Thursday, December 20, 2012

COP 18 Interview

Follow the link to watch an interview from Doha with John Niles, Director of Climate and Forests at WWF. Mr Niles discusses the progress of the REDD+ mechanism as well as the upcoming accredited course in terrestrial carbon accounting to be offered through the University of California, San Diego in collaboration with WWF and TFG. This course will address the necessary and complex work of measurement and verification of forest carbon stocks and flows.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Commit and Verify

Sunday, December 2, 2012 – 6:33pm (GMT +3)
Doha, Qatar

The major issues that prevented an agreement at the Doha REDD+ SBSTA meetings were finance and verification. Norway and other donor nations want robust verification. Brazil, Papua New Guinea, and other G77 nations want commitments of funding from these donor nations.

During the final REDD+ SBSTA session on December 1st, parties representing the G77, an intergovernmental organization of developing nations, made concessions regarding finance-related text. This effort resulted in short-lived exuberance that an agreement was close. The U.S. stated that it could work with the proposed changes, but shortly after, Norway stated that unless acceptable verification language was in the final text, the nation could not be part of an agreement. After a discussion between Norway and Brazil, the countries reported that their positions were too far apart and it became clear no agreement would be reached during the meeting. The session ended with the decision deferred to next week’s COP.

Both sides have legitimate positions. Donor nations want robust verification to ensure that the funds they provide result in real protection. The G77 nations do not see why they should commit to strong external verification requirements when the donor nations themselves are major greenhouse gas emitters and are not yet subject to similarly stringent verification. On November 29th, major REDD+ donor countries including the U.K., U.S., Germany, Norway, and Australia met in London and agreed to support the implementation of REDD+, but they only defined a small amount of funding. If donor nations want G77 nations to commit to verification, then they will likely need to make the first move and commit to funding REDD+ initiatives at scale. This could solve the current impasse.

After the session closed, Jeff Metcalfe, Executive Director of the Tropical Forest Group (TFG) stated that, “Getting agreement on REDD+ is critical for climate and forest protection efforts and now the ball is in the donor nations' court.” Culley Thomas, also of TFG, stated that “The G77 representatives provided concessions in order to reach an agreement. The donor nations now need to step up and make explicit funding commitments or, at minimum, provide firm dates when such funding will be made available.”

Next week during the COP, we will see if the both the donor and G77 nations can make REDD+ become a reality. If so, it would be a major victory for tropical forests, COP 18, and the larger climate protection effort. Fingers crossed.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Agreement...Almost... at REDD+ SBSTA

Going into the final REDD+ SBSTA meeting today, Brazil and U.S. appeared to be too far apart as they could not agree on finance and monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) issues.  Because of this rift in perspectives, it looked like the draft decision would have to be sent to COP bracketed, where it could be punted to the next SBSTA, or solved politically next week with ministers.
THEN…Papua New Guinea said they would like to caucus in the back of the room with other developing nation representatives. After the caucus and some procedural moves, Brazil said on behalf of Papua New Guinea that it could move the finance-related text that it was concerned with to the preamble [a major concession, and the right thing to do since finance is an LCA thing]. The U.S. said it could work with the G77 nations’ proposal and was thankful [At this time it looked like a major VICTORY for REDD+].
AND THEN… Norway said it needed verification to stay in the final text and if that was going to be questioned it would waste everyone’s time.  Brazil then huddled with Norway [they have a $1B REDD+ deal, the largest in world], and after some discussion, the countries reported that their red lines were too far apart.  
THUS…The session ended with the decision punted to the COP president for battle next week.

Friday, November 30, 2012

BREAKING NEWS - Last minute progress gets blocked

(Doha, Qatar - 5:10am - GMT +3) UNFCCC climate change negotiations in Doha, Qatar broke down early this morning as Brazil blocked progress in last minute discussions to provide billions of dollars in finance to save rainforests. This failure in the talks could potentially jeopardize the trajectory of the UNFCCC, an already wounded United Nations effort to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Brazil objected to the requests of many nations by refusing to allow verified emission reductions for reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries (REDD+). Earlier, other stubborn nations stalled talks for hours based on a different interpretation of the word “the”.

