Forests Can Help Bridge Pre-2020 Climate Action Gap

The Paris global climate accord agreed to by all 195 nations of the world represents a significant step forward in our collective effort to avoid the worst effects of climate change. For the first time ever, both developed and developing countries have put forth voluntary pledges to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and have agreed to accurately and transparently account for and report on their annual emissions and identify the steps they are taking to reduce their carbon pollution.

However, while the Paris Agreement represents a necessary foundation, it is far from sufficient to solve the climate crisis on its own. The collective contributions of the 187 national climate action plans, or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) as they are referred to in UN-speak, put the world on a path toward a 2.7-3.5 °C temperature rise by the end of the century. This is far above both the temperature-rise ceiling of 2 °C agreed to as the long-term goal under the Paris Agreement, as well as the Agreement’s aspirational goal of holding global temperature rise below 1.5 °C by 2100.

Land Use and Forests Are Enshrined in the Paris Agreement

Forests have a stand-alone article, Article 5, in the Paris Agreement. This important policy signal can enhance our collective climate ambition in the short-term, and we already know the best ways to do it. In addition to greater investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency, strengthening the role of the world’s tropical forests to fight climate change represents one of the fastest, cheapest, and most effective tools at our disposal. Slowing and eventually reversing tropical deforestation would reduce global GHG emissions by 24-30%,

Slowing and eventually reversing tropical deforestation would reduce global GHG emissions by 24-30%.

since tropical forest destruction is responsible for 15-20% of all greenhouse gas emissions while tropical forest regrowth sequesters about 10% of all GHG emissions annually. Keeping carbon out of the atmosphere by protecting tropical forests would cost less than a quarter of the price of taking comparable actions in Europe or the United States.

The Emissions Gap pre-2020

Despite the important progress made thus far on REDD+, countries can and must do more to fill the emissions gap from 2016-2020. A recent report by IUCN, WWF, and Climate Advisers shows that for 12 key countries containing nearly half the world’s tropical forests, helping them meet their existing goals for forest conservation and restoration would reduce emissions by 3.5 gigatonnes by 2020. Even more, if forest loss could be completely stopped in these countries by 2020, this would result in 5 gigatonnes of avoided emissions per year. But meeting these goals will require significantly more finance.

A recent report by Forest Trends’ REDDX initiative tracks in great detail $6 billion in REDD+ finance pledged to 13 key countries containing two-thirds of tropical forest cover through the end of 2014. Globally, nearly $9 billion had been pledged to support REDD+ through 2014. As attention turns toward implementing the Paris Agreement – and with it, the forest finance component – experts are shifting their focus toward ensuring that new technical standards are structured to facilitate and encourage much greater investment.

Thought leaders from influential NGOs recently held an event at the World Bank to discuss the implications of the Paris Agreement for the land sector.

Looking Ahead to 2016 – Workstream 2

The Paris Agreement provides some footholds upon which our work can build. The Agreement and decision text calls for “the strengthening” of the technical examination process (TEP). That process includes technical expert meetings (TEM) convened within the UNFCCC, which provide a platform for joint learning and knowledge exchange with the aim of increasing ambition by state and non-state actors prior to 2020. This focus on pre-2020 action, referred to as Workstream 2 in UN-speak, should prioritize forests as a stand-alone topic in the TEP as soon as possible in order to increase action in the sector.

A Stand-Alone Forest Component in Workstream 2 Is Essential

Creating a stand-alone Forests component of Workstream 2 would be one way to ensure that sufficient energy and attention are devoted to sharing REDD+ best practices within the TEPs and TEMs. Technical expert meetings and examination processes, tasked with identifying and disseminating “specific policies, practices and actions with the potential to be scalable and replicable,” should highlight the role that forests must play in catalyzing enhanced mitigation action prior to 2020. By carving out a unique space within Workstream 2 to identify and promote opportunities and best-practices for enhanced forest conservation, advocates can ensure that forests begin to play a crucial role in helping solve the climate crisis.