Human rights among top 10 topics to watch at Bonn climate talks

Stephen Leonard & Julie Mollins
7 November 2017
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BONN, Germany (Landscapes News) – Delegates at climate talks starting this week will focus on developing the rule book needed to implement the hard won Paris Agreement to try and curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The talks will pick up on discussions affecting forests and sustainable landscape management carried over from 2015, when the pact to restrict global temperature increases to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and to pursue efforts to limit increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius was signed by almost 200 countries.

“While we’re not expecting to clear all the hurdles this year, we expect to see significant progress on some of the key sticking points,” said Stephen Leonard, senior climate policy analyst at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

This year, Fiji will host the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The tiny island nation is one of many deemed vulnerable to rising ocean levels attributed to warming oceans and melting polar ice.

Leonard outlines 10 key topics in no particular order that negotiators will need to “grapple with” over the two-week conference in Bonn, Germany, which ends on Oct. 19.

1. Human Rights

Forest landscapes are sensitive spaces where dangerous on-the-ground realities are being exacerbated by so called “development” interventions, and climate related “solutions” are no exception. An important outcome of the Paris Agreement is the inclusion in the preamble that countries should, when taking climate actions “respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights.” However, a new study from CIFOR shows that efforts to achieve the REDD+ objective (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) through the UNFCCC policy framework is likely violating rights, particularly where land rights are unclear. In some circumstances indigenous people have been evicted from their traditional lands due to accusations that they are the source of degradation. This is occurring in a context and at a time when least 201 forest defenders were murdered in 2016 in conflicts over land and resources, an increase of almost 10 percent from the previous year as shown by Global Witness. About 40 percent of those murdered were indigenous peoples, the organization states. This issue raises serious concerns for forest related climate actions. Parties to the UNFCCC will need to ensure negotiations related to the implementation of the Paris Agreement give rise to outcomes that adhere to human rights obligations and protect vulnerable communities without exacerbating these negative impacts. The subject of rights will come up in multiple negotiation tracks as well as in many side events. Negotiations concerning Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), transparency, agriculture and markets may warrant special attention.

2. The Talanoa Dialogue 2018

One of the major outcomes that is expected from this COP relates to the Facilitative Dialogue to be held next year, now called the Talanoa Dialogue, a Fijian term provided by the presidency that refers to a special Pacific Island approach to discussing complex issues to come to an understanding. This important event in the climate negotiations is intended to be solutions oriented, to create an important political moment and take stock of current progress towards achieving the Paris Agreement goals, providing an opportunity for countries to increase their ambitions. The eighth Emissions Gap Report has now been released by U.N. Environment, re-confirming an “alarmingly high gap,” stating that current NDCs are completely inadequate, and address only a third of the potential actions that must be undertaken to ensure temperature targets are met. The Emissions Gap report provides a useful table, highlighting priority focus areas, many of which involve the land sector, forests and agriculture. Restoration of degraded forests ranks as the highest land use activity, with up to 3.4 gigatonnes of carbon emissions (GtCO2e) reduction potential by 2030, followed closely by reducing deforestation at 3 GtCO2e. Peatland restoration shows as the third top possible priority with the potential to reduce 1.6 GtCO2e, followed by other activities including decreasing food loss and waste, restoration of degraded agricultural land, shifting dietary patterns, cropland and grazing management. The Talanoa Dialogue should emphasize each of these areas and identify meaningful ways to assist and support countries to urgently increase ambitions and set the stage for a useful and effective Global Stocktake process set to begin in 2023.

3. Indigenous peoples and traditional knowledge

A newly established indigenous peoples and local communities platform was launched at the UNFCCC in May. This process will be on-going throughout COP23 and beyond as it is entrenched in the Paris Agreement. Traditional knowledge is an invaluable source of information concerning climate change and managing and conserving forests, agriculture, water and soil resources. Additionally, traditional knowledge can help with carbon measuring, reporting and verification. It also includes aspects of how landscapes are perceived and regulated by local communities. Traditional knowledge should be given more emphasis both in the formal UNFCCC negotiations as well as science focused IPCC processes. The SBSTA has not put in place a new agenda item on the topic, which will explore how these goals can be achieved. At CIFOR, we very much welcome this process, look forward to seeing it develop and hope to support these efforts going forward. This process will be explored at the highly recommended Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples platform on Traditional Knowledge event in Bonn.