Culley Thomas of the Tropical Forest Group, a leading US research and conservation organization stated “Donor nations sent the signal loud and clear that finance to save forests would require verification. Catastrophically for our planet, Brazil refused to listen.” These key environmental talks broke down despite a promising agreement yesterday between major REDD+ donor countries: the U.K., U.S., Germany, Norway, and Australia. These five wealthy countries have invested billions of dollars in efforts to save rainforests despite a global recession, key elections and record unemployment. In London yesterday, during talks headed by HRH Prince Charles, these large donors privately resolved to maintain momentum for the UN efforts on REDD+. The donors made it clear that if rainforest countries want help, they will need to go through some form of international verification process.

Some parties suggested that Brazil’s obstinance during SBSTA resulted from its objections to REDD+ text in a separate track, the AWG-LCA (Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action). Since SBSTA is set to close today, December 1st, negotiations on key provisions including monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) and reference levels will be punted to the intercessional SBSTA meeting in Bonn in midyear 2013.

What will result of yesterday’s major donors’ joint statement remains unknown. However, REDD financing could potentially collapse as countries lose faith in the UNFCCC’s ability to limit the increase in global temperature to 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.

SBSTA on REDD+ negotiations break down

It's nearly 5 am in Doha, Qatar, and we've just received word from TFGers Jeff Metcalfe, Jeff Jackson, Culley Thomas, and Megan Byrn who are on the ground at the Qatar National Convention Center that critical SBSTA (subsidiary body for scientific and technical advice) negotiations have just broken down. Technical text advancing the verification component of MRV (monitoring, reporting, and verification) faced fatal blockage from Brazil, related (or so we hear) to its objections to REDD+ text in a separate track, the LCA.

This occurred despite a promising agreement yesterday between the major REDD+ donor countries, the U.K., U.S., Germany, Norway, and Australia, that resolved to move REDD+ rapidly towards large scale development for verified emissions reductions (VERs) and a performance-based system. Who knows if this support and promised finance for REDD+ will evaporate. A UNFCCC-based plan to limit the increase in global temperature to 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels probably can't be achieved without addressing tropical deforestation, which accounts for 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions according to the IPCC.

Here's to hoping that the parties can magically (but rather unlikely) reverse Brazil's obstinancy. Or deal with this in the intercessional SBSTA meeting in Bonn roughly 6 months from now. This may very well be the UNFCCC's last chance to take ownership of REDD+.

SBSTA is still at it...

We heard SBSTA is working on the V in MRV.  It's 3:30am Qatar time...we tried to send them pizzas, turns out late night delivery in Doha is an issue.

Big Breaking REDD+ News! - Joint Statement from UK, Norway, US, Germany, and Australia

TFG  had heard rumors for the past few hours that this was coming, and here is a link and a joint pdf statement.  This was released just as negotiators entered what could be the final few hours.

The urgency of tackling climate change is clear. We agree to continue our efforts to address climate change and recognise the need for increased mitigation ambition in the period to 2020, with a view to doing our part to limit the increase in global temperature below 2oC above pre-industrial levels, consistent with science. Significant reductions in emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries before 2020 will be critical in this context. Accelerated action on REDD+ has significant potential to contribute to climate objectives while securing co-benefits for rural economies, providing ecosystem services, contributing to poverty reduction, and fostering the rights and livelihoods of indigenous peoples and local communities.
We have made some good progress on REDD+ to date, based on the decisions of Cancun and Durban and various multilateral and bilateral partnerships. We recognise the need to maintain momentum to move to implementation at scale, and the potential to work together as we move ahead. We are committed to practical action to show that REDD+ can work at scale, with benefits for developing countries and the global community.
There are different ways of achieving REDD+, but there is a need to ensure our respective efforts are working together towards our common aims. In that context, we together resolve to:
1. Continue to support developing countries to build readiness and capacity for REDD+.
2. Support efforts to transform the supply chains of the commodities that put pressure on the forest. We welcome the commitments and initiative of the Consumer Goods Forum in this regard, and stand ready to contribute in various ways.
3. Explore options for scaling up demand for verified emission reductions from REDD+ up to 2020.
4. Demonstrate – analytically and on the ground – the contribution that REDD+ activities and results can make to fostering rural green growth, securing livelihoods and implementing low emissions development strategies.
5. Work together to coordinate our REDD+ support, and explore opportunities to collectively support the implementation of REDD+ at scale, for example jurisdictional REDD+ initiatives that address readiness, supply chains, and payments for verified emission reductions, and to demonstrate good examples of how forests can play a key role in a green economy and low emission development strategies.
6. Support the further work of the REDD+ Partnership to catalyse an enabling environment for effective REDD+ implementation and information sharing.

