Reporting from Copenhagen
UN climate talks on ending deforestation hit a new low on Saturday after a leaked document revealed that immediate targets to halt forest loss had been cut out of a draft agreement.
Poorer forested countries had been willing to accept deforestation targets, but only with financial assistance. They wanted rich countries to commit to providing billions of dollars for the effort before they agreed to bind themselves to any goals.
Currently, there are no dollar commitments on the table. According to UN estimates, $22.4 billion to $37.3 billion between 2010-2015 would be needed in immediate funding.
"It's hardly surprising that developing countries won't commit to global targets for deforestation when rich countries haven't yet provided the necessary financing for REDD or global targets for deep reductions of industrial emissions," said Nathaniel Dyer of Rainforest Foundation UK.
A program for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) would, ideally, reward developing countries with multi-billion dollar payouts in exchange for forest preservation.
Hard targets are seen as necessary to ensure the scheme delivers more than hot air.
"Without targets, REDD becomes toothless," said Peg Putt of the Wilderness Society.
Earlier versions of the text would have required nations to halve deforestation by 2020 and end it entirely by 2030. As of late Saturday, that quantifiable mid-term target had been abandoned. The long-term goal was placed between brackets.
The first paragraph of the leaked text now reads:
"... all Parties should collectively aim to reduce emissions by halting and reversing forest cover loss in developing countries [by 2030] compared to current levels."
In UN speak, brackets are an ominous sign. They mean the language is still up for debate and could be whacked from the document at any time.
Advocates further expressed frustration over newly diluted safeguards. For example, a sentence that helps to guard natural forests from being razed for palm oil plantations was cut from the main text and pasted into the preamble. The problem with preambular language is that it's "aspirational" rather than directive, Bill Barclay of Rainforest Action Network told SolveClimate.
That means the safeguard would lack legal force.
"Limiting safeguards to the preamble weakens the agreement and deprives it of any assurance of compliance," said Rosalind Reeve of Global Witness.
Deforestation generates some 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. An agreement to protect the world's forests was expected to be an easy win in Copenhagen.
Observers say success now hinges on meetings next week between high-level ministers and heads of state.
"Ministers must act to strengthen the REDD text next week if we have any hope of a REDD that will be effective in protecting tropical forests," Barclay said.
Overall Ambition Lacking
With week one of negotiations under their belt, key leaders in Copenhagen expressed dissatisfaction on Saturday with the sluggish pace of the climate talks overall.
Connie Hedegaard, the president of the UN climate conference, said:
"On the core discussions in negotiations, we still need more on finance, we still need more on commitments. There are still many unresolved issues."
Emissions-reduction targets of 11 to 18 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 are on the table now, at a time when the science is urging a minimum cut of between 25 and 40 percent.
UN climate chief Yvo de Boer said it will be up to the almost 110 heads of state arriving in Copenhagen next week to raise this lagging level of ambition.
These leaders are needed to get "stronger commitments from industrialized countries; to see significant engagement from developing nations; and to [secure] finance that will make developing country engagement possible," he said.
Sweden's environment minister, Anders Carlgren, speaking for the European Union, told reporters, "We haven't achieved enough."
"If we were to continue at this pace, we wouldn't manage what it is to be achieved next week," he warned.
Anticipation mounted this week that the EU would unilaterally commit to upping its emissions-reduction target from the current 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 to 30 percent. That didn't happen.
"We want to go to 30 percent reduction," said Carlgren, but not without more ambitious targets from the U.S. and China.
"We can't sell out our 30 percent target as a cheap offer," he said. "We have to make sure that we use that lever to put sufficient pressure on other parties to deliver what is needed to reach the 2 degrees target."
The decision could be made "literally in the last hours" of Copenhagen, Carlgren said.
When asked what specifically it would take for the EU to agree to the 10 percent leap, he suggested a commitment from the U.S. on long-term financing. Carlgren also said that Beijing would need to boost its national carbon intensity target of 40 to 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and then enshrine it as an international commitment, although he did not give specific figures.
De Boer said that "all" countries will need to do more.
"Many of the countries that are here to address climate change are operating in exposed international markets," he said. "That means, the more they raise collective ambition," the fewer "competitive distortions."
(Photo: Rodrigo Baleia/Greenpeace)