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Forests and climate: Blog

While climate change wreaks havoc, airlines hide plans to double emissions behind a widely discredited scheme.

By Julia Christian

In Bonn last month delegates from around the world discussed how to implement the Paris Climate Change Agreement  – which aims to tackle the greatest threat currently facing the planet.

At exactly the same time almost 6,000 kilometres away in Montreal, representatives from the global aviation industry were hell-bent on undermining the Agreement’s aims.

The absurd scenario simultaneously playing out in different meeting rooms on different continents can be traced back to the 1997 climate talks in Kyoto.

Following industry lobbying, ICAO, the United Nation’s aviation agency, managed to ensure that emissions from international flights weren’t included in the national emissions inventories that every nation was required to regularly report. Instead countries were expected to work through ICAO to reduce emissions from aviation.

However, the latest incarnation of ICAO’s plans to make their industry ‘greener’ - which its members discussed in Montreal - beggars belief.

Before examining the nitty gritty of what ICAO wants to do, here’s a brief reminder of airlines’ mammoth role in driving climate change.

Just one person in five on the planet has ever even been on a plane -  which shows that while flying has become more common, it’s still an activity largely undertaken by the world’s wealthy,  (even in a rich country like the UK, nearly half the population didn’t fly at all in 2015).

Yet despite the fact that most flights are taken by a very small group of people,  international airlines want to use a  20 per cent of our global carbon allowance budget - that is, the maximum amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) scientists say we can release to avoid catastrophic climate change.

In October 2016, ICAO adopted a climate plan that claims to ensure “carbon neutral growth from 2020”.  But here’s the catch: this so-called “carbon neutral growth” in fact involves more than doubling emissions.

ICAO claims these emissions will be made carbon neutral with mass purchases of carbon offsets - in other words, paying someone else to prevent emissions elsewhere.

But carbon offsets, unfortunately, do little more than soothe our conscience. 

This is particularly true for forest offset projects – whose climate benefits are notoriously difficult to measure and guarantee. There are multiple cases of project implementers fiddling the numbers to pretend they are reducing emissions more than what would have happened anyway — and of projects where emissions have increased, not decreased, since implementation began. 

Third party auditors—who should prevent these things from happening—are paid by the offset companies themselves, and have often signed off on offset credits that are clearly unsound.  And many forest offset projects are in tropical countries where corruption and illegal deforestation is high, and virtually impossible for project implementers to control in the long run. 

If forest offsets don’t actually reduce emissions, they just being used to create an illusion of carbon-neutral flights — while overall emissions keep rising. As atmospheric CO2 spikes to record levels, international airlines are playing with fire. 

And that’s not all. Besides their role in locking in higher emissions levels, forest offsets have also attracted well-founded criticism for their threats to local people — who are sometimes excluded from their traditional lands in a misguided attempt to “conserve” the forest and offset someone else’s emissions. 

In Montreal discussions focussed on the criteria that ICAO will adopt for deciding which types of carbon offsets they will allow.

New research by Fern shows that forest carbon offsets consistently fail to meet the majority of these criteria—and that they are therefore at high risk of not actually reducing emissions.

We can see the dangers of forest carbon offsets in projects already being used by the aviation sector.

Fern analysed two projects offered by major international airlines to passengers wishing to make their flights “carbon neutral”– one in Oddar Meanchey, Cambodia (which Virgin Atlantic offers to passengers), and the other in Mai N’dombe, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (which Austrian Airlines and San Diego Airport offer to passengers). Not only have both projects caused serious human rights issues, they have also failed at their central goal of protecting forests—their claims to make flights “carbon neutral” are therefore an illusion. 

In Oddar Meanchay, the forest is being clear-cut and local people exploited or kicked off their land, while the Mai N’dombe project has seen deforestation increase since the project began.

Clear-cut forest within the Oddar Meanchey REDD+ project in Cambodia, sponsored by Virgin Atlantic.

 

Virgin Atlantic, which uses a carbon offsetting specialist called Natural Capital Partners to “offer customers the opportunity to reduce the carbon impact of their flight”, responded to Fern’s findings by saying that it had contacted Natural Capital Partners to investigate them, adding that the Oddar Meanchey scheme “is designed to help finance renewable energy and resource conservation projects”.

A spokeswoman for Natural Capital insisted that the Oddar Meanchey project “is validated to the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standard (CCB) and therefore meets its requirements, which are very specific regarding the respect for property rights, Free Prior and Informed Consent and customary tenure, use and access.”

Although on its website Austrian Airlines still offered its customers the chance to offset their flights through the Mai N’dombe project, a spokesperson told Fern: “We are well aware of the problems in relation to the Mai N´dombe project. Therefore this project is NOT among those sponsored by CO2-Compensations from our Customers. However, it is mentioned as a CO2-compensation-project by Climate Austria in 2016. Our partner KPC (Kommunalkredit Public Consulting) is managing Climate Austria & selecting the eligible projects.  Even though they are aware of the problems relating to Mai N’dombe it is unfortunately not feasible to remove it from the list right now, but KPC will of course remove it at the earliest opportunity.”