TFG rolls with RINGOs

Yesterday morning Megan and I represented Tropical Forest Group at the meeting of the RINGOs, not aficionados of the fifth Beatle, but the research and independent non-governmental organizations. Attendees at the meetings include professors and students from universities around the world, including Georgetown, University of Colorado, University of Zurich, and University of Botswana, as well as NGOs whose main activities involve scientific research. RINGOs provide scientific information for COP parties but do not make recommendations for action like environmental NGOs may. TFG fits into this category because of the Terrestrial Carbon Accounting extension course it is offering at UC San Diego with WWF. The course will surely bolster TFG's RINGO participation in future COPs.

Saving Resources with PaperSmart

Ironically, UN climate change conferences have been historically known to generate tons of pollution, both as an event that requires local resource consumption and heavy emissions from international travel as tens of thousands of stakeholders flood the region. COP 15 emissions reached a massive 72,374 tons of C02 as Copenhagen hosted an undeniably influential conference. Paper usage was an unquestionable contributing factor to the waste generated as environmentally conscious minds gathered to use heaps of paper outlining agendas, participant lists, and summarizing information documents. As a refreshing change of pace, COP18 in Qatar has implemented the PaperSmart initiative, which effectively reduces paper waste by an impressive 96%. The first two days of this paper conservation policy proved successful, as it’s already saved an equivalent of 90 trees! By the end of the conference, which can usually be noted by not only environmental foresight but also by a considerably negative environmental footprint, the PaperSmart program is on track to save 4,875,000 sheets of paper during the 2-week climate conference.  In a city with both the highest GDP per capita and the highest carbon footprint per capita, the insight to reduce waste and protect forest resources should be seen as a success for COP 18 and the UNFCCC future. Let’s hope this positive step to reduce the overall environmental impact of conferences continues. Kudos, Doha!


Thursday, November 29, 2012

TFG at COP 18

TFG has a dynamic team here at COP 18 in Doha, Qatar including John-O Niles, Jeff Metcalfe, Megan, Kate Ziemba, Jeff Jackson and Culley Thomas. We have been busy tracking the REDD+ related negotiations, promoting the upcoming Advanced Terrestrial Carbon Accounting course at UCSD, and networking with colleagues.

Thus far, REDD+ negotiations have been slower than hoped for, stalled in discussions related to monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV). We hope negotiators will have time to have meaningful discussions about reference levels too. Decisions about reference levels and MRV are both very important to terrestrial carbon accounting.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Crash of Rhinos

No, there are no rhinos in Qatar, but TFG has sent a few of their own to the Arabian Peninsula. As always, there is a lot to accomplish in a limited amount of time. TFG affiliate spoke with SBSTA co-chair, Peter Graham, prior to the conference's inception. Based on that conversation it seems that the Parties are keen to maintain progress on REDD in Doha and send a positive signal to sustain interest and political will outside the process. However, there appears to be a formidable amount of work needed to finish what was begun in Bonn in May. Negotiators will start where they left off and try to deliver a COP decision that includes guidance for national forest monitoring systems as well as modalities for MRV of results of REDD+ actions. We are hopeful that this will also include a process for technical review of reference levels. Doha is not an endpoint, but the next two weeks should mark the closure of the AWG-LCA and the beginning of the AWG-ADP that emerged out of Durban. Further work will be needed post-Doha on safeguards and drivers as well elements of the MRV modalities, particularly where there are dependencies on the outcome of the greater finance discussions. Bring on the megafauna.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

