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Increased forest ambition key to meeting temperature targets

  • Date: 15 April 2016
  • Author: Josefina BraƱa-Varela

Next week’s signing of the Paris Agreement is an important moment for reflection. The agreement itself is a remarkable demonstration of global collaboration and compromise, and the aspirations it contains provide a good foundation for the transformative work that lies ahead. What has been accomplished to date is a critical step, providing hope and a necessary anchor of commitment to confront climate change.

Of course, this moment of reflection cannot be a moment of repose. Even collectively, the national commitments outlined in Paris barely take us half way to limiting the global temperature increase to well under 2°C. In that scenario, if all conditional targets are met, a global temperature rise of at least 3°C is predicted, unless we act now to increase ambition.

Forests must play a key role in our effort to close the emissions gap. Indeed, it will be impossible to limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C without addressing emissions from forests and working to reposition them as global carbon sinks. The importance of forests – prioritizing conservation, restoration, and creating incentives for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation – is explicitly recognized by the Paris Agreement, which we see as vital for the long term stability of the climate. The unique importance of the forest sector is also highlighted by the fact that it is the only sector singled out within the Agreement. The formal inclusion of forests within the Agreement provides clarity moving forward, underscoring the need for all parties to take action in the forest sector.

It is encouraging that many countries with important forest cover have already indicated their intent to reduce emissions in the forest sector within their national commitments, through a wide range of activities like reforestation, sustainable forest management, and the distribution of improved cook stoves.

Yet, reaching the full potential of the forest sector will require countries to set even more ambitious targets. It will also require countries to think more holistically about how they are going to fulfill those ambitions, by identifying goals that encompass the entire land sector and cross-sectoral interventions.

Perhaps most critically, the successful implementation of existing forest sector targets will depend to an important extent on a substantial increase in investments from donors. Within their national commitments, some forest countries have already specified the level of international finance they will require to implement their targets. Others have indicated a willingness to increase their level of ambition in the forest sector significantly if international support is provided. Donor countries should support forest countries by working collaboratively with them to improve the specificity of targets that are contingent on international finance and providing the assistance they need to ratchet up their national commitments.

Similarly, the private sector must support these efforts with investments in sustainable supply chains, sustainable forest management, and reforestation and restoration efforts. As illustrated by commitments announced under the New York Declaration on Forests, and more recently during COP21, the private sector is becoming an increasingly willing partner in those efforts. Companies must scale up efforts to ensure they follow through and meet the goals they have set. More companies must also join the ranks of those that are setting the highest bar. Together, state and non-state actor should support themselves, and each other, to transition to a deforestation free world.

Any measure of success coming out of Paris will be dependent upon increasing action in the forest sector immediately. Bolstering pre-2020 climate action is imperative for preventing the worst impacts of climate change and is the only way to achieve a least-cost scenario. We encourage countries to sign and ratify the Paris Agreement as soon as possible. Once 55 countries representing 55% of emissions have signed and ratified the Agreement, it can enter into force – even before 2020. Speedy realization of the Paris Agreement would be a powerful symbol of the need to expedite ambitious climate action. But we cannot wait to act.

Whenever it enters into force, the Paris Agreement should not preclude additional swift and increasingly ambitious climate action, but instead serves as a reminder of the work that is yet to be done and that must begin now.

Josefina Braña-Varela is Policy Director, Forest & Climate Programme for WWF-International. She is based in Washington DC. Josefina.Brana-Varela@WWFUS.ORG