On a warming planet, forests hold the key to stopping climate change.
Forest landscapes and agricultural areas can absorb emissions like a sponge. They take carbon dioxide from the air through photosynthesis, and store it in wood and in the soils. Discussions about action against climate change has focused on rebuilding our energy infrastructure towards a 100% renewable energy future. But this is only one way to limit temperature rise to the 1.5° agreed by the climate change body of the the UN, the UNFCCC. The remainder of the solution lies in our forest and plant life.
Carpathian Forest in Romania, 20 Aug, 2016
We are moving ahead with building a 100% renewable future, but it will take time. If we end deforestation, forest degradation and the associated release of CO2 into the atmosphere we will start to counter human-made emissions (REDD+) by 2020. To help nature remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in peat, soils and in living trees and plants, we also need to massively increase the restoration of millions of hectares of degraded forest lands, and increase the carbon storage in agricultural soils through effective land management. If we get this right, the land and forest sector can help reduce the excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and pass on a climate safe for future generations.
Intact Forest Landscapes in Russia, 13 Sep, 2016
Here’s how it looks in numbers: 350 parts per million (ppm) is roughly the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere we have traditionally been used to. The industrial age has now brought us to above 400 ppm. If we continue on this path we could see a frightening 450 ppm or more by 2050, with catastrophic consequences.
So, it’s not just a about urgently reducing emissions. We need to actually remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to assure a habitable planet. We have to do this without pursuing false solutions, like bioenergy or carbon capture and storage.
‘We Will Move Ahead’ projection at COP22 in Marrakech, 17 Nov, 2016.
The conference in Marrakech barely addressed the forest and land solutions in the official negotiations. However, the awareness for the role of land-use and forests is gaining momentum. Many side events were devoted to forests and landscapes. Scientists made it clear that considered action with greater ambition is needed in this sector. Many political and business leaders and civil society organisations shared the lessons learned from pilot projects on the ground. The Brazilian Soy Moratorium — the result of a concerted Greenpeace campaign connected to soy related deforestation in the Amazon — was mentioned as one way forward for public/private cooperation on deforestation-free supply chains.
Forest landscapes and agricultural areas are crucial for removing more CO2 from the atmosphere in order to achieve the 1.5° target of the Paris agreement and to allow us to adapt to climate change, promote sustainable development goals and protect biodiversity. These four points must be included in the discussion if we’re serious about tackling climate change:
The forest and land sector needs comprehensive, transparent and independant accounting rules for their CO2 emissions and removal, facilitating a halt in deforestation and restoring forests and other natural carbon sinks.
Developing countries need additional support from the Green Climate Fund and other voluntary bilateral donors for the forest and land sector and not through emission offset schemes.
Countries national contributions (NDCs) must step up their forests and land-use targets, which are inadequate in developing countries and virtually non-existent in developed countries.
Indigenous Peoples territories and community rights must be recognised and secured as they are the best guardians against deforestation and forest degradation.
Watch: What 750 billion trees can do about climate change
Jannes Stoppel is a Forest Campaigner with Greenpeace Germany