Public Policy and Economics

News from COP15 in Copenhagen

The Woods Hole Research Center, as a registered observer organization of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, sent a delegation of scientists, researchers, and other staff members to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s negotiating session in Copenhagen. The conference began on Monday, December 7, and concluded Friday, December 18. Below are daily updates regarding what happened there over the course of those two weeks.

Thursday, December 17 - Claudia Stickler, Postdoctoral Fellow & Danielle Knight, REDD Administrator:

With yesterday's news still fresh that President Obama would fund US $1 billion for REDD start-up activities over the next three years, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Copenhagen today with a proposal that the US contribute with other developed nations to a US $100 billion fund for the next ten years for least developed countries to fight climate change, dependent on an agreement. This move was primarily to force concessions out of China on agreeing to a legally binding target on carbon intensity and to agree to monitoring, reporting, and verification. Reports were that China did not want the deal, but this would imply that failure to come to an agreement here would be China’s fault. This indicates that China will probably agree to at least some part of the US proposal.

As progress has been exceedingly slow with 24 hours of negotiations remaining, the Kyoto Protocol Working Group has now decided to form a "Friends of the Chair" group to assist the Chair in moving forward on the remaining issues where no consensus was reached today during informal consultations/contact groups on the separate issues of the KP. The motion was put forth by Sweden and joined by the other Groups in a rare consensus. Regarding the Long-Term Cooperation Agreement, the capacity building and financial institutional arrangement groups saw constructive movement, although key portions of the text remain undecided. The groups wanted more time to work tonight, but also realized that the waiting ministers (or higher level) might be needed to solve the undecided issues. For instance, REDD+ still has brackets on major issues such as sources of finance and nationally appropriate mitigation actions. Some of the issues with REDD are linked to undecided issues in other groups, complicating resolution.

The WHRC staff watched the news from meeting rooms and events that have now been moved outside of the conference venue due to extreme restrictions on access for civil society representatives. The city is abuzz with escorted cars and increased security as heads of state descend on the city and President Obama is expected tonight. For WHRC staff and other NGOs, many meetings took place outside the city, including discussions with partners looking forward to where the Center’s team can help to meet the upcoming needs of a new phase of REDD implementation following the Copenhagen summit, as well as continued discussions with Brazilian and Indonesian government officials regarding nested sub-national (state-level) targets integrated within national targets.

Wednesday, December 16 - Nora Greenglass, Research Assistant & Claudia Stickler, Postdoctoral Fellow:

The atmosphere both within and outside the Bella Center’s negotiating rooms over the last several days was highly charged as both the AWG-KP and AWG-LCA Chairs pushed to get their respective texts ready to turn over to the COP. Tony La Viña, the Facilitator of the working group on REDD+, held nearly continuous formal and informal consultations to refine the text that has been under development since September. The process seemed to be going remarkably well until Tuesday morning, when, instead of a concisely negotiated product, we were presented with a REDD+ text that had nearly doubled in length and exploded with options and proposals. The negotiators went back to work, though (with some support from their NGO confidantes), and by Tuesday night had produced a text that looked ready to move up to the larger AWG-LCA and then to the COP. The Ministers are now in possession of the text and are responsible, together with the Heads of State, for resolving any remaining issues. These decisions include those that must be made on a political level, concerns about how to safeguard indigenous peoples’ rights, whether or not there should be a quantitative emissions reduction goal included in the text, and the scale of REDD+ that is eligible for market finance (sub-national versus national). The final REDD+ product in Copenhagen, however, will depend in large part on the structure of the overall LCA agreement; this decision will be made by Heads of State over the next two days.

One notable REDD-related event was sponsored by Avoided Deforestation Partners and focused on opportunities for US initiatives that support the development of a global REDD framework. The line-up included President of Guyana Bharrat Jagdeo, etc., WB President Robert Zoellick, UNDP head Helen Clark (former NZ Prime Minister), Governor Eduardo Braga (Amazonas State, Brazil), Richard Branson, Prime Minister of Norway Jens Stoltenberg, Jane Goodall, US Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack, as well as the heads of IUCN, WWF-US, NRDC, EDF, TNC, CI, and high level executives from American Electric Power and Duke Energy. Several major announcements were made, including Secretary Vilsack’s announcement that he had been authorized by President Obama to devote $1 billion US to REDD start-up activities over the next 3 years. Soon after, 5 other nations also committed to REDD start-up funds, bringing the total available to $3.5 billion. It is estimated that $10 billion are needed. Prime Minister Stoltenberg declared that Brazil’s performance in reducing deforestation in the Amazon to date had been sufficient for the Norwegian government to release another 250 million US toward its $1 billion commitment to the Amazon Fund.

