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With only about 36 hours left before the curtain falls on the climate negotiations in Copenhagen, forests have so far been one of the few bright spots. The Parties to the UNFCCC agree on the basic premise that the forests of developing nations ought to play a significant role in a future climate change regime. The activities that would be implemented, monitored and incentivized in a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol are referred to as 'REDD+', which includes reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, conserving forests, sustainably managing forests and enhancing forest carbon stocks (code for things like re-vegetation and reforestation).
The three-page framework text on REDD+ likely to be agreed upon in Copenhagen is good. It covers aspects such as the scope of activities, reporting and safeguards. The need to respect the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples is included, which is a marked improvement from Poznan last year when the U.S. received the Fossil of the Day award from Climate Action Network for opposing this inclusion, or Bali two years ago when the launch of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility triggered a protest by some civil society groups. Some sticky points remain, including the details of how to link subnational monitoring and implementation with that at the national level. But, as of Thursday mid-day, the number of brackets in the REDD+ text was significantly lower than in the general text on climate finance.
On finance, the discussions on Long-term Cooperative Action under the UNFCCC (the 'track' for Parties not bound by the Kyoto Protocol), were making slow progress. The bad news is that financing for REDD+ is part of the overall financial mechanism, instead of being treated separately. Some forest countries had hoped that such a separation would avoid progress on REDD+ being hindered by slow progress on the overall mitigation agenda. On Thursday, slow progress on the big picture was indeed giving observers the impression that a 'Copenhagen deal' was slipping away, amidst recriminations by developing countries about substance and process.
Still, developed country leaders did announce financial commitments for REDD+ this week. On Wednesday US Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack pledged $1 billion over three years (2010-2012), part of a $3.5 billion package to be funded together with Australia, France, Japan, Norway and the UK. Soon after arriving in Copenhagen Thursday morning, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the US was ready to contribute to a $10 billion per year financial package up to 2012, subject to a strong agreement that developing countries would do their fair share. The US was thus joining Japan, which earlier in the week pledged $4 billion up to 2012 subject to the same conditions.
If these pledges materialize, forests may make up 35 percent of climate finance to developing countries by 2012, consistent with their mitigation potential. Beyond that, Clinton said the US could envisage an assistance package of $100 billion per year by 2020 from developed to developing countries, a large fraction of which would go to forests and adaptation.
Meanwhile, also today, President Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo, President Bongo of Gabon and President Yudhoyono of Indonesia announced their countries' intentions to implement REDD+ as part of the global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In the early hours of Saturday, the world will know if the 120 heads of state and high-level representatives of more than 70 other nations congregated in Copenhagen will have agreed to reverse the exclusion of tropical forests from the Kyoto Protocol.
There may not be many such opportunities in the future.