Forests in Paris: How Trees Factor Into Global Climate Decisions

By Senior Program Leader Eric Walberg

 

Every month, my team and I write bulletins to inform our Climate Smart Land Network members about important climate issues that relate to forestry. Last month, we debriefed the role forests could play in the Paris Climate Conference. The monumental decisions that were made last weekend will influence land use decisions and the role of forests in mitigating and adapting to climate change for many years to come. Let me explain why.

 

The Paris Agreement highlights the importance of forest protection and revitalization in the context of the need to simultaneously address alleviation of poverty, adequate food production, and adaptation to climate change. As the human population continues to grow and living standards improve, existing tensions between different land uses—including food production, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and production of wood and fiber—will be exacerbated.

 

The Paris Agreement also sets the stage for increased funding for forest protection and revitalization. Several funding deals were announced at COP21. Norway, Germany, and the United Kingdom announced $5 billion in support for REDD+ projects (an initiative to help protect tropical forests that I explain below), and Canada announced increasing support of the Green Climate Fund to $2.65 billion.

 

Forests play a role in international climate debates because of their ability to store carbon. For example, in a study Manomet conducted with the City of Bath, Maine Forest Service, Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, and the U.S. Forest Service, we found that trees in Bath, Maine, store enough carbon dioxide to offset the annual emissions of 7,600 cars—a number that represents eighty percent of Bath’s population.

 

Before Paris, all countries participating in the conference submitted Intended Determined Contributions (INDCs) that state their emission targets and provide high-level outlines of how the targets will be achieved. Forest management is a component of many of the INDCs with approaches including afforestation, reforestation, reduction in forest degradation, and increased stocking.

 

For example, China committed to increasing forest stock volume by 4.5 billion cubic meters compared to 2005 levels, India said that they will create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tons of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030, and Honduras committed to afforesting or reforesting 1 million hectares of forest by 2030.

 

In preparation for the Paris conference, the United Nations Environment Program released their 2015 Emissions Gap Report. The report is the most recent annual assessment of progress toward meeting the global 2 degree goal and includes an analysis of the potential for forest related mitigation activities through the INDCs and several previous commitments. 

 

 

Tropical forests play a particularly important role in global climate regulation. Not only do they make up over 50% of the world’s forested land and store 25% of global carbon, tropical forests have a higher evaporative cooling effect than temperate and boreal forests because of the large amount of water they move through the hydrological system. This means that saving tropical forests does more to cool our climate than saving other types of forest land.

 

The final Agreement embraces two approaches to minimizing deforestation in the tropics—Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) and the Joint Mitigation and Adaptation Mechanism (JMA). REDD+ is a market-based approach to creating financial value for the carbon stored in forests. JMA is a non-market-based approach to integrating climate change mitigation and adaptation through linking of a range of factors including agriculture and forestry, protection of biodiversity, and support of indigenous populations.

 

It is now safe to say that forests will play an increasingly important role in meeting multiple climate goals. In the next couple of days we will provide Climate Smart Land Network members with an in-depth analysis of the conclusion of the conference.  If you would like to be added to our email list and receive updates on climate-related forest topics every month, please contact Applied Forest Scientist Jennifer Hushaw.