Unpacking Warsaw, Part One: The Institutional Arrangements

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By Steve Zwick

26 November 2013 | By the time climate-change negotiators convened in Warsaw two weeks ago, they had almost completed the package for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) and its slightly more expansive cousin, REDD+.

The "REDD Rulebook", which is actually a collection of draft decisions on REDD and REDD+, had passed through technical committees over the course of the year, and the cluster of decisions seemed destined to breeze through the high-level Conference of the Parties (COP), where negotiators from the ministerial and even executive level meet in the second week of negotiations. After that, if all went according to plan, they would provide the kind of clarity on REDD and REDD+ that could finally begin liberating billions of dollars in shackled finance earmarked for slowing deforestation.

Alas, there was one more painful delay to endure, when several least-developed nations – many with substantial forest cover – threw their weight behind a proposal to create a new committee under the COP to oversee REDD finance.

The stalemate ended late last Thursday night, when REDD negotiators signed off on a new set of institutional arrangements that had been facilitated by Tomasz Chruszczowthe, chair of the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI) at the request of Polish Environment Minister Marcin Korolec in his capacity as COP president.

The SBI is charged with converting technical decisions into actionable decisions, and the new institutional arrangements establish a voluntary forum outside of and alongside the SBI where negotiators and other REDD+ stakeholders from REDD+ countries can compare notes and generate recommendations that can be conveyed to the COP. By enabling direct communication among other bodies under the UNFCCC, the forum also makes it easier for members to forge agreement among all or more parties involved in the informal process before submitting proposals to the COP, thus reducing the amount of negotiation needed in the formal process, negotiators say. Such proposals, they add, may still be relegated to subsidiary bodies, even if they find resonance in the COP.

Parties disagree over the degree to which the forum can act as a group within the COP. Paragraph 3 of the decision says that the COP "recognizes" seven needs, among them:

  • “Provide information and any recommendations, as appropriate … to improve the effectiveness of finance, including results-based finance, technology and capacity-building for developing country Parties when implementing (REDD)." and
  • “Provide information and recommendations, as appropriate, on improving the effectiveness of finance to entities including bilateral, multilateral and private sector entities that finance and implement (REDD), and on how these activities, including results-based actions, can be more effectively supported."

Some sources interprete thset two passages (found in paragraphs 3d and 3e of the decision) to mean that the forum can formally submit draft proposals directly to the COP, while others say that is not the case*.

A separate decision on results-based finance creates an information hub for keepint track of REDD+ finance.

Why it Matters

At stake are billions of dollars that countries from Norway to the United States have set aside for REDD+. The money is dispatched from departments of state, forestry, and aid in the donor countries to multilateral organizations like the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), the United Nations Collaborative Initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (UN-REDD), and the Forest Investment Program (FIP) before finding its way to countries as diverse as Peru, Ethiopia, and Indonesia. Once there, it has to work its way through another set of recipient agencies before finding its way to activities on the ground.

REDD countries looking to receive the money have to follow different rules depending on which multilateral agencies and donor countries they are working with. The criteria are often foggy; the rules, diverse – and the costs of applying, prohibitive.

“On top of this, you have voluntary markets doing something totally different involving the private sector, and California is doing something in another zone, also in the private sector,” says Kevin Conrad, Papua New Guinea’s Special Envoy and Ambassador for Environment & Climate Change and executive director of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations. “The [decision on institutional arrangements] is basically making it possible for the UNFCCC to now start giving recommendations to all of these bodies if they prove to be consistent with the rulebook that we created this year.”

More importantly, he says, the forum makes it possible to forge agreement outside the technical bodies – thus streamlining the process.

"For REDD+ to successfully reduce global emissions, it will take heads-of-government or cabinet level decisions considering the significant economic and societal trade-offs necessary to develop a reference level, effectively implement safeguards and agree to the intrusions on sovereignty that an effective MRV process should entail," he says.

The REDD “Rulebook”

The “Rulebook” is actually a collection of separate decisions that together provide clear guidance on how countries can harvest available scientific data to create reliable snapshots of their forests over time and to use these snapshots to create deforestation reference levels that will be recognized by the UNFCCC. The decisions govern, among other things, modalities for monitoring national forests, addressing the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, and measuring, reporting and verifying activities designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s still, however, not clear what sort of payoffs that data will yield long-term, and for that there’s the work program for developing results-based finance in support of REDD and a new set of arrangements between the COP and the Green Climate Fund. The decisions also includes a mechanism for helping developing countries deal with loss and damagefrom climate change.

Where to From Here?

Before the next COP in December, members of the new forum will meet together at least once – in Bonn, Germany, in June. There, they will work out a method for organizing themselves and begin formulating their proposals. After that, they will meet formally at least once each summer and informally throughout the year.

The aim, according to Conrad, is not to concentrate or control finance flows, but to recognize the current reality and create a level playing field.

“Donors can actually pick whichever country they want to, but they have to agree that they'll use a consistent rule book,” he says. “That rule book will be consistent with the processes that the UNFCCC is setting up, and the process of coordination is designed to try and fill the gaps for countries that are doing good work but don't have access to finance because they don't happen to be the favorites of the bilateral community.”

He expects a clumsy period of transition, but believes the long-term effect will be less bureaucracy on the part of donors and more coordination.

“We'll be encouraging the FCPF and UN-REDD to actually shorten the agenda of their meetings, remove the redundant issues that they cover, and coordinate meetings so that developing countries aren't wasting money flying all over the world.”

In 2017, the SBI will review the outcomes of the meetings and recommend further steps to be considered by the COP.

In the weeks ahead, we will dive more deeply into the role this forum can play and how it impacts negotiations.

* UPDATE: This passage, beginning with "Parties seem to disagree..." was added on Wednesday for clarity. The original post stated that the forum could not act as a formal group, and did not properly reflect the area of disagreement.

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Steve Zwick is Managing Editor of Ecosystem Marketplace. He can be reached at szwick@ecosystemmarketplace.com.
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