LULUCF: Are We Outraged Yet?

One of the most important principles in the climate negotiations is that of common but differentiated responsibilities. CBDR means that while it is everyone’s job to reduce emissions, Annex I Parties have the lion’s share of historical emissions and therefore should demonstrate leadership with more ambitious emission reductions.

Specifically, to have a chance of keeping warming below 2° C, Annex I Parties must reduce emissions 40% or more below 1990 levels by 2020, while developing countries should begin low-carbon development that rapidly diverges from their likely business-as-usual (BAU) emissions.

How on earth, then, do Annex I Parties justify accounting for their forest industry emissions against BAU levels, and not a much more ambitious benchmark. And as you might have guessed, it’s even worse – many of these proposed BAU reference levels are inflated to hide future emissions increases, and so are worse than “real” BAU.

How is it that Annex I ministers and heads of delegation have allowed a whole sector to avoid contributing a fair share of ambition? Seriously, this isn’t some obscure technical issue. It’s a basic point about whether the forest sector is helping to solve the problem or is just a free-loader.

Furthermore, how hypocritical is it for Annex I Parties to set forest reference levels with no ambition for themselves, and then include calls for ambition in their recent submissions on the evolving REDD+ mechanism?

If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention!

And yet there is still time here in Durban and there are better options in the LULUCF text. These options may not be perfect, but they are better than Annex I countries’ wholly unacceptable projected BAU reference levels.

Come on, LULUCF negotiators and heads of delegations! It’s not enough to deliver a set of rules everyone can agree on. These rules must neither undermine the integrity of the KP nor set damaging precedents that could see ambition undermined in other areas. Clearly they must deliver for the climate – and time is running out!

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Don’t Give LULUCF the FLU

LULUCF has been suffering from a variety of ailments but now it looks in danger of getting FLU. The “Flexible Land Use” proposal, being heavily marketed by New Zealand, allows countries to cut down trees and replant them somewhere else, but instead of counting this as deforestation and reforestation and counting the emissions accordingly, it brings this under forest management rules – the ones that allow countries not to account for substantial increases in logging emissions compared to historical levels.

 Some might argue that New Zealand having FLU is unfortunate but not disastrous but this provision could be contagious - what if lots of other much larger countries have FLU too? What if this proposal goes viral and REDD countries catch it?  ECO suggests that a cure is achieved as soon as possible by eliminating FLU from the LULUCF discussions.


Midweek MRV

Halfway through the meeting in Panama, ECO would like to present an assessment of progress made thus far. Overall, ECO is happy to note that Parties are very busy preparing and discussing text.  There are still potential storm clouds on the horizon for Durban, however ECO hopes that by the end of this week Parties can get agreement on producing a set of decision text that can narrow the remaining political differences and lay the groundwork for important steps forward in Durban. While not comprehensive, here is ECO’s take on some of the issues under discussion here this in Panama.
Substantive discussions on issues related to legal architecture have percolated up in Panama - including in the LCA informal group on Legal Options (despite Saudi Arabia's best efforts to squelch those discussions).  But there is clearly no meaningful convergence on these issues, and the process lacks a forum for having the cross cutting dialogue necessary to ensure coherent outcomes of the two tracks in Durban.  While outside the main talks here, the Mexico-PNG proposal to address voting procedures is a welcome attempt to focus attention on improving the efficiency of the UNFCCC process.
On the pathetically low levels of developed country ambition – Parties have shown signs that they are at least at step one: recognising they have a problem.   ECO hopes that Parties can come up with a clear process on how to address the gigatonne gap in Durban and happy to see there are some proposals on the table.
On the LULUCF issue being addressed in the Kyoto Protocol track, ECO applauds the principle put forward by the G77 this week in its proposal to treat natural disturbances using a statistical approach. ECO is waiting to see if this new proposal will also be transparent, robust and conservative.  On the other hand, the implications of New Zealand’s proposal for “flexible land use” raises significant concerns that this could wreck other parts of the LULUCF accounting rules and has the potential to cause further damage if used in REDD.
The opening informal on finance kicked off with clashes over whether to negotiate the Standing Committee or long-term finance (scaling up 2013-2020 finance as well as sources).  After Bonn, ECO anticipated that Parties would finally agree to focus on long-term finance.  But it didn’t take long for disappointment to take hold as the US, other umbrella group members and even some EU countries refused to discuss text  – with the US insisting that responsibility lies with individual parties to determine how they will reach the $100bn Cancun commitment.  If that’s the case, ECO thinks the US should be made to say what their plan is! Chief among the innovative finance sources that should be addressed is bunkers, where a decision under sectoral approaches to guide the International Maritime Organization to design a carbon pricing instrument taking into account the principle of CBDR would be a significant outcome in Durban.
Discussions on the scope and modalities of the 2013-15 Review happily included an IPCC briefing on the scope and timing of its Fifth Assessment Report and how its findings could contribute to the review process.   ECO urges Parties to creatively design and adopt at Durban a three-year work program that creates an ‘upward spiral of ambition’.
ECO welcomes that views on the Adaptation Committee became clearer during the last few days and that more and more Parties are considering ways that civil society can be an active part of the committee. But in the next three days, nothing less than draft decision text will do -- especially as seven other critical issues on adaptation remain to be addressed in Durban.
The technology facilitator has shown commendable initiative in developing draft decision text. However, the first reading of the text throws into relief the developed countries’ attempts to thwart progress by bracketing various critical elements and options essential for operationalizing the Technology Mechanism by 2012. ECO urges parties to ratchet up the speed of drafting decision text through pointed discussion around critical issues and ensuring that the Cancun Agreement timelines for operationalizing the technology mechanism are met.
Finally, ECO is pleased that negotiators are intensively addressing the myriad issues involved on MRV, including ICA, IAR, and biennial reports, that text is being developed, and that NGO participation in the IAR process is under serious consideration.  Similar consideration, though should be given to such participation in the ICA process.  

