Apples branded with the COP 19 logo that were distributed widely at COP-19 by Poland’s Ministry of Environment

REDD+: The Good Apple in the COP-19 Barrel

From the first day I arrived in Warsaw for the UNFCCC’s 19th Conference of the Parties, there was an atmosphere of cautious excitement surrounding the negotiations on REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). A week of negotiating had already taken place, resulting in consensus on two contentious technical issues, one of which had led to the breakdown of the REDD+ negotiations at last year’s COP. Agreement on these issues was an enormous accomplishment and, if adopted, would mean that the five major technical elements of the REDD+ framework would be complete. Enthusiasm was reined in, however, by the understanding that these technical elements would be held hostage for a decision on long-term REDD+ finance. It was an all-or-nothing deal: either the package of both technical and finance decisions would be adopted, or there would be no progress on REDD+.

Over the course of the second week, the mood oscillated between high hopes that the “REDD+ package” would go through and serious concern that the REDD+ negotiations would come crashing down. Deadlines on a REDD+ finance decision were repeatedly pushed back to give negotiators more time to find common ground. Even until the night before the Closing Plenary of the COP, which was the hard deadline for a REDD+ decision, REDD+ negotiators walked out of a negotiating session in protest of one Party’s efforts to add controversial text in the 11th hour.

After much suspense, I’m excited to say that the COP officially adopted the REDD+ package in full! In two intense weeks, the REDD+ framework went from being incomplete to implementable.

While there are important issues on REDD+ that still need to be ironed out under the UNFCCC, such as non-carbon benefits, COP-19 resolved the five technical elements that are necessary for developing countries to access REDD+ payments. This decision sends an important signal to developing countries that REDD+ will be up and running, and that they will be able to access payments from developed countries if they follow the UNFCCC’s technical guidance.

Putting Money Where Their Mouths Are

REDD+ took further strides forward at the COP when developed countries announced REDD+ funding commitments. Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States jointly announced the new Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes, collectively providing ~$280 million in its first year to advance the implementation of REDD+. Norway, the UK, and Germany announced additional commitments to sustain REDD+ funding through 2020, support Colombia’s goal to reach zero deforestation by 2020, and/or provide additional funding for national preparations for REDD+ and the United Nations REDD Programme.

While long-term finance at a much greater scale is needed for REDD+ to significantly reduce emissions from deforestation, these funding commitments in the short-term echo the take-home message of the REDD+ negotiations: developing countries can invest confidently in building up their national REDD+ programs.

REDD+: A Glimmer of Hope for the UNFCCC

REDD+ was one of the brightest successes of COP-19. Even after being at the COP for only one week, I started to question whether the UNFCCC would be able bring about meaningful global action on climate change. For myself, and I’m sure many others, the success of REDD+ is a much-needed reminder that it is possible to make real progress through international negotiations.

But what made REDD+ succeed at COP-19 while many other negotiating tracks did not? Ms. Christina Voigt, co-chair of the COP Work Programme on REDD Finance, explained the success of the REDD+ negotiations as a result of Parties having “a common goal… to make REDD+ happen, to make REDD+ work.” Real progress on other issues under the UNFCCC, such as the up-coming agreement for global action on climate change beyond 2020, cannot materialize until all Parties get serious about meeting the common goal of keeping global temperatures below a two-degree Celsius increase.

At the next COP, I hope to see more of what I saw in the REDD+ negotiations: countries rolling up their sleeves to find consensus and a meaningful way forward to tackle climate change.


Photo (above): Apples branded with the COP-19 logo that were distributed widely at COP-19 by Poland’s Ministry of Environment (Photo from IISD Reporting Services, 2013)