Inside and outside the conference venue, demonstrators became more active. Demonstrations inside the venue resulted in at least one group—the Friends of the Earth International—being ejected from the conference. Outside, thousands of protestors descended on the venue, resulting in restricted rail and bus access to the venue. The demonstrations led to violence on the part of both protestors and police. Observer organization access was severely restricted, and NGO participants were barred entrance from noon onward. COP President Connie Hedegard resigned her post by the end of the day, ostensibly because higher level officials were arriving for the last days of negotiation, although there has been speculation that it was motivated in part by controversy surrounding the introduction by Denmark of new documents to the negotiation which had been received or reviewed by (especially) developing country participants before these high level segments.

Tuesday, December 15 – Danielle Knight, REDD Administrator:

Behind the high-profile news of negotiations and texts, the city of Copenhagen has been dealing with all the logistics that go with hosting the biggest conference event in its history. Today was a clear sign of just how difficult this has been with numerous tales of eight-hour lines in below-freezing temperatures outside the conference center, the closing of the Bella Center Metro station due to overcrowding, and a restriction on conference participation. As the sessions now move into their high-level segment, more than 100 heads of state have confirmed their participation resulting in an overwhelming number of registered delegates, some estimates being at over 40,000, well beyond the 15,000 capacity of the Bella Center. There is a sense among participants that the UNFCCC secretariat and Danish ministry are scrambling to maintain an organized system for the large numbers of people, compounded by increased protests in the final days of the COP.

After the announcement that a cap was being placed on NGO representatives allowed into the Bella Center for the remainder of the sessions, un-official events are now being quickly moved to alternative facilities. Fortunately, the WHRC delegation received a high number of admission passes, enough for all present staff to attend today at least, though tighter restrictions are expected in the next two days. In the evening, staff attended the opening screening of the “Eye of the Future” film at the Copenhagen Planetarium where the Forum on Readiness for REDD premiered the trailer of its new film, “REDD in the Real World,” and where Senior Scientist Dan Nepstad spoke about WHRC’s work on REDD in 2009.

Monday, December 14 - Claudia Stickler, Postdoctoral Fellow:

Today was a busy day for WHRC. Our day started early with a press conference. Acting Director Skee Houghton and Senior Scientists Daniel Nepstad and Scott Goetz helped to answer the question, “Are emissions from deforestation increasing?” We then prepared for our side event on “Making REDD work at multiple scales.” With ten minutes left before the start, half of our speakers were still waiting in the cold outside the conference center to be allowed inside. Ultimately, Paulo Moutinho and former Brazilian Minister of Environment (now Senator from the state of Acre) Marina Silva were able to join Josef Kellndorfer and Dan Nepstad on the panel at the last minute. Unfortunately, Andre Lima of IPAM waited in line for five hours before receiving his entry badge.

Kellndorfer presented progress on the Center’s pan-tropical forest cover and forest carbon mapping program. He also described the intensive capacity-building program that accompanies the mapping project, training government and non-governmental organization specialists, as well as indigenous peoples and local communities from throughout the tropics. Nepstad and Moutinho next described WHRC/IPAM’s proposal to end new forest clearing in the Brazilian Amazon by 2020, including a description of a proposed nested Brazilian Amazon-wide REDD program. The event concluded with comments from Senator Silva, focusing particularly on the importance of recognizing the prominent role of indigenous and traditional communities, not only in protecting forests but with respect to REDD as a new rural development paradigm. Later in the day, seven Brazilian Amazon governors discussed their own plans to join forces to reduce deforestation in each of their states. The states of Mato Grosso, Amazonas, Acre, and Pará have announced state-level targets, in large part due to IPAM and WHRC’s science, policy analysis, and facilitation in Brazil.

The major event of the day in the negotiations was that the G-77 nations walked out and negotiations were temporarily suspended. The walkout was motivated by African nations’ anger at developed nations’ unwillingness to commit to legally binding emissions reductions targets (through maintenance of the Kyoto Protocol). By evening, negotiations were scheduled to resume.

One exciting moment for many of us was the discovery that Vice President Al Gore was scheduled to speak in the side event following ours, on the Greenland ice sheet and snow and ice melt in the Arctic and Antarctica. We also heard two fascinating but disturbing presentations by Drs. Dorthe Dahl-Jensen and Robert Corell that demonstrated very clearly the rapid increase in snow and ice melt throughout the world. These were followed by comments by the Norwegian and Finnish foreign ministers and the Danish environmental minister, of whom the latter worked with Vice President Gore to organize the synthesis studies that were presented.