4. Enhanced transparency and non-state actors

The Paris Agreement allows for so-called “non-state actors” to make pledges and get involved in efforts to meet climate targets. Companies involved in land use are increasingly making new pledges to be sustainable and deforestation free. However, the actions of these entities, ranging from large corporations and local governments to members of civil society, are not transparent or measurable, which raises a number of issues concerning accuracy and reliability of information. For example, some companies have committed to “zero deforestation” while allegedly continuing to deforest. This raises the issue of corporate “greenwashing” as a very real possibility and is a matter that should be addressed within UNFCCC processes, especially where the UNFCCC is promoting these pledges and commitments through non-state actors’ platforms. CIFOR provided an informational brief on the subject for COP 22, which analyses potential pitfalls and solutions. More recently, submissions to the UNFCCC in recent months on the subject of non markets, open up possible opportunities for the issue of private sector and non state actors to be addressed formally in the negotiations. Although there are currently no negotiations specifically on this point, the topic related to private sector climate actions will come up in the negotiations related to transparency, Article 6 of the Paris Agreement and through the ongoing process exploring conflicts of interest and the potential for large corporations to influence climate negotiations.

5. ICAO and the CORSIA

The aviation industry continues to press on to establish its Carbon Offsetting Scheme known as CORSIA. Airlines will seek to achieve carbon neutrality through biofuels and by buying emissions reductions in the near future to offset their rapidly increasing emissions. However, this process, which is being undertaken by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is raising a number of concerns, including the extent of biofuels required, where the feedstock will grow and where offsets will originate. Estimates show that this new mechanism may require a significant expansion of the use of palm oil for biofuels with an ICAO vision of the need for 285 million tonnes of biofuels per year by 2050. This quantitative “vision” was rejected at the recent ICAO meeting and the current global biofuel market is less than a third of this amount, around 82 million tonnes. Further estimates concerning offsets indicate that ICAO may require around 3 GtCO2 emissions by 2035, likely purchased through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and possibly through REDD+ or the new mechanism being established by the UNFCCC under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. However, a recent study commissioned by the EU shows that 73 percent of the potential 2013-2020 Certified Emissions Reduction (CER) supply from the CDM have a low likelihood that emission reductions are additional. Concerns are also being raised through civil society and by some governments that the rules related to the implementation of the CORSIA will not be aligned with the UNFCCC, may be of a lower standard and without any social or environmental safeguards. Although CORSIA is being widely promoted as the cutting edge of efforts to achieve carbon neutrality, there is significant opposition to this from civil society. The topic is expected to arise during negotiations related to Article 6.

6. The [Sustainable Development] Mechanism, and ITMOs

Article 6 of the Paris Agreement put in place a new mechanism and process under the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA) to determine how countries can trade emissions reductions. These negotiations are on-going and likely to get into some real substance during the COP. A submissions process conducted over recent months shows the areas of divergence around such matters as the role of the private sector, secondary trading, initiatives such as ICAO and the extent to which the clean development mechanism should influence this new process. Some convergence can be seen around matters such as the sharing of proceeds to go towards vulnerable countries and adaptation efforts and the need to avoid double counting. Convergence has also been identified around the mechanism and the internationally transferrable mitigation outcomes (ITMOs), which should increase ambition and contribute to sustainable development. A number of ideas are emerging to define the meaning of the term “environmental integrity,” and several countries are proposing social and environmental safeguards, provisions to ensure the protection of human rights, the environment, and a clear indication that this new mechanism must focus on reducing emissions. Norway made an interesting proposal to address the questions of double counting through the use of block chain technologies. Article 6 negotiations are focused on co-operative approaches vis-à-vis financial markets, the new mechanism and non-market approaches.

7. Agriculture

The Fijian presidency has been said to be seeking an outcome from the complex and politically tense agriculture negotiations that will occur during COP 23, which is perhaps easier said than done. The negotiations on this topic have consistently failed, including at the 2016 COP22 in Marrakesh, due to on-going tensions between developed and developing countries over priorities. Developed countries tend to focus more on mitigation and food productivity, whereas developing countries seek more emphasis on ensuring food security and adaptation. This issue raises the linkage between human rights in climate action in the land sector, especially in relation to support to help smallholder farmers satisfy increasingly sustainable supply chain criteria, rights of indigenous peoples and local communities and gender equality. These factors present a complex challenge amid a highly-driven, strong mitigation focused climate smart agriculture agenda, which some delegates argue has been overtaken by corporate agribusiness, known colloquially as the “Big Ag” sector. During COP 23, negotiations on the subject will be on-going, and delegates will attend a dedicated Agriculture Day. A new five-year work program, which would focus on human rights, supporting small holder farmers, adaptation and resilience, mitigation and loss and damage is being proposed to consider issues across the landscape.

