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Fans of tropical forests for climate and development received an early holiday present from Warsaw last week at the conclusion of the 19th Convention of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 19). 

I didn’t attend COP 19, but having attended COPs 14 through 18, I figured I knew what I’d be missing: firmly staked national positions, tense late-night coffee-fueled negotiations over arcane legalistic text, and if all went well, at the 13th hour, just enough progress dribbling out to keep hopes alive for a comprehensive global climate agreement in 2015.

But somewhere along the way, things went right.  Warsaw ended up being the COP that more or less finished writing the international rulebook for REDD+, the UNFCCC mechanism for payments to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.  Negotiators flew through an impressive seven decisions on REDD+. For those cheering along at home, these seven decisions were on finance; reference levels; measuring, reporting and verification (MRV); safeguards; forest monitoring systems, institutional arrangements; and addressing drivers of deforestation.

Why was this important?  Coalitions of countries and sub-national jurisdictions are moving faster than the wider UNFCCC on payments to reduce tropical deforestation, through a collection of initiatives involving Norway, Brazil, Indonesia, Guyana, Germany, and California, Acre (Brazil) and Chiapas (Mexico).  Boosted by agreement in Warsaw, these initiatives can now move ahead using a common international rulebook.

Of all these international initiatives for REDD+, the Carbon Fund of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility perhaps comes closest to the original vision for REDD+ —rich countries paying tropical countries for verified success in keeping their forests standing.  The Carbon Fund, to which I am an advisor, brings together eight governments, two companies and a non-profit organization in a $400 million partnership to buy emission reductions from REDD+ programs in five tropical forest countries.  As the first truly multilateral pay-for-performance mechanism for REDD+, the Carbon Fund will set the standard for future REDD+ investment to follow. 

Hosted by the World Bank, Carbon Fund donors have spent more than a year hammering out how forest REDD+ programs will measure reductions, relative to what baselines, and adhering to what social and environmental safeguards. It is anticipated that this work will conclude two weeks from now in Paris.   Now that the UNFCCC has agreed to an overarching rulebook for REDD+, the Carbon Fund can finish its more detailed set of rules as well. And in turn millions of dollars can begin to flow to protect tropical forests from Costa Rica to the Congo.

Of course, protecting tropical forests and the multiple services they provide to people requires more than more than just rules and money.  Political will and integration with the domestic development agenda are essential as well.  But in a field where rapid progress is rare, the good news from the UNFCCC in Warsaw is truly something to celebrate.