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From Bangkok to Doha: what can the UNFCCC do for wetlands?

08-Sep-2012

By Vera Coelho

The three main negotiation tracks under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have held informal sessions in Bangkok, Thailand between 30 August and 5 September 2012. The sessions were not mandated to produce negotiating text, but were seen as a necessary forum for discussion before the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP18), which will take place in Doha, Qatar at the end of November.

The agenda for COP18 is heavy and expectations are high. In accordance with decisions reached at COP17 in Durban, South Africa, Doha is expected to come to major decisions regarding the future of global climate policy and action – and these decisions are bound to have an impact on the way wetlands, in particular peatlands, are managed across the globe.

A major issue to be decided in Doha relates to the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol. The first commitment period will end on the 31st of December 2012, and so far only the European Union (EU) has pledged to join a second commitment period. Other developed countries such as the USA, Australia and New Zealand were put under significant pressure to join as well. In addition, developing country Parties have heavily criticised developed countries, including the EU, for not putting forward emissions reductions commitments consistent with the scientifically recommended ranges to keep global warming below 2 degrees C.
 
The issue of accounting rules was raised in this context: in particular for the land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector, developed countries can currently pick and choose which activities they count against their emissions reductions efforts. As a consequence, many countries consistently choose to account for LULUCF activities that remove carbon for the atmosphere, but not to account for activities that emit carbon – such as peatland drainage. Such lax accounting rules provide little incentive for the protection and better management of peatlands.
 
A second issue of enormous political sensitivity relates to the Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) negotiating track, which only has a mandate until the end of 2012. While most developed countries and several large developing countries (such as Brazil and China) wish to see the LCA terminate in December, most developing country Parties maintain that it should only be terminated after a successful outcome has been reached in terms of all the negotiating issues that remain in the agenda of the LCA.
 
Among the “unfinished business” of the LCA track is the issue of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation in developing countries; and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries (REDD+). Intense meetings in Bangkok resulted in an informal note detailing a long list of issues that Parties would like to see addressed in Doha. It is unlikely that COP18 will allow for detailed discussions on such a wide range of issues, but it is expected that a Doha Decision mentioning REDD+ might ensure that the work will continue under the subsidiary bodies even if the LCA is terminated.
 
Finally, the newly established ad-hoc working group on the Durban Platform (ADP) discussed, at a high level, the issues surrounding the implementation of Decision 1/CP.17 – which mandated the group to negotiate, by 2015, a new climate agreement applicable to all countries as of 2020, and to work on ways to enhance short-term ambition.
 
While these initial discussions under the ADP are not yet immediately relevant to wetlands, the work of this negotiation track will certainly be significant after the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and after the new international agreement enters into force as of 2020. Critically, the ADP has the potential and the opportunity to ensure that the protection and better management of natural ecosystems becomes one of the cornerstones of climate policy. It could also contribute to transforming the current patchwork of approaches to dealing with carbon fluxes from the agriculture, forestry and other land uses into a more comprehensive, land-based approach to accounting for the emissions and removals from that sector. Wetlands International will work to ensure that these issues are included in the discussions of the ADP from the outset.

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