These schemes, however, are just illustrations of a far wider problem: forest carbon offsets can never guarantee permanent emissions reductions.  ICAO’s interest in buying up huge amounts of these offsets puts the credibility of their whole climate plan - and international climate action - at risk.  

Some policymakers seem at last to be waking up to the dangers of ICAO’s proposals.

At the Bonn climate summit, the EU, as well as numerous other countries, expressed the need for caution regarding carbon credits being bought by non-state actors such as ICAO. 

Their message must be heeded. To help combat climate change, ICAO must ban the use of forest offsets—and come up with a plan that actually reduces emissions, rather than trying to shift that responsibility on to people who didn’t cause the problem in the first place. 

Forstwirtschaftliche Berechnungsregeln bringen die Glaubwürdigkeit der EU-Klimaschutzvorstellungen in Gefahr

von Dr. Joanna I. House

Forstwirtschaftlicher Klimaschutz sollte nach einer wissenschaftlich objektiven Vorgehensweise gemessen werden, die es Staaten nicht erlaubt, die Auswirkungen politischer Maßnahmen, die die Nettoemissionen erhöhen, zu verbergen. Dies schreibt eine Gruppe von Umweltwissenschaftlern unter der Leitung von Dr. Joanna I. House.

Dr. Joanna I. House ist wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin für ökologische Wissenschaften und Umweltpolitik am Cabot Institute, Universität Bristol, Vereinigtes Königreich. Sie ist zusammen mit anderen, am Ende dieses Artikels aufgeführten, Umweltwissenschaftlern Koautorin dieses Meinungsartikels.

Als Präsident Trump sich vom Pariser Klimaschutzübereinkommen zurückzog, sprach der EU-Kommissar für Klimapolitik, Miguel Arias Cañete, für alle EU-Mitgliedstaaten, als er meinte: „Dies hat uns eher zusammengeschweißt als geschwächt, und dieses Vakuum wird von einer neuen breiten engagierten Führung aufgefüllt werden.” Der französischen Staatspräsident, Emmanuel Macron, schlug mit seinem Tweet in die gleiche Kerbe: „Macht unseren Planeten erneut groß”.

Entsprechend der Redewendung ‚den Worten müssen Taten folgen’, gibt es keinen besseren Beginn als gerade jene Gesetze, die die EU derzeit vorbereitet, um die Zielvorgaben für 2030 nach dem Pariser Übereinkommen zu implementieren. Dies beinhaltet ein besonders umstrittenes Thema, das die EU-Umweltminister am 19. Juni erörtern werden, nämlich die buchhaltungstechnischen Grundsätze für die klimatischen Auswirkungen von Wäldern.

Wälder sind entscheidend für die Begrenzung der Erderwärmung auf 2 Grad Celsius. Auf die Abholzung gehen fast 10 % der von Menschen verursachten CO2-Emissionen zurück, während Wälder fast ein Drittel der CO2-Emissionen aus der Atmosphäre entnehmen.

In der EU wachsen derzeit mehr Wälder als geerntet werden.  Daraus ergibt sich ihre Rolle als Netto-CO2-Senke,  die jährlich über 400 Mio t CO2 aus der Atmosphäre entfernt. Dies entspricht 10 % aller Treibhausgasemissionen der EU.

Die von den Mitgliedstaaten beschlossenen oder beabsichtigten Maßnahmen werden sie wahrscheinlich veranlassen, mehr Bäume abzuholzen (z.B. für die Bioökonomie und Bioenergie), und hierdurch die  CO2-Senke zu verringern. Die Auseinandersetzung geht einfach gesagt darüber, wenn Wälder aufgrund dieser Politik weniger CO2 entnehmen, sollte dies rechnerisch berücksichtigt werden.

Gestützt auf die aus dem Kyoto Protokoll gelernten Erfahrungen, schlug die EU-Kommission vor, dass sich die buchhaltungstechnische Verrechnung der Auswirkung der Wälder auf die Atmosphäre auf eine wissenschaftlich robuste Grundlinie stützen sollte. Letztere (auch als ‘Forstwirtschaftlicher Referenzwert’ bezeichnet) sollte historische Daten zu fortwirtschaftlichen Aktivitäten und Forstwirtschaftsdynamik (altersspezifischer Wandel) berücksichtigen. Falls Staaten in der Entwicklung forstwirtschaftliche Aktivitäten ändern, so würden die atmosphärischen Auswirkungen dieses Wandels insgesamt berechnet aufgrund der resultierenden Veränderungen in den Treibhausgasemissionen und -Senken gegenüber dem Referenzwert. Diese Vorgehensweise stimmt überein mit der Treibhausgas-Bilanzierung aller anderen Sektoren.