In addition to the drama in the streets and in the corridors of this COP, the number of participants has been swelling daily. The conference venue has a capacity of 15,000 people and the UNFCCC Secretariat has been carefully monitoring the numbers of people in the venue at any one time. We have heard that up to triple that number has registered for the COP; because not all of those people arrive at the same time, the number of participants in the building has not yet exceeded the 15,000 limit. However, the Secretariat is starting to take dramatic measures. As of Tuesday, December 15, observer organizations (ours included) are to be limited in the number of members of their delegations granted access to the conference, with greater cuts in pass numbers occurring as official party (country) delegations grow. Yesterday, new arrivals who had not yet registered stood waiting between 5 and 10 hours, some of whom were turned away to try again today. High level meetings—with ministers and heads-of-state leading their delegations—are due to take place on December 16 and 17.

Sunday, December 13 - Claudia Stickler, Postdoctoral Fellow:

On Sunday, December 13, members of the WHRC COP delegation spent the negotiations-free day at Forest Day 3. Paulo Moutinho presented the IPAM/WHRC-led benefit-sharing proposal linking national and subnational targets for reducing deforestation for the Brazilian Amazon. Nadine Laporte and Scott Goetz presented posters related to work in Africa and the boreal forests, respectively. The first Forest Day took place at COP13 in Bali and was an important moment for bringing together groups working at the intersection of forest conservation, rural development, and climate change, but with very few presentations and reports on REDD. This time, the event was booked over capacity and featured a veritable explosion of assessments of REDD financial mechanisms, monitoring tools and capacity, and discussions of institutions and governance and environmental justice. Keynote speakers included President Bill Clinton, Elinor Ostrom, Gro Harlem Brundtland, and Rajendra Kumar Pauchari.

At the end of a very rich day (and loaded with new reading material!), we and colleagues from IPAM descended on the Copenhagen Customs House at the edge of the harbor to host a dinner that seemed to be a microcosm of the REDD world. Attendees included: John Holdren (Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, USA), Brazil’s Minister of Environment Carlos Minc Baumfeld, Gabon’s Minister of Water and Forests, the Environment, and Sustainable Development Martin Mabala, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Minister of Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism José Endundo Bononge, Governor of Mato Grosso (Brazil) Blairo Maggi, COICA Director General Edwin Vasquez, COIAB Vice-Coordinator Sonia Guajajara, and Deputy Secretary for Energy and Climate Change of California Anthony Brunello, as well as guests representing multiple other branches of Brazilian, DRC, and Gabonese governments, the World Bank, Environmental Defense Fund, Tropical Forest Group, Avoided Deforestation Partners, the Heinz Center, the Moore Foundation, and others. The evening featured statements about REDD from a broad range of perspectives, including Dr. Holdren, Ministers Minc, Mabala, and Bononge, Governor Maggi, COICA Board Member Juan-Carlos Jintiach, and Sonia Guajajara.

Saturday, December 12 - Claudia Stickler, Postdoctoral Fellow:

Today, conference participants were advised not to leave the conference center for meetings elsewhere in Copenhagen as a predicted 60,000 protesters were to descend from the center of the city, heightening security and travel difficulties. As the day went on, groups gathered around monitors throughout the venue watching streaming video and news coverage of the protests. For many of us, it was initially unclear what the protesters’ main message was to be, as we are generally fairly isolated from news not related to the negotiations. It turned out that they were asking negotiators not to let this COP end without clear and substantial progress towards real and enforceable targets for addressing climate change. A few members of our group did venture out for off-site meetings (notably with Governor Blairo Maggi of Mato Grosso state, in Brazil—a state which would rank as the 5th largest emitter if it were an independent nation) and returned reporting that it hadn’t been too bad, in part because about half the protestors took a wrong turn at some point and would take quite a bit longer to join the rest of their group. Although the protests remained largely non-violent in the beginning, by the end of the evening, hundreds of protestors had been arrested.

REDD negotiations also moved forward late Friday night and Saturday. The technical body (SBSTA) finalized its draft text on the technical aspects of REDD and moved the text forward to the COP for high level negotiations to take place on December 17-18. In the section on long-term cooperation, a number of issues continued to prevent draft text from being finalized, including issues related to indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ rights and national vs. sub-national implementation. However, language for a broad scope for REDD+ and reference to the inclusion of carbon markets in a later phase of REDD implementation were included. REDD still appears to be one of the few elements of the climate negotiations that will become part of the agreement coming out of Copenhagen.

Friday, December 11 - Scott Goetz, Senior Scientist:

As members of an organization heavily focused on fundamental and applied scientific research, the avenues into policy making are always indirect and multi-faceted, but also sometimes bewilderingly complex and seemingly impenetrable. Fortunately, the WHRC is unique in terms of having policy experts and economists who know how to navigate the maze of the negotiation process, and help us present our research in ways such that its direct relevance to the needs of the negotiators is clear.