Handing out medals in the LULU-lympics

Looking at the new reports being posted on the UNFCCC website, ECO feels some empathy for the reviewers tasked with ‘judging’ the forest management reference levels.

Since there was no agreement on the rules for reference levels, each Party has had to do its own thing.  And the results look as disjointed as a talent show.  Some sang, while others danced.  Some lifted impressive weights, while others performed magic tricks.  Maybe some have shown real talent, but how can we judge the quality of their performance when we have no basis for comparison?

Perhaps Parties should take note of another multilateral, global process – the Olympic Games.  In those Games, the rules are clear in advance, and thus the judges are able to score each performance on a set of common criteria – and those who don’t play by the jointly agreed rules, are disqualified.  

It would have made the “judges” – the expert reviewers – job easier if Parties had agreed to a single method for setting reference levels back in Cancun.  And of course, if that method had environmental integrity, the climate would be the ultimate victor.   That didn’t happen in Cancun, and now Panama may be the last chance for Parties to recognize that such global reference levels are in the interest of all of our “national circumstances”.  ECO says: “Go for the gold!” 


A Disturbing Disturbance

Parties don’t want to have to account for forestry emissions not caused by humans, like wildfires. Fair enough you might say, but this is being used as another attempt to hide emissions.

Until recently, only events classified as force majeure - large-scale events beyond the control of Parties - would be excluded. However, the language of “force majeure has now been dropped in favour of the less specific  “natural disturbance”. Whether its called natural disturbance or force majeure, the CAN view is that any mechanism agreed in the LULUCF rules must transparently and conservatively factor out emissions and removals from extraordinary natural disturbances only.

So what the heck does that mean?

 “Extraordinary” has to be defined.  And its definition shouldn’t be wildly at odds with a plain English meaning of, well, extraordinary.  Common sense suggests that it should only be used for statistically extremely rare events and the same provisions for natural disturbance should be consistent for all Parties.

It also means you can’t hide just any (or all) of your debits.  And it means you shouldn’t hide emissions if they come from stuff you did (like harvesting, or salvage logging).  Because its natural disturbance, remember?  It means you need to really clearly say where, why, and how much you are calling natural disturbance (i.e. show your work!)

It means that you have to treat natural disturbances in exactly the same way in your baseline as you do in the commitment period you’re accounting emissions. Finally, it means you have to be able to measure them really well, and that requires high quality data.

So in short, a natural disturbance mechanism for LULUCF has to retain the common sense meaning of force majeure. If parties are worried their carbon sequestration will go up in smoke, they should discount the credits.



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