TFG and WWF head to Qatar and COP18

Promoting the Advanced Terrestrial Carbon Accounting Course that TFG and WWF are co-developing with the University of California, San Diego. Here is WWF US Forest and Climate Director (and former TFG Director) John-O Niles, and current TFG Director, Jeff Metcalfe. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Shake of the Month

TFG director, Jeff Metcalfe, and affiliate, Gabriella Klein, confer over breakfast in San Diego. This month’s flavor? Banana. This month’s focus? Carbon stocks. The proposed certificate course in terrestrial carbon accounting to be run through UCSD Extension is preparing to launch. Lidar, radar, remote sensing, field measurements, error propagation. Put it all in the mitigation blender. Now that’s bananas. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Took Note of the Views

As of our last pilfered view of the REDD text coming out of SBSTA36, the inclusion of the technical assessment of forest reference levels (RLs) reads only as concept to be revisited in future conferences. It’s a decision to decide to be undecided until further decisions are in place. Patience we will have to have. The draft reads as follows:

“The SBSTA, in recalling decision 12/CP.17, paragraph 15, agreed to initiate work on developing guidance for the technical assessment of the proposed forest reference emission levels and/or forest reference levels at its thirty-seventh session with the aim of reporting to the COP at its eighteenth and nineteenth sessions on progress made, including any recommendations on a draft decision for this matter.”

We are disappointed that there was not more time or consensus to make the assessment of RLs a reality in Bonn. For REDD+ to become a functional mechanism, RLs must submitted by countries and properly assessed by a balanced team of experts from the UNFCCC Secretariat. Said assessments are the key to overcoming major technical hurdles to implementing REDD+. According to our legal reading of the Durban package, the COP had asked the SBSTA to outline this guidance for the assessment process. We fear that as time fills in around the Durban decision on RLs, their importance will be buried. Had there been true progress on this issue, the framework for assessment could have been put in place last week with a clear mandate. To this we will circle back and circle back again.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Incoming and Outgoing

As of April, the directorship of the Tropical Forest Group officially changed hands in an honest shake. The incoming director, Jeff Metcalfe, was an original founder of TFG and ran the organization previously from 2006-2008. Welcome back, Mr. Metcalfe, to the glittering conference halls. The outgoing (the very outgoing) director, John-O Niles, has stepped into a new position as the Director of Forests and Climate at WWF.  Of his replacement at TFG, Mr. Niles says, “There is no one better suited than Jeff to take the reins of this unruly rhino.” Mr. Niles will retain a place on TFG’s board of directors and has promised to devote the hours between 3 am and 5 am PST every other Thursday to relevant matters. Whether or not he is awake. 

Friday, May 18, 2012


The thirty-sixth session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) is well underway Bonn, Germany. While still productive, this ever-evolving drafting of the text is starting to feel more like an unraveling than a compiling. As if the entire process were a scrambled mass of threads, Earth sized, that needs to be disentangled. The more you pull on some strings the tighter they knot. The SBSTA was established in 1995 to provide the COP advice on scientific, technological and methodological issues. It is a key nexus for REDD as it is charged with the improvement of guidelines and reporting mechanisms for emission inventories. In the end, any effective climate policy from the COP must rest squarely on a foundation of hard data. Exactly how much carbon dioxide from exactly how many trees. The Tropical Forest Group is still following closely the particulars of the inclusion of forest reference levels in the text. In Durban, developing country parties were requested to submit REDD reference levels. COP 17 also agreed to establish a process for assessing the proposed reference levels and asked for SBSTA 36 to develop guidance on said assessment. We are still waiting to see if the delegates can extricate the language to address this assessment guidance in a way that will allow countries to move forward. All that is needed is a sentence or two drawn out of the snarled negotiations in a cohesive thread. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pressure Drop

My daughter has maintained from a very young age that trees make wind. Which is understandable for the childmind since one cannot see wind, only its repercussions in the trees. Waving branches, shaking leaves. Thus the most noticeable effect is conflated with the likeliest cause. But turns out she may be right.