A good example of this is the need to monitor carbon emissions from land use change, particularly of deforestation across the pantropical region in the context of REDD. The UNFCCC negotiations on REDD rely on primarily on estimates of forest cover change, but also increasingly on the carbon stocks (biomass) associated with those changes. The latter are currently based on estimates from field measurements and forest inventories which, when combined with forest cover change, can be used to provide estimates of carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Our work mapping pantropical carbon stocks more directly with satellite observations, calibrated with field measurements, is therefore of tremendous interest to many parties involved with the UNFCCC REDD process. A systematic review of methods to estimate carbon stocks is currently underway, with WHRC playing a lead role in the process. This effort, together with those of our partner organizations and entities, complements the various elements of our pantropical mapping and monitoring, and our related technical capacity building activities (see The COP-15 in Copenhagen is the ideal venue to share these recent advances with a broad audience, particularly the international body of policy makers.

Thursday, December 10 - Andrea Cattaneo, Senior Scientist:

Today many participants at COP-15, in transit from one meeting to the next, were stopping to listen to President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize Speech being broadcast on multiple screens. This, for many, was a brief pause in a hectic day. The negotiations are increasing in intensity and differences in views are emerging that will need to be resolved for an agreement to be reached in the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. One of the topics being debated is whether the Kyoto Protocol would remain the main instrument for developed country commitments or a new legal agreement should be sought. Many developing countries have stated that ambitious emission reduction targets by developed countries through a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol is the basis for a successful outcome in Copenhagen. On the other hand, since the Kyoto Protocol does not currently include the United States, many developed countries are cautious about having a two-track system and argue that a broad agreement under one mechanism that would include the U.S. would be preferable. This is a disagreement on the fundamental architecture of a Copenhagen agreement.

Wednesday, December 9th - Tracy Johns, Policy Advisor/Research Associate:

We're halfway through the 3rd day of historic COP15. The place is buzzing with energy and filling up fast with people from all over the world. Even ministers are beginning to show up in advance of the high-level segment which begins next week. REDD is proving to be the superstar of the negotiations so far. All of the hard work and research of the past 4 years seem to be paying off as countries work through negotiation text on technical and political aspects of the mechanism that holds the potential of climate mitigation, forest conservation, and sustainable development.

At a meeting this morning of leading science and environmental groups on forests, we discussed how different the picture looks for forests than it did the last time a global climate agreement was defined. Back then, groups were deeply divided on important issues and there was a lack of widespread understanding of how much science could offer about the role of forests in climate change and how we could monitor forest destruction from space. These and other political issues led to the giant hole in the climate agreement - the emissions from tropical forest destruction. Today we know that in order to avoid the worst impacts of climatic disruption, we absolutely must stop tropical deforestation, and soon. And we also know that it is possible to monitor changes in forests by satellite, making it possible to reward countries according to their success in protecting these globally vital ecosystems. This time, the process includes input from a wide range of stakeholders in addition to governments - especially important has been the role of indigenous groups and forest-dependent communities in helping to define the necessary safeguards that can make REDD work for climate and poverty alleviation while respecting those who live in the forest. There is much to do in order to get to an agreement in the next few days. But there is also a lot of positive momentum - maybe "Hopenhagen" is not so far off after all.

Tuesday, December 8th - Daniel Nepstad, Senior Scientist:

The climate summit began with three-hour registration lines, and deeply chilled participants from around the world. Copenhagen’s progress towards the low-carbon-emission world we must become is on display in its crowded bicycle commuter lanes and clean, efficient public transport. For this Danish city to become the global “Hopenhagen” that many conference-goers seek, however, there are few sources of optimism. One of the most prominent is Brazil, which announced ahead of the meeting its commitment to reduce nation-wide greenhouse gas emissions nearly 40% by the year 2020, breaking with its previous insistence that the developed nations must lead the drive to fix the climatic disruption. The credibility of Brazil’s bold announcement is enhanced by its remarkable success in lowering the speed with which its Amazon forest region is being cleared and burned, which was reduced to a record low of 7,000 km2 during the last year. Brazil is already ahead of schedule to achieve its own ambitious target: to reduce deforestation 80% by the year 2020. For an additional 7 to 18 billion dollars invested over the next decade, deforestation of the Brazilian could end, lowering global carbon emission by 2 to 5%. That’s less than one dollar for every ton of carbon that stays in the trees of the Amazon instead of burning up and moving into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. The American Climate and Energy Security bill that has passed the House of Representatives could foot the bill for the end of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon through its tiny “international offset” provision.