William Boyd: Forest Carbon and Climate Change

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In “International Forest Carbon and the Climate Change Challenge: Issues and Options” (pdf), published by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, William Boyd, law professor at University of Colorado, discusses the significance of REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) in global climate negotiations.

Several factors account for the growing recognition that REDD can and should be part of a post-2012 climate agreement.

First, and most important, there is an increased sense of urgency regarding the problem. Simply put, it has become clear that any realistic effort to stabilize the composition of the atmosphere at a level that will avoid dangerous interference with the climate must address tropical deforestation.

Second, proposed new accounting frameworks that would measure emissions from deforestation on the basis of national and subnational jurisdictions (as opposed to the pure project-based accounting under the CDM) combined with the treatment of the forest sector as a source of emissions rather than as a sink allows for better integration with the existing regulatory architecture of mitigation policy and its emphasis on baselines, caps, emissions, and credits for reductions. These proposed new accounting frameworks allay several key environmental integrity concerns that plagued efforts to include avoided deforestation under Kyoto. Under a national accounting framework, intra-country leakage is no longer an issue.Likewise, there is no need to prove additionality under such a framework, as any reduction would be measured relative to a national baseline or specific reference scenario.

Third, rather than follow the failed Kyoto sequence, which sought to bring deforestation (and forest carbon in general) into the climate regime after commitments had been negotiated and agreed upon, efforts to include REDD in the post-2012 framework are proceeding as part and parcel of the overall effort to agree on reduction targets. Thus, the potential supply of REDD credits is being considered on the front end of the overall framework rather on the back end after reduction targets have been negotiated. This approach provides an opportunity to adjust reduction targets to accommodate the expected supply of forest credits in a manner that preserves the overall integrity of the system.

Fourth, capabilities for measuring, monitoring, and verifying reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation have improved significantly since Kyoto was negotiated. Although there is still work to be done in refining methodologies to create compliance-grade forest carbon assets, technical advances and the refinement of carbon registries have provided confidence that REDD credits can be designed carefully and with improved environmental integrity.

Fifth, it has become increasingly clear that REDD could be a crucial component of any overall political deal on a post-2012 agreement by breaking the Kyoto logjam and providing an avenue for developing countries to move toward meaningful emissions reductions commitments, perhaps as part of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs). Brazil’s announcement at the UNFCCC meeting in Poznan that it would reduce national emissions from deforestation by 70% within ten years on the condition that leading emitters such as the United States and China agree to meaningful targets, exemplifies the critical importance of REDD in the politics of international climate policy.

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