In 2007, two Russian physicists, Victor Gorshkov and Anastassia Makarieva, put forth the “biotic pump theory” which postulates that forests, not temperature differentials, are the driving force behind wind patterns and, in turn, precipitation over land masses. A recent interview with these physicists can be found on

The biotic pump theory transcends conventional meteorology while further emphasizing the vital functions of forests in climate change mitigation. In the wind-generating forests of this still controversial model, water vapor from coastal forests and oceans turn to clouds. As the gas changes to liquid, the air pressure is lowered. The low pressure over the forest sucks moist air in from over the ocean generating wind, which drives moisture further inland. 

In terms of climate change, Victor Gorshkov and Anastassia Makarieva argue that it is the preservation of the water cycle over land – through the preservation of forests - that will have an even greater stabilizing effect than reducing carbon emissions. They say in the interview that, “Such climate stabilization can be performed by natural forests that control the hydrological cycle on land and the adjacent ocean, provided they are allowed to occupy a significant area. Conversely, destruction of forests leads to disruption of the hydrological cycle, which expectedly causes significant fluctuations of the magnitude of the global greenhouse effect, up to complete loss of climate stability and transition of Earth’s climate to a state incompatible with life.”

Given that the distinct interactions between forests and weather are the results of epic years of evolution, this proposed biotic pump functions most optimally in natural forest communities, and not monoculture plantation. In an intact ecosystem, “The root system of forest trees facilitates both storage and extraction of moisture from soil; biogenic aerosols produced by trees control the intensity of water vapor condensation over the forest; the large height of trees determines the vertical temperature gradient under the canopy, keeping soil evaporation under biotic control . . . Thus, natural forests not only create an ocean-to-land moist air flow, but also stabilize this flow at an optimum level and prevent its extreme fluctuations like hurricanes, tornadoes, severe droughts or floods.”

The critical role forests play in terms of carbon emission and sequestration is already situated at the heart of the climate debate. But if forests are also directly responsible for climate stability, the implications for global policy are vast. Take a look at the interview, reader, and tell us what you think.

Monday, March 26, 2012

UN-REDD Programme Launches 2011 Report

Just released, this report provides a comprehensive look at the progress made in the last year by the 14 national programs and other partner countries connected to the UN-REDD Programme. UN-REDD has seven integrated work areas designed to address the following outcomes:

1. REDD+ countries have capacities to develop and implement MRV and monitoring systems.
2. Credible, inclusive national governance systems are developed for REDD+ implementation.
3. National systems for transparent, equitable, credible and accountable management of REDD+ funding are strengthened.
4. Indigenous Peoples local communities, CSOs, and other stakeholders participate effectively in national and international REDD+ decision making, strategy development and implementation.
5. Multiple benefits of forests are promoted and realized in REDD+ strategies and actions.
6. REDD+ strategies and related investments effectively catalyze shifts to a green economy.
7. Knowledge is developed, managed, analyzed and shared to support REDD+ efforts at all levels.

The report also highlights country-specific outcomes and lesson learned from work in partnerships in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean over the past year. The full report can be linked to in the title.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New online tool tracks deforestation (countries, states/provinces, municipalities)

Enormous greenhouse gas emissions are generated by deforestation, mostly in tropical countries. It follows that any viable effort to mitigate climate change will have to address tropical forest clearing, and REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) programs are focusing on this problem. However, implementation of many REDD+ programs has been hampered by the lack of timely information on local forest clearing. CGD’s Forest Monitoring for Action (FORMA) system has been designed to help fill this information gap.

After three years of development work, we're pleased to announce the first global implementation of FORMA, which tracks monthly tropical forest clearing since December 2005 in 27 countries, their 280 states and provinces, and over 2,900 subprovinces and municipalities. We’ll soon release a companion GIS database that tracks monthly clearing in each square kilometer of tropical forest land in the countries covered by FORMA.
We have posted our first global report, which introduces FORMA and provides summary data and graphics, at