Keeping Up with Climate-Change Policies


Climate Change and Forests: Emerging Policies and Market Opportunities . Streck, C., R.O'Sullivan, T.Janson-Smith, and R.Tarasofsky , editors . 2008 . Brookings Institute Press , Washington , D.C. 360 pp. $69.95 (hardcover) . ISBN 978-0-8157-8192-9 ,
The Little REDD Book . Parker, C., A. Mitchell, M. Trivedi, and N. Mardas . 2008 . The Global Canopy Program , Oxford , United Kingdom . 114 pp. Available at ( free download ).
The Little REDD+ Book . Parker, C., A. Mitchell, M. Trivedi, and N. Mardas . 2009 . The Global Canopy Program , Oxford , United Kingdom . 71 pp. Available at ( free download ).

One of the risks in writing books (and book reviews) on the topic of global climate change is that the ideas presented are obsolete before the paper publications appear. That danger notwithstanding, it is also important to recognize the antecedents of current global-change policy decisions. These volumes, one a traditional print-version hardcover book and the other a free, downloadable handbook (now translated into French), together serve to equip readers for this rapidly evolving field. The 68 authors from 19 countries that contributed 17 chapters and four case studies to Climate Change and Forests (CCF) provide background on the Kyoto Protocol (KP), which will be replaced in 2012 by the new agreement. Foundation for the agreement is outlined in The Little REDD Book (LRB) by representatives of a consortium of 37 scientific institutions in 19 countries that focus on forest canopy research. The new instrument known as REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) apparently will address the failure of the KP to consider the climate change mitigation benefits derived from conserving standing forests. It is hoped that it will also circumvent some of the other limitations of the KP, which are described very clearly in the first half of CCF. The second half of the volume may help rescue tropical forests from where the KP left them with its discussion of the REDD option.

Climate Change and Forests provides an overview of the general principles on which the KP replacement mechanism should be constructed. The authors describe the challenges of harmonizing these principles for the diversity of countries where the forests in jeopardy are located. Throughout the book, the architecture of a market-based incentive for forest carbon-emission credits (i.e., baseline definition, monitoring, additionality, permanence, and leakage) is discussed with different levels of detail and in reference to a variety of settings. The chapters are sparsely but nicely illustrated and enriched by helpful footnotes; well-synthesized case studies prepared by on-the-ground experts further enhance the text.

The first chapters in CCF set the stage by introducing the policies that connect forestry and related land uses to climate-change mitigation, with emphasis on using market incentives to influence the fates of forests. Several public policy instruments and market incentives are discussed, with emphasis on the clean development mechanism (CDM) and joint implementation (JI), the only components of the KP that specifically deal with trees and carbon through plantations. The succinct analysis by Portela et al. of the conditions that need to be in place for a market-based initiative to succeed in promoting forest conservation (clarity in property rights and legal and regulatory frameworks, credible monitoring and enforcement, and equity) was particularly enlightening.

The second part of CCF focuses on the international arena starting with a historical overview on land-use change policies. The other three chapters cover the potential links and conflicts between measures taken to mitigate global climate change and ongoing efforts to protect biodiversity while respecting national sovereignty. After explaining why CDM and JI have delivered so little, ways to avoid their problems are presented (Ebeling). The importance of learning from the KP experience was, for me, an important overall message of the book; if we do not know the history, we are condemned to repeat it. The relevance of the chapter by Scholz and Jung stems precisely from the idea of learning from KP. These authors examine in detail the admittedly limited impacts of CDM and JI in a discussion of their major attributes, advances, and some of the components that could serve as templates during the next commitment period (2012–2022). The section ends with a comparison of the carbon benefits of avoiding deforestation versus biomass energy derived from planting new forests, with due attention to the issues of transparency and leakage. The implications of these analyses for land-use policy making are enormous because they can affect prices of agricultural commodities and promote more forest conversion.

The third part of CCF covers the implementation of CDM with particular attention to clarifying its legal and market structures. Locatelli et al. begin by walking readers through a portfolio of CDM afforestation–reforestation projects. They examine the design of CDM projects emphasizing the importance of addressing the architecture of an intervention (i.e., baseline definition, additionality, etc.) before the onset of a project. With regards to the equally important consideration of permanence, Lecocq and Couture discuss the virtues of permanent versus temporary credits from the perspective of the market, particularly the benefits of portfolio diversity. Similarly, who owns the carbon needs to be clarified upfront. Overall, the lack of clear and enforced systems of property rights in developing countries is a hurdle for CDM that will remain for REDD. This barrier rises when one considers the high transaction costs of dealing with multitudes of stakeholders with low institutional and financial capacities in countries with weak governance. These legal complexities are illustrated in a chapter devoted to carbon sequestration options in Chile, which failed to consider the enormous environmental costs of converting a large proportion of native forests into plantations.