Dann haben einige EU-Mitgliedstaaten vorgeschlagen, eine Ausweitung der Abholzung, potentiell bis hin zur gesamten Wald-Zuwachsrate, nicht zu bestrafen. Dies würde erreicht, indem man diese Erntezunahme und den diesbezüglichen Wandel der Netto-Kohlenstoffsenke im Referenzwert integriert.

Als Bodennutzungsexperten, die an wissenschaftlichen und methodischen Berichten (einschließlich dem Zwischenstaatlichen Sachverständigenrat für Klimafragen, IPCC), der Implementierung der Treibhausgas-Inventurberichte und der wissenschaftlichen Beratung von Regierungen beteiligt sind, haben wir mehrere wissenschaftliche Bedenken bei dieser Vorgehensweise.

Im Hinblick auf die Atmosphäre führt eine verringerte CO2-Senke in Wäldern zu mehr in der Atmosphäre verbleibendem CO2, und entspricht tatsächlich einer Netto-Steigerung der Emissionen. Dies ist wahr, selbst wenn die Wälder „dauerhaft” bewirtschaftet werden, d.h. selbst wenn die Ernten nicht den nachwachsenden Wald übersteigen.

Dies ist umso komplizierter als die Themen sektorübergreifend sind. Größere Erntemengen können die CO2-Aufnahme durch Wälder verringern, aber die Verwendung von  geerntetem Holz kann in anderen Sektoren zu Emissionsreduktionen führen, z.B. mit der Substitution anderer emissionsintensiverer Materialien (z.B. Zement) oder fossiler Energie durch Holz. Diese Emissionsreduktionen werden implizit in den Nicht-LULUCF-Sektoren verrechnet.  Daher müssen, um Verzerrungen durch unvollständige Bilanzierung zu vermeiden, auch die gesamten Auswirkungen einer ausgeweiteten Ernte ausgewiesen werden.

Außerdem könnten politisch induzierte Erntesteigerungen im Referenzwert effektiv bis zu jährlich 400 Mio t CO2 aus der forstwirtschaftlichen Biomass-Buchhaltung der EU verstecken verglichen mit der “Senkenleistung”, mit der die EU-Wälder derzeit aufwarten, oder bis zu jährlich 300 Mio t CO2 bezogen auf einen wissenschaftlich begründeten Referenzwert (bis zu zwei Drittel der jährlichen Emissionen Frankreichs).

Falls politische Auswirkungen auf die landgebundenen Netto-CO2-Senken ignoriert oder geschmälert werden, würde dies:

  • die Glaubwürdigkeit der EU-Bioenergiebilanzierung beeinträchtigen: die aktuellen IPCC-Vorgaben zur Meldung von Bioenergieemissionen gehen nicht davon aus, dass sie CO2-neutral sind, aber irgendwelche CO2-Reduktionen sollten besser unter den ‚Landnutzung, Landnutzungsänderung und Forstwirtschaft’ (LULUCF) Sektoren als im Energiesektor bilanziert werden (um eine Doppelerfassung zu vermeiden). Die EU-Rechtsvorschriften zur Bioenergie vertrauen in ähnlicher Weise auf der Annahme, dass CO2-Emissionen vollkommen unter LULUCF ausgewiesen werden.
  • die Übereinstimmung von EU-Klimazielen und den IPCC-Entwicklungsbahnen gefährden. Das Ziel der EU, Treibhausgasemissionen  bis 2030 um 40% (-80/95% bis 2050) gegenüber den Werten von 1990 zu senken, beruht auf dem IPCC-Treibhausgasziel von 2°C für  Industrieländer. Diese Zielvorgabe stützt sich nicht allein auf Emissionen, sondern auch auf landbezogenen Senken. Wird ein Rückbau von landbezogenen Senken verborgen, riskiert man Misserfolge, die Temperaturziele zu erreichen, und würden weitere Emissionsverringerungen in anderen Sektoren notwendig, um mit den IPCC-Ziellinien konsistent zu bleiben.
  • dem Gedanken des Paris Übereinkommens widersprechen, nämlich dass „die Beteiligten Maßnahmen zur Erhaltung und Ausweitung von Senken ergreifen sollten”, und dass die Parteien für Transparenz in der Bilanzierung sorgen sollten;  der Aufbau von Vertrauen sollte dafür sorgen, dass der einzelstaatlich festgelegte Beitrag jedes Landes (das Ausmaß seines angestrebten Klimaschutzes) erreicht wird, ohne die Auswirkungen nationaler Politik zu verbergen.
  • international ein gefährlicher Präzedenzfall sein, der möglicherweise andere Länder zu gleichem Verhalten verleiten könnte (d.h. zur Festlegung von Referenzwerten für die  Abholzung). Dies würde die Glaubwürdigkeit des von Vielen erwarteten Beitrags der Forstwirtschaft zum Pariser Übereinkommen kompromittieren.

Das Pariser Übereinkommen benötigt eine glaubhafte und