What’s Next For the Land-Use Sector?

If you haven’t figured it out by now, let me fill you in on a little secret: I am a land-use geek. I am obsessed with anything to do with the intersection of forests, croplands, grasslands, and/or wetlands with climate change adaptation and mitigation. So when rumors began to fly earlier this year that Parties to the UNFCCC were beginning to seriously consider how to treat the land-use sector in the “protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties” to be agreed under the Durban Platform, I was instantly intrigued. Today was an especially exciting day for me because it was the first time I heard Parties speak in concrete terms about a way forward for post-2020 treatment of the land-use sector under the UNFCCC. And guess what? What I heard was actually GOOD!!

Before you take me for an absolute lunatic (too, late, right?), let me explain. Annex I Parties to the Kyoto EPSON DSC pictureProtocol currently account for greenhouse gas emissions from their land-use sectors under Articles 3.3 and 3.4 to the Protocol and the rules laid out in the Marrakesh Accords. The rules for land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF) were designed with an “anything goes” attitude stemming from the sector’s exclusion from Parties’ emission reduction targets. In a nutshell, the LULUCF mechanism under the KP is not necessarily environmentally robust. (Disclaimer: This is a generalization. There are some Parties that do a relatively good job with LULUCF. There are also Parties that take advantage of the system to the detriment of both the land and climate system).

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In contrast, development of the REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries) mechanism under the UNFCCC started with basic principles that include equity, environmental integrity, safeguarding and promoting the traditional knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, and contributing to the ultimate objective of the Convention. Although REDD+ will certainly not be perfect, it is shaping up to be significantly more environmentally robust than LULUCF.

The big question in my mind has been what happens when LULUCF and REDD+ come together in a post-2020 agreement. Does treatment of the land-use sector rise to the level of REDD+, or does it sink to the level of LULUCF? The indication I got today was that at least some Parties are willing to aim high and to push for a mechanism that is beneficial to the land, the people who live with and on the land, and the climate. Although this is certainly no guarantee, it certainly gives me the hope and impetus I need to head to the National Stadium tomorrow to continue pushing for the best land-use mechanism possible under the UNFCCC.