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Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in developing countries (REDD) - the link with wetlands

Wetlands and the REDD negotiations

Voluntary carbon trading schemes

Before briefly outlining potential links with wetlands in the negotiations on REDD in the Kyoto CDM-funded sense described in section 1 above, it should be noted that a number of voluntary carbon trading initiatives of relevance are also in existence. Some of these may continue outside the UNFCCC regulatory regime; while others are conceived as pilots for what could eventually be embraced by that regime.

For example, the World Bank launched its first prototype carbon fund in 2000, and now has ten carbon funds, including BioCarbon (BioCF) which is financing 3 pilot REDD projects. In 2007 the Bank launched the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, designed to give pilot experiences of REDD in a few countries as background for the UNFCCC negotiations (the payment structures are based on options under discussion in the Convention), as well as helping to build capacity on the issue (World Bank, 2007). Indonesia has recently (March 2009) asked for support under this programme for reducing emissions from loss of both forests and peatlands. The FAO, UNDP and UNEP are also collaborating in a joint UN REDD programme, financed by a multi-donor trust fund established in 2008.

Among NGOs, Wetlands International operates a Global Peatland Fund for investing in peatland restoration and conservation projects with associated socioeconomic development goals, initially in Indonesia, which are designed to generate verified and tradeable carbon credits (Voluntary Emission Reductions, or VERs). The Fund will trade the VERs on international voluntary carbon markets, with a portion of profits going to the Fund’s investors and the rest being used to support community development projects. The UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is active with partner organisations in Europe on peatland restoration schemes (in Belarus, in particular) designed to operate in similar ways.

REDD in the post-2012 regime for the Kyoto Protocol

UNFCCC COP13 Decision 1/CP.13, known as the Bali Action Plan, sets out the process for preparing decisions to be made at COP15 in Copenhagen in December 2009 which will frame implementation of the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol in the period beyond 2012. The scope of this mandate includes deliberations on “various approaches, including opportunities for using markets, to … promote mitigation actions”.

Numerous proposals have been developed by a variety of governments and organisations for schemes to institutionalise and finance REDD formally in the post-2012 regime. Parker et al (2008) give a guide to 33 of these proposed schemes, with cross-references to the UNFCCC technical documents relating to each of them. In addition, an open source data set and model to evaluate the carbon emission and financial implications of alternative approaches to providing positive economic incentives for REDD has been built by the Collaborative Modelling Initiative on REDD Economics, a consortium including the Terrestrial Carbon Group, Conservation International, the Environmental Defense Fund, the University of East Anglia and Woods Hole Research Center, with input from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and the Prince's Rainforests Project.

Aspects of the legal options for an international agreement on REDD have also been reviewed by FIELD (2008). An agreement could take any one of a number of forms, including amendments to the Kyoto Protocol, a separate Protocol, or other decisions under the parent Convention. FIELD point out that in some places there are already relatively comprehensive frameworks of national nature conservation and forestry legislation that could provide an entry point. They also point out however that many indigenous peoples and local communities whose livelihoods depend on forests are not supportive of current proposals for REDD, because of concerns about their involvement and the frequent lack of good institutional structures for cascading benefits to them. FIELD therefore emphasise the need for REDD funds not to be focused solely on reducing emissions, but also to contribute to the improvement of forest governance and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Moreover, a badly designed REDD mechanism could reinforce the perception of forests as valuable only or mainly in terms of the carbon that they contain, rather than taking into account other ecosystem services and types of values.

First wetland dimension: wetland forests

There are perhaps three potential dimensions to a linkage between wetlands and the concepts for REDD that are currently being advanced. First, as explained in section 1 above, some forests are also wetlands. UNFCCC Decision 2/CP.13 recognised that “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries can promote co-benefits and may complement the aims and objectives of other relevant international conventions and agreements”, and this would be a basis for perceiving one form of synergy between REDD and the Conventions on wetlands (Ramsar) and biodiversity (CBD), for example. Avoiding deforestation can support conservation of soil, water, biodiversity and non-timber forest products.

As has been pointed out, however (Ecosystems Climate Alliance 2009), the carbon in natural ecosystems is resilient, and it might be more proper to consider biodiversity conservation as a core benefit rather than (in the terms of Decision 2/CP.13) a “co-benefit”.

Moreover, given the different carbon storage potential of different soil types, and the high capacity for example of peatlands in this regard, the primary emission reduction objective itself can be enhanced in forests which are also wetlands (such as peatswamp forests). Hence even in terms solely of the achievement of Kyoto targets, there may be good reason (ie greater carbon benefit per dollar) to give priority to forested wetlands in implementing schemes for REDD.

Second wetland dimension: forest hydro-security

The functioning of any forest system that is subject to measures for REDD will be dependent on a range of external influences. A key one of these is the hydrological context: every forest exists in a water catchment, and the management of that catchment, of its water resources and all activities that can affect these will be a crucial part of the equation. This in turn is heavily bound up with the functioning of wetlands in the landscape. Forest management that involves replenishment planting may be particularly dependent on adequate water supplies for supporting young trees; but more generally too, forest areas involved in REDD should be more viable in areas where there is better wetland conservation and river basin management.

