Reflections from the Chair of the REDD+ negotiations at COP 19 in Warsaw

Just when the world had lost all hope of any progress within the UN climate change negotiations in Warsaw, Poland, my colleague, Professor Christina Voigt, led to a breakthrough in the negotiations addressing the conservation of rainforests (REDD+). This negotiation track was tasked to tackle the challenge of providing finance for slowing, halting and reversing forest cover and carbon loss from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries. The negotiations resulted in the creation of a formal REDD+ mechanism. Seven decisions were concluded on REDD+ with agreed-on rules for establishing reference levels, recognizing mitigation activities, creating national institutions, ensuring safeguards, and – above all – creating performance-based financing mechanisms. This package of rules will operationalize REDD+. I invited her to sit for an interview to learn more about the process.

Q: Congratulations on this success! Can you tell us about the background for the negotiation? What was the aim of the conference?

A: The aim of the Conference was much broader than REDD+ – to get the world on track towards a new, comprehensive and effective climate treaty in 2015. Yet, REDD+ – the financial compensation of developing countries for keeping their forests standing – is an important piece in the global puzzle. About 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation, in particular of rainforests. In order for developing countries to refrain from cutting down their forests, financial incentives need to be in place, which make it more lucrative for them to conserve forests. The idea of a mechanism that would channel financial resources to developing countries for transforming their forest policies was first introduced to the UN climate negotiations in 2005. In 2010, in Cancun, the Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC took the first “framework” decisions on REDD. But it was not until the Warsaw meeting, that all important elements to render REDD operational fell into place. This includes, in particular, the aspect of finance. Finance will come from both states and the private sector and it will be for results in conserving forests that can be measured, reported and independently verified. Moreover, finance will also be contingent upon the respect of developing countries of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities that live in and from forests. Such results-based finance is an important tool to tackle corruption and other governance failures.

Q: Was there a division between Developed Nations and Developing Nations within the negotiations?

A: REDD+ is built upon difference between developed and developing countries: developing countries are the ones that will carry out actions to protect their forests and implement policies; developed countries will pay them for doing so. But the beauty of the REDD negotiations is that the differences did not divide negotiators. Quite the opposite, there was an immense effort across the board where all countries contributed to finding consensus. Every single country was trying its best to make REDD work because every country saw something good for it in it.

Q: Why was the Coalition of Rainforest Nations pushing for all finance to be placed under a New Redd+ Committee? What impact would that have?

A: Many developing countries are worried about the fragmentation of finance for REDD. Finance can come through bilateral agreements between states, through the World Bank, through the UN-REDD programme and, potentially, through the Green Climate Fund under the UNFCCC. Different channels have different requirements and the picture can be confusing. The idea of a REDD+ committee was meant to remedy this situation. The problem, however, is that creating new institutions does not help in addressing the problem. New institutions just make the picture even more complicated, and they need long time and even more financial resources to be set up. Instead, many Parties suggested that streamlining existing financial channels – instead of creating new ones – might be a better, more effective and quicker solution.

Q: How will the Green Climate Fund function?

A: The Green Climate Fund will be the main entity under the UNFCCC to channel financial resources to developing countries. The fond is tasked to channel up to 100 billion USD per year from 2020 to developing countries for their mitigation and adaptation actions. The Green Climate Fund will play a key role in providing finance to forest countries for slowing and stopping deforestation. This is an important signal and assurance to developing countries which should enable them to start implementing new forest policies and laws.

Q: What type of further research will be supported by this initiative?

A: There is a lot of research to be done. With regard to REDD, there are open questions as to the integration of sustainable forest management and the identification of non-carbon benefits. There are rights issues, contractual arrangements and links to other international agreements that deserve closer analysis. More generally, legal research is needed with regard to the content and design of the new global agreement, its linkages to existing elements, e.g. the carbon market, and the interpretation of the principles and provisions of the UNFCCC. The Convention was adopted in 1992, but the world has moved on since. It is important to develop legal interpretations of the Convention that are reflective of todays and tomorrows reality. The concepts of equity and common but differentiated responsibility and respective capability are very important, but need to be seen in a dynamic fashion.

Q: Do you expect the success of REDD negotiations to impact other negotiation tracks – is there hope for the climate change framework?

A: Progress and, eventually, success of REDD negotiations are based on many variables. First of all, the political willingness of countries to constructively engage in finding solutions is a key component. Moreover, my co-chair and I spent a lot of time throughout this year consulting with many Parties, meeting with them and inviting them to submit comments. We also organized two workshops where negotiators could gather and talk, exchange views and identify “common ground”. This was extremely helpful for setting the stage for the “real” negotiations. We were able to provide Parties with text-proposals that already included a high degree of convergence and were a good starting point for negotiations. During the Warsaw conference, we tried to conduct the negotiations in an effective, but transparent and inclusive manner. Yes, I think that the spirit of the REDD negotiations could impact on other tracks if people start talking – and listening – more to each other.

Q: There are not many women chairs of committees/conferences within public international law. In what way was chairing demanding (physically/psychologically/etc.)? In what way did your experience as a woman help you lead negotiations? Did you experience any resistance based on your gender, or on the contrary did it facilitate communication?

A: Chairing is incredibly demanding in all thinkable ways. To lead negotiations means that you literally sit between “all chairs”. The important thing is to create an effective and “civilized” space for negotiations. As a chair, it is important to “read” Parties, to understand their positions, to know their “red-lines”, and to understand negotiation tactics and strategies. It is also important to have a general idea about where the scope for compromise is; the “landing zone” for an agreement. Yes, maybe women, in general, have a good sense for seeing the bigger picture and for “reading” people, understanding different positions, finding compromises. I did not experience any resistance based on gender, but I had to earn the trust of the Parties and their respect. This is a process with many steps. Being alert, informed, interested, engaged, open, fair, and on top of all very well familiar with the subject matter can make the difference.

Q: You have a new book out, Rule of Law for Nature (Cambridge 2013). Can you tell us a little bit about that?

A: Absolutely! The book is the result of an international conference we organized last year. The starting point is that environmental laws proliferate on all levels. There are hundreds of international environmental treaties and thousands of domestic environmental acts. At the same time, the state of the environment does not become any better. Environmental degradation continues or even worsens in many places in the world. So, why is there this discrepancy between rules aiming to protect the environment and constantly bad news about the actual state of affairs? Something must not work quite as intended with environmental law. The book looks, first, at shortcomings of environmental law making, implementation and enforcement. But, it is not a gloomy book, quite the opposite! The book brings together many prominent scholars in environmental law in their progressive thinking about how a rule of law for the environment could look like. The rule of law, encompassing legal security, predictability, equality before the law, accountability, fairness, transparency and many other elements, has historically been conceived in a state-citizen context. The intention of the book is to expand that understanding and to include a human-nature relationship in the concept of the ‘rule of law’. Only if the environment – nature – receives a strong legal status, both in process and in substance, might real changes come about. A rule of law for nature means that nature and environmental values are protected by law from encroachments, deterioration and destruction in fundamentally the same way as citizens are protected by law. We are at a critical juncture in environmental law, in which we need to forge new paths to address environmental problems. One path is to advance the rule of law for nature.

Q: Thank you so much for answering my questions! I am sure that many will find your experience inspiring!

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