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Putting the carbon ahead of the drivers


By Vera Coelho

The round of applause at the end of the REDD+ negotiations in Bonn reflected the relief of the Parties at having concluded work on several difficult issues. But their efforts will not stop deforestation and forest degradation.

After two weeks of meetings in Bonn (Germany), delegates negotiating the mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) made significant progress. Several unfinished issues stemming from the last meeting in Doha (Qatar) were resolved in Bonn, or a way forward to tackle them was found. The particularly thorny issue of monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) finally has a light at the end of the tunnel.

However, while much talking was done on how to measure deforestation and forest degradation, delegates were less keen to discuss the underlying causes leading to the destruction of forests and peatlands. Using the excuse that all other issues on the agenda limited their time to work on drivers of deforestation and forest degradation (“drivers”), they came up with a woefully weak text.

The document, which was officially adopted today at the closing plenary of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA), places the burden of addressing drivers almost entirely on developing countries - as if worldwide demand for commodities such as palm oil, soya or pulp wood played no part in driving deforestation and forest degradation. As for all the consumer countries, they are simply “encouraged” to “continue” addressing drivers – and no process is put in place to assess whether they really do it.

Such a weak outcome leaves a bitter taste after such good progress on other items. On a more positive note, after a year of deadlock on discussions relating to agriculture, negotiators finally found a way forward. While tensions remain as to whether the UNFCCC should tackle mitigation or adaptation (or both) in the agricultural sector, Parties have at least agreed a process to move the discussion in a constructive way, by requesting submissions and the organisation of a workshop on the adaptation potential in agricultural systems and potential co-benefits in terms of mitigation. Peatlands are a paradigmatic example in this respect, as peatland drainage leads to soil subsidence (an adaptation issue) and to large CO2 emissions.

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