DEBATE AND ANALYSIS

UNFCCC REDD+ Negotiations: Non-Carbon Benefits are still on the table
Non carbon benefits are the social, environmental, and governance benefits that REDD+ should provide. Photo by Adrian Kenyon.

UNFCCC REDD+ Negotiations: Non-Carbon Benefits are still on the table

By Allison Silverman and Niranjali Amerasinghe
At a glance :
  • Non-Carbon Benefits (NCBs) occupied a good portion of the SBSTA discussions on REDD+.
  • Parties believe that NCBs are important to the long-term sustainability of REDD+ but strongly disagree about the need for any specific guidance for incentivizing such benefits. 
  • Parties ultimately agreed to continue considering methodological issues next year at SBSTA’s 42nd session, providing the necessary space to discuss issues related to safeguard information systems at SBSTA’s next session in Peru.

WASHINGTON DC, United States (11 July, 2014)_In June 2014, the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) met for its 40th session to discuss a range of issues, including outstanding items related to Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+). 

Although UNFCCC Parties adopted the Warsaw REDD+ Framework last year, which is intended to capture all REDD+ decisions taken by the UNFCCC, a number of important issues remained open for further discussion. These included  non-market-based approaches, non-carbon benefits (NCBs), and further guidance on safeguards information systems. 

Consideration of methodological guidance relating to NCBs – the social, environmental, and governance benefits that REDD+ should provide – occupied a good portion of the SBSTA discussions on REDD+. However, there was significant disagreement about the need for any specific guidance for incentivizing such benefits. 

Eventually, Parties agreed to continue considering methodological issues next year at SBSTA’s 42nd session, providing the necessary space to discuss issues related to safeguard information systems (SIS) at SBSTA’s 41st session in Peru at COP 20.

What NCBs are and why they are important

Forests play an important role in mitigating climate change, protecting biodiversity and in supporting the lives and livelihoods of indigenous peoples and local communities. To achieve permanent greenhouse gas emission reductions at scale, it is generally accepted that REDD+ will need to provide a wide range of social, environmental, and governance benefits.  

Achieving these benefits is crucial and promotes going beyond the Cancun Safeguards in enhancing biodiversity, improving the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, and strengthening forest governance. Countries would also need a way to monitor and report on NCBs, ideally building on existing systems at the national level such as the Safeguards Information System (SIS)  and Forest Monitoring System. 

Despite recognizing the importance of NCBs, the UNFCCC has not yet provided any methodological guidance. There are many issues that could be addressed at the international level, including how to define, incentivize, monitor and report on NCBs. 

A number of countries are considering how to integrate national level experiences when developing the necessary methodological guidance at the international level. Many civil society organizations and indigenous peoples are advocating that methodological guidance must recognize, respect and promote community-based monitoring and information systems in a way that ensures indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ participation, governance and community-based forest management practices. They argue that as NCBs are a fundamental part of overall REDD+ incentive structures, incentivizing NCBs must be integrated into REDD+ in early phases.  

Recognition of NCBs in the UNFCCC and the SBSTA mandate

The original mandate for NCBs stems from COP 18 in 2012, where Parties agreed to discuss how NCBs could be incentivized and requested SBSTA to consider related methodological guidance. Then, as negotiations in 2013 progressed, countries agreed that NCBs are a critical part of REDD+ activities and are “crucially important for the long-term viability and sustainability of REDD+ implementation.” By COP 19 in Warsaw, Parties formally recognized “the importance of incentivizing non-carbon benefits for the long-term sustainability of the implementation of [REDD+] activities.” (decision 9/CP.19, paragraph 22)

In preparation for this most recent discussion at SBSTA 40, there was a mandate for Parties and observers to submit their views on NCBs.  CIFOR conducted an analysis of submissions, which identified the common elements mentioned in a majority of observer and Parties’ submissions, such as the close link between safeguards and NCBs, and the recognition that the success of REDD+ is dependent on NCBs

In addition to the UNFCCC, the importance of NCBs is also highlighted by other REDD+ initiatives, such as the UN-REDD Programme and the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), as well as other UN negotiations such as the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD).

Major issues at SBSTA 40

During the discussions on methodological guidance for NCBs at SBSTA 40, many Parties stated that because the Warsaw Framework is now in place, no further decisions or guidance are needed. For example, a number of developing countries (e.g. Brazil and Indonesia) argued that the mandate for this agenda was superseded by the Warsaw Framework, and that deciding on international methodologies would be an additional requirement for countries. Other countries suggested that NCBs are included in the readiness phase and are essentially an outcome of the safeguards.

Alternatively, some developing countries (e.g. Tuvalu and Tanzania) stated that international guidance is still required to address issues of leakage and  that NCBs could be part of an international framework to address drivers of deforestation. And COMIFAC (The Central African Forest Commission) and the Africa Group noted their strong desire to discuss how best to incentivize NCBs. 

With respect to defining NCBs, most countries felt that an international definition would not reflect differing national circumstances, thus NCBs should be defined nationally. There was also a range of views across developed countries as to whether guidance should be adopted by the UNFCCC or in other related fora.

Many civil society groups such as the REDD+ Safeguards Working Group, the Accra Caucus and the Indigenous Peoples Caucus continued to assert the need for international guidance on how NCBs should be incentivized. They argued that, as the institution providing the overarching framework for REDD+, the UNFCCC should provide flexible guidance that gives confidence to REDD+ countries that NCBs will be incentivized as part of REDD+ finance. They proffered that NCBs should be determined in the context of promoting sustainable development, respecting rights, protecting biodiversity, supporting adaptation goals, and addressing drivers of deforestation.

SBSTA Conclusions on NCBs

As often happens, the SBSTA 40 recommendations on NCBs evolved throughout the negotiations. There was significant debate about whether or not discussing NCBs in a climate-oriented space should end in light of the Warsaw Framework or whether negotiations on methodological issues should continue. The initial conclusion proposed finalizing considerations on NCBs despite explicitly noting their importance and encouraging Parties to promote NCBs when implementing REDD+ in the text. A number of countries objected to this proposal.

Without concrete guidance on NCBs from the UNFCCC, there is a significant danger that achieving NCBs will become a lower priority in REDD+ strategies. There is also the risk that NCBs will be dependent on the source of finance involved. Smaller forest countries, with high biodiversity but comparatively less carbon sequestration potential, may not be able to attract much-needed finance to protect their forests and the peoples and communities who depend on those forests.

In addition, without UNFCCC guidance on NCBs, there is a missed opportunity to provide direction for the Green Climate Fund’s frameworks on land-use, forests, and ecosystem resilience. Moreover, there would be no clear links with other relevant UNFCCC discussions like non market-based approaches.   

Ultimately, Parties agreed to continue its consideration of methodological issues related to NCBs at SBSTA 42, next June in 2015. The reason for delaying these discussions for a full year is to provide the necessary space to focus on critical safeguards issues at SBSTA 41, its next session this December.

REDD+ will only be successful if it incorporates and respects the many roles that forests play in our changing world. Parties need to go beyond a general recognition that NCBs are important. At least for now, the issue is still on the table and there is some hope for a more holistic approach to REDD+.  

Niranjali Amerasinghe is the Director of the Climate & Energy Program at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). She has worked extensively to improve monitoring and compliance processes in the UNFCCC framework, including contributing to the design of REDD+ safeguards and systems for monitoring safeguards implementation.

Allison Silverman is an attorney with CIEL’s Climate and Energy Program. Her practice focuses on strengthening forest governance by working with local communities and indigenous peoples to defend their rights and forests affected by REDD+ initiatives and other activities.

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