In addition to these institutional issues, the inherent difficulty but fundamental importance of carbon measuring and monitoring forest carbon stocks and fluxes is addressed in CCF. After all, the credibility of any lasting forest-carbon market mechanism lies in the ability of buyers to discern between true and sustained emissions avoiders and “hot air” producers. The chapter by Pearson et al. clarifies this issue by addressing the trade-offs between accuracy and precision and the importance of being able to estimate changes in emissions attributable to the project. The discussion of carbon stocks and fluxes measurements in reference to additionality and leakage will help readers understand how the attributes of the CDM interact.

The chapters in the fourth part of CCF introduce the principles of the avoiding deforestation initiative (RED—note the absence of the D for degradation). Sullivan sets the stage by analyzing the implications of project scales (regional vs. national), policies, and markets on the design of RED. More hands-on information is provided by Mollicone et al., who propose an accounting approach to establish emissions from reduced forest conversion. Their system, which garnered international support and is addressed in LRB, captures the wide range among tropical countries in forest cover and deforestation rates. The chapters by Estrada and Garcia-Guerrero and by Schwartzman and Moutinho describe the details of the deforestation avoidance mechanism in a Latin American scenario. They provide a historical account of the role Latin American countries play in international negotiations, analyze the factors causing unabated rates of forest loss, and explore the important connections between forests and the rural poor. The topic of reducing forest degradation is brought up, but nowhere in the volume does it receive the attention it deserves perhaps because of the perceived monitoring difficulties. But even if degradation is disregarded, the lack of technical capacity and appropriate governance and institutional structures in many developing countries will make implementation of forest-based climate mitigation programs difficult. Streck et al. suggest that some of these impediments can be overcome by using a phased system that integrates goals at several scales (regional and national) and that has the advantage of involving participation of several sectors.

The final part of CCF covers voluntary carbon markets. The authors use models from Australia and New Zealand and the experience of several U.S. states to highlight the virtues of the voluntary versus regulatory markets and the prominent role of consumer choices. Until the KP is replaced, voluntary markets will be the only outlet for credits coming from standing forests. Several schemes are analyzed (Hamilton et al.), which differ in coverage and focus (e.g., agriculture, community-based agroforestry). The innovative role of voluntary markets and the potential synergisms with regulated markets under the future convention cannot be ignored. Bottom-line challenges remaining are credit transparency, credibility, and legitimacy. And finally, after being pretty much disregarded throughout the volume, Meizlish and Brand present a clear argument for considering the potential carbon contributions of improved forest management.

Among the drawbacks of CCF is a lack of discussion about what is meant by forest, particularly whether natural forests can legitimately be converted into plantations for the cause of carbon. The near-complete disregard of forest degradation and forest management is also disconcerting, given the prominent roles many of the authors are playing in informing, if not directly participating in, international climate-change policy making debates.

Given the multitude of authors of CCF (over 60) some repetition was unavoidable, but it never annoyed me. What emerges from reading the entire volume is a cohesive picture of what KP achieved in terms of forest, and how the forthcoming instrument can more effectively connect tropical forest fates with climate change.

The foundation provided by CCF is built on quite effectively in LRB. Its structural approach to summarizing a range of governmental and nongovernmental proposals submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change provides an efficient way of conveying information and making useful comparisons of the key elements of REDD proposals (i.e., scope, reference level, benefit distribution, and financing). The format highlights each initiative's strengths and weaknesses and is maintained in the recently updated version (The Little REDD+ Book; LRB+). The REDD+ alludes to a renewed emphasis on conservation and enhancement of carbon stocks. The LRB+ clarifies the issue of leakage and introduces to the debate new insights about equity and fairness. Refreshing for stakeholders in developing countries and elsewhere is the mention of the need for Annex I countries to control emissions. The inclusion of new proposals (of which mention should be made of China as a big player in climate negotiations), the reshaping of old ones, and the clarification of other actors’ actions (e.g., The Prince's Rainforests Project) reinforce the value of the LRB+.

Together, LRB+ and CCF provide many insights into the ongoing climate-change policy negotiations and clarify for researchers, policy makers, and the educated public the bottlenecks that need to be cleared if climate-change mitigation is to help maintain forest cover while protecting biodiversity and helping to alleviate poverty. That similarly structured initiatives, such as payments for environmental services (PES), have already had positive impacts on livelihoods makes us cautiously optimistic about REDD. At best, REDD will provide opportunities for institutional renewal, strengthened social institutions, and increased human welfare in developing countries. But no mechanism will be successful unless structural measures are taken to address the causes of forest loss, which vary among regions and countries. After all, no fund or global project can do for tropical forests what the host countries are not willing to do.