‘noted’ in the preamble – extremely weak language considering the importance of ecosystems in regulating the climate, not to mention sustaining life on earth.

Fern hopes to see all reference to offset mechanisms removed from the final Paris Outcome, along with a strong acknowledgement of the role of ecosystems and indigenous peoples in keeping carbon in the forests.

In January 2016, a ForestWatch special will take an in-depth look at what the Paris outcome means for forest and the people who live in them.

Comment on the COP21 - a forest perspective

Forests barely feature in the draft text, but runaway climate change could devastate the forests which more than a billion people directly rely on for their survival. Forests also play a crucial role in regulating the climate. Whichever way you look at it, the outcome of the Paris agreement is also an outcome for forests.
Kate Dooley  is in Paris, tracking the developments in the UN climate summit. She has written this overview of the talks from a forests perspective for Fern. Check back later in the  week for  further perspectives from Kate and other contributors.

As we enter the second week of the Paris climate summit, four years of technical negotiations (under the working group of the Ad-hoc Durban Platform (ADP) have finally drawn to a close with the production of a Draft Paris Outcome. This document now passes to Ministers who will spend the next five days locked in political negotiations aimed at turning this draft in to a new global climate treaty, by December 11th.

Despite this milestone, there are still major outstanding issues to be agreed.

Political momentum is growing for agreeing to limit warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, (or to at least reference this alongside the more widely known 2C limit), with the objective of protecting the countries most vulnerable to the worst effects of runaway climate change. Yet so far this increased ambition has not been followed up with bolder measures for supporting (especially developing) countries to deliver the rapid emissions reductions needed to achieve it (in the parlance of the Paris climate conference, these measures are called ‘means of implementation’ (MoI), and include finance, technology transfer and capacity building support).

This disconnect has led to some strange positioning. Some of the historically lower per-capita polluters, such as India, are refusing to support a 1.5C temperature limit, while high per-capita polluters such as Australia support 1.5C, but refuse to discuss climate finance.

On Friday, the G77 walked out of a negotiating session on adaptation, after a number of industrialised countries bracketed all reference to adaptation finance (‘bracketed’ is another piece of climate summit parlance, meaning highlighting certain sections of text as contentious, up for negotiation or even complete removal). The G77 has raised concerns that developed countries are refusing to engage in negotiations of key issues that would empower developing countries to cope with climate change and contribute to the global response.

The overall ‘purpose’ of the Agreement also contains a reference to human rights and gender equity. Previous language which included the rights of indigenous peoples, gender equality, intergenerational equity, a just transition, food security and the integrity of ecosystems has been moved to the preamble, therefore weakening reference to these crucial issues, amid a strong civil society backlash against Norway and the US for speaking out against including human rights in the text.

Some of the main issues to watch out for in the coming days:

Long-term global goal, raising the spectre of flawed forest carbon offsets.

A contentious issue which Ministers will need to resolve is the long-term goal of the agreement, supposed to provide a collective target guiding long-term action. Options range from more ambitious quantitative goals of peaking and rapid emission reductions, to zero greenhouse gas emissions or decarbonisation, to more qualitative language such as a ‘low emissions transformation’. A much debated goal of net-zero emissions is no longer in the text; welcome news for civil society which has widely opposed net-zero, seeing it as a green light for using land and forests as ‘carbon sinks’ to mitigate emissions, risking land grabs and threatening food security.  However, ‘climate neutrality’ is still there in the text, which carries essentially the same meaning (that emissions are offset by removals), and could even be interpreted to support dangerous geo-engineering approaches which try to limit warming despite emission increases.

Forests, Agriculture and food security

The EU, in line with its Council Conclusions, has been supporting a reference to food security in the agreement, along with a handful of other countries. Achieving food security is an integral part of the UN sustainable development goals and refers to physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. A number of developing countries prefer to reference ‘food production’ over ‘food security’, as production does not imply any restraints on industrial agricultural practices. Leaders in the ‘production’ camp are countries like Argentina and Uruguay, which are net-agricultural exporters. For the same reason, these countries are also resisting any reference to the land sector or land-use, fearing the term could imply mitigation obligations on the agricultural sector.

Land-use, forests and human rights (and carbon trading)

At the moment there are still references to accounting rules for land use, and internationally transferred mitigation outcomes (which is the new euphemism for carbon trading). It is likely that both of these will be lost from the text. In particular there is a lot of opposition to mentioning land (as mentioned above), and the final result is likely to be a reference only to emissions and removals. The problem here is that this emphasises the role of land in removing carbon from the atmosphere (a carbon sink), but does not clearly link this role with the other crucial roles that land plays in the lives of billions of people. There is risk in focussing on using land to sequester carbon, without explicitly recognising that this could impact the human rights, land tenure rights and food security of local communities and indigenous peoples living on and using that same land.

A group of countries – most notably the Philippines, have supported language that recognizes existing international obligations and seeks to develop principles after Paris that would ensure the integrity and resilience of natural ecosystems, respect customary and sustainable land use systems, respect indigenous peoples’ and communities’ tenure rights and ensure food security. While the EU has shown support for food security, it has not gone so far as to support a work programme to develop principles on how food security and other multiple uses of land would be protected.


There has been some debate over whether to include a reference to REDD+ in the new agreement or not. REDD+ is currently in the text, in what is called Article 3 ‘bis’, which defines a REDD+ mechanism and refers to the existing Warsaw Framework for REDD+. While the majority of countries do not want to see any reference at all to REDD+ in the text, the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, a group of rainforest nations led by Panama, want to establish a new REDD+ institution, which would centralise REDD+ finance. Brazil in particular is concerned that any reference to REDD+ could be seen as redefining REDD+ or requiring reinterpretation of the existing decisions. Negotiations on REDD+ officially finished in June, and should be formally adopted by the COP this week. There is no clear substantive need therefore to refer explicitly to REDD+ in the new climate treaty, and such a move could be interpreted by the outside world as support for forest carbon markets, when in fact there is no direct link between REDD+ as defined in the Warsaw Framework and financing REDD+ via carbon trading.

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