Focus on deforestation in the climate-energy negociations

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Temps de lecture : 5 minutes  

What conclusion can be drawn from the December 2008 climate negotiations? Against a backdrop of debates, Olivier Boyer, from the French government’s delegation, was interviewed by the Action Carbone team (GoodPlanet). He compared the negotiations in Brussels and Poznan. : Several French NGOs and international NGOs have decried the EU agreement, and have even gone as far as to speak of a “dark day for Europe” (RAC-F, WWF, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace): ambiguous reduction targets, no effective sanction system. Should we be happy about the Energy-climate package, or not?

Olivier Bouyer : Of course! The European Union is the only group in the world to not only have set quantified mid-term emission reduction targets, but to also have equipped itself with the precious tools that are necessary to meet them. Having said that, could one have expected a more ambitious « Package»? Most probably… Out of the 20% emission reductions, the EU, for its part, (without recourse to the project’s in-built carbon credits allowed by the « carbon market » and « effort sharing» directives) is supposed to have reduced its emissions by 11.8% compared to what they were in 1990 by 2020.

Considering that in 2005 the European Union had already reduced its emissions by 6%, it only has to achieve an additional 5.8% decrease by 2020. In other words, over half the effort the Package had set for 2020 has already been achieved …But we must keep in mind that the Package will be reviewed in case of a post-2012 international agreement, in which case the European Union will raise the target: a 30% reduction in emissions by 2020 (compared to the current 20% reduction).

The « renewable energy » for forests directive should offer good prospects for biomass development, especially wood energy and 2nd generation lignocellulosic fuels. However, we can bemoan the fact that the « carbon market » directives and « effort sharing » do not put carbon sinks and the deforestation that could be avoided at the centre of the debate – far from it: using credits from projects in these sectors depends on an international agreement and on the move from a 20% to 30% reduction. On the positive side, the individual targets of the Member States will be re-evaluated to include the treatment rules for carbon sinks, whether an international agreement is reached or not, which will guarantee that the efforts between States are comparable. : The Poznan Conference took place at the same time as the EU negotiations. Didn’t the confusion caused by this schedule perturb the international negotiators?

O.B. : No, the two events were clearly defined. The Energy-climate package was discussed on a European level, in Brussels, by three institutions: The European Commission (our « European administration »), the European Parliament and the European Council which brings together the Heads of State of the 27 Member States (presided by France in the second semester of 2008). The last two, Parliament and Council were the « co-deciders » of the Package. .

International negotiations took place in Poznan, where the European Union and its 27 Member States jumped in at the deep end to discuss subjects much broader than those affected by the Energy-climate package with the whole world: shared vision on the future post-2012 climate regime, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (main focus of the Energy-climate package), but also the adaptation to the effects of climate change, the transfer of clean technologies and how to finance all these activities.

The European negotiations on the Energy-climate Package took place at the same time as the Poznan international negotiations: this surely had a beneficial effect on the international negotiations. The European Union showed that it was not only talking but now, also taking action and that the urgent problem had made it necessary to hold two negotiations at the same time (despite the difficulties that this caused for the French presidency of the European Union Council). : Finally, in Poznan, the countries came up with a road map, which seems a little feeble prior to Copenhagen in December 2009. On which issues was progress made and which issues blocked talks during this conference ? Who hindered proceedings ? Why ?

O.B. : It is true that not much progress was made in Poznan… The States of the world are on the same platform, hoping to board the same post-2012 regime train to escape the climatic outpouring which is fast and surely coming…But many of these States would rather not pay for their seats and travel illegally ! It is this usual game of passing the blame which prevents rapid decision-making and the rules/ commitments which follow on from it. The European Union did its utmost to get things moving. Unfortunately, the usual tensions between emerging developing countries who centre their position on the need for prior action from developing countries and certain « laggard » countries (especially the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia) who try to minimise their efforts, made discussions drag on. : As an expert of matters relating to forest, what can you say about the progress on the « Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation» (REDD) mechanism?

O.B. : The REDD is a mechanism that makes it possible to take the part the forest plays in climate regulation into account and to encourage the fight against deforestation. But it demands that fairly complex control measures be set up to take the variety of situations and « forest planification» into account but also to establish reference scenarios to evaluate the progress that has truly been made.

In 2008, the working groups and phases of negotiations on the subject heated up. It is one of the only subjects being negotiated where there has been strong consensus for the past 2 years. Poznan was supposed to crystallise the real progress that had been made on methodological questions linked to the subject that would be useful for building the final Copenhagen agreement,

After difficult discussions and many technical obstacles from the United States, India and Brazil, the discussions sped up at the end but not enough to make it possible for the Conference of the Parties to reach a decision. The final result is therefore a conclusion of the subsidiary scientific and technical organ, which is in fact a text that is less politically symbolic but nevertheless very useful for reaching a decision on the subject in Copenhagen.

One of the new improvements is that indigenous people will now be involved in the working group of experts and in the implementation of pilot programs in the field should be involved. And this, despite Australia, Canada, New-Zealand and the United States (the 4 developed countries which did not vote for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People) being opposed to the idea.

The developing countries must then set up tough transparent forest inventories that are open to independent and external reviews : this is the price to pay for the system to be credible. For the moment, only India and Brazil have forest inventories worthy of the name. In doing so, the latter, which is traditionally opposed to all forms of challenge to its sovereignty, especially in regard to the Amazon forest, has taken a historic step. : Let us now consider the Copenhagen conference. Honestly, can we still expect an agreement commensurate with the threat of climate change?

O.B. : « Frankly, I don’t know ! Technical « experts » like myself cannot guess that. After the Stern report on the cost of inaction on climate change was released in 2006, the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report in 2007 on the climate evolution scenarios and the means that need to be implemented to avoid disaster, Al Gore’s successful film « An Inconvenient Truth » the same year and others I have forgotten to mention, one would have thought that the political sphere was going to react and start working on how to solve the problem. There is still a lot of work to be done for the negotiations to be taken out of the experts’ hands and successfully led by political leaders….Without this, it will be impossible for Copenhagen to be a success. But it is not always a certainty that the worst case scenario will occur: a year before Copenhagen, the speed and the scope of the reaction of the very same politicians to the world banking crisis proves this.

Interview made by Jeremy Debreu, december 2008.

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