8. Coordination of REDD+ support

Many climate talk watchers will recall in the lead up to the Warsaw REDD+ decision in 2013, a proposal was made by the Coalition for Rainforest Nations to strike a REDD+ Committee and make institutional arrangements in an effort to create a formalised REDD+ Mechanism. However, the mechanism was not created and these efforts have been slow moving, resulting only in “informal” meetings during each UNFCCC meeting with REDD+ stakeholders presenting on their experiences. This process related to the coordination of support is now up for review, as required by the Warsaw COP decision and is included as a new agenda item in the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) during COP23. Currently, financing for REDD+ is being delivered through multiple channels, including the World Bank, U.N. REDD, bilateral arrangements and the Green Climate Fund, which creates inefficiencies. As a result, an appetite to consider how to enhance coordination of REDD+ finance is increasing. However, the big question will be over the scope of the negotiations in the SBI on REDD+ during this COP and whether this agenda item will give rise to new issues and lead to a continuation of REDD+ negotiations. More recently, the Green Climate Fund finalized its policy for results-based payments (RBPs), and countries can start submitting requests for proposals for RBPs as early as 2018. This decision allocates a $500 million envelope, and there will be no offsetting. It will involve three layers of due diligence to be done firstly by the Accredited Entity, secondly by the GCF Secretariat and finally by the GCFs independent technical advisory panel before recommendation to the board for approval. For detailed analyses of the GCF REDD+ RBPs process, click here.

9. Land Use Accounting

The Paris Agreement requires countries to communicate post-2020 climate actions, known as NDCs, intended to ensure sufficient reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. The negotiations in Bonn will build on this work and seek to clarify the system related to NDCs including content and processes related to reporting. One challenge countries will face concerns the need for differentiated accounting between developed and developing countries regarding land use. Although the Paris Agreement seeks to establish a more equal application of standards across all countries than its predecessor, the Kyoto Protocol, we may see a continuation of bifurcation for land use accounting. While some submissions made to the UNFCCC in recent months propose a uniform accounting system, others propose a wide range of approaches across developed country land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) rules, and developing country REDD+ efforts. The topic of land use accounting will come up in both NDC-related negotiations as well as under transparency efforts, no doubt continuing to rectify the inadequacies of the Kyoto Protocol accounting rules.

10. Forests and loss and damage

The UNFCCC loss and damage Executive Committee (Ex Comm) has now agreed a five-year work plan, but lack clarity on how it will be funded or on the subject of loss and damage finance more generally. More emphasis is slowly being placed on this topic and there is a need for the research community in particular to put more resources into understanding the impact of climate change on forest and land degradation. The Ex Comm has recently produced a draft compendium and discussion points for assessing and developing recommendations to improve knowledge to understand and the capacity to address, slow onset events and their impacts. The draft compendium indicates that the topic of land and forest degradation is under-represented. However, the five-year work plan is very research oriented, and it will be important for the negotiators working on this at the COP to identify ways to support the implementation of this important work program.

Conclusion

The Fijian Presidency will have its work cut out for it this year in Bonn. As delegates move closer to finalising the Paris Agreement rulebook amid increased climate related extreme weather events, clarification on inadequacies of current NDCs and more substance required from the UNFCCC process, a mounting urgency for concrete outcomes around the problem exists.

The balance between taking fast and urgent action while ensuring those actions are not exacerbating negative impacts on people and violating rights is a delicate one that we are seeing play out around the subjects of restoration, agriculture and food security, and REDD+. New ideas are also emerging with increased emphasis on the private sector, new technologies and emissions trading schemes that also require full exploration as to their associated risks.

During this COP and over the next 12 months, it is likely that we will see an increasing emphasis on human rights in the climate change processes. A presidency from a vulnerable island nation will hopefully contribute to this discussion. To do so is consistent with the Paris Agreement itself, and the subject of climate change and human rights should form an important part of the Talanoa Dialogue going forward.


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