Third wetland dimension: extending REDD concepts to cover wetlands

There has been substantial advocacy in recent years for considering the role of ecosystems other than forests in contributing to “avoided destruction and degradation” methods of reducing emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. Peatlands and other wetlands have been acknowledged as obvious contenders for integration into a post-2012 framework (Royal Society, 2008).

Part of this debate relates to land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) activities of developed countries within their own territory under Articles 3.3 and 3.4 of the Protocol. Discussion has focused in particular on the scope of coverage of emissions from soil and vegetation, where non-agricultural/nonforestry wetland soils and vegetation are not currently covered (Ecosystems Climate Alliance, 2009; Ramsar Secretariat et al, 2007; Wetlands International, 2008b; Wetlands International, 2009b). Since the focus of the present paper is on ideas for Certified Emission Reduction credits to be generated under Article 12 of the Protocol from CDM-funded projects in developing countries, this Art 3.3-3.4 dimension is not considered further here.

An extensive treatment of options for inclusion of peatlands in post-2012 climate agreements is given in Pena (2008), much of which would be relevant to a consideration of the scope for inclusion of other wetland types as well. Pena’s review is critical of the human activity-based approach to addressing land management issues in Kyoto, and suggests for the future that an approach based on land types and sectors would be more effective, on the grounds of burden-sharing advantages and the ability to accommodate multiple-use situations.

Pena also assesses options for improving the effectiveness of the Clean Development Mechanism in this regard, given the potential for problems arising for example from competition between projects, or between CDM investment and investment in mitigation activities in developed (Annex I) countries. Although wetlands could be addressed by the CDM on a project basis, the general discussions on REDD have tended to focus on national-level approaches, which Pena’s review considers attractive in respect of wetlands too.

The review recommends that to be effective it will be important to reduce the effort required to set baselines; to ensure that all relevant gases are within the scope; to cover both conservation and restoration of wetlands, and to minimise negative impacts on prices of land, food, feed and fibre. Further work is also recommended on quantifying relevant wetland carbon balances (see also Lloyd, in prep); among other things to ensure proper valuation of resulting credits.

In terms of instruments, current models for REDD could be expanded to cover wetlands; or analogous/parallel wetlands-specific models could be constructed. There is a concern that given the relatively small number of countries with a significant extent of peatlands compared to those with forests, it may be harder to mobilise a groundswell of advocacy among developing countries for a wetlandspecific mechanism than it has been for REDD. This may make expansion of REDD a more practical option than aiming for a separate mechanism.

Concern about the magnitude of credits that might come to the market was one reason for the original exclusion of avoided deforestation from eligibility under the CDM, and this would need to be addressed for peatlands/wetlands too, perhaps by capping the proportional tonnage of targets that can be met from this source. Pena also considers ways to minimise problems arising from leakage (changes in emission balances that are attributable to projects but which occur outside the project boundaries), and cites some possible differences between forest schemes and peatland schemes in respect of the respective advantages of “project” and “national” approaches.

In the interests of developing countries which have not experienced significant deforestation, approaches to REDD have been suggested which aim to reward conservation of forests that are not currently experiencing deforestation or degradation. These would for example set “forward-looking” baselines that incorporate working assumptions about potential future loss/degradation, by reference to “business as usual” (BAU) scenarios or to historic trends. The same ideas could be applied to a mechanism for wetlands. These ideas are however at the ambitious end of what might be achieved in the current negotiations.

As one indication of the scale of ambition that may or may not be appropriate, at the time of UNFCCC COP14 in December 2008, the working group on methodologies for REDD decided (in relation to pilot projects) only to address above-ground biomass, and not to consider any soil carbon component. It has been said that this is a result of uncertainties surrounding measurement of soil emissions, but Wetlands International maintains that these difficulties have been exaggerated, at least as far as peat soils are concerned (Wetlands International website news item, 10 December 2008).

Links between Conventions

The decision tables in Section 3 above provide a stock-take of adopted intergovernmental positions and technical advice on wetlands and climate (mitigation) interactions, which offer several sources of additional political and scientific support for the potential extension of REDD-type concepts to cover wetlands.

Clearly one angle is the scope for synergy and mutual reinforcement among the agendas of the respective Conventions when a REDD or “wetland-REDD” mechanism produces associated benefits for conservation of biodiversity, wetlands, protected areas and so on. As pointed out in this paper, however, the links are potentially significant in a variety of other ways; not least that the implementation of these other Conventions can contribute much to the emissionreduction aims of the UNFCCC, including in ways that support socioeconomic objectives in developing countries at the same time.

The Ramsar Convention in particular is in a position to provide a direct readacross of international concepts, principles, methods and standards for understanding what constitutes avoidance of degradation of wetlands, and for guidance and norms on issues such as inventory, monitoring, vulnerability assessment and hydrological functions. These would be essential ingredients in operating any REDD-type mechanism in relation to wetlands.

Ramsar, like others, is making efforts to improve the science of calculating wetland carbon balances, though the forthcoming Ramsar Technical Report (Lloyd, in prep) and the on-going work of the Scientific & Technical Review Panel. This will offer vital assistance to the moves to address wetlands under Kyoto, and cooperation between the respective Conventions will be of increasing importance as the negotiations for UNFCCC COP15 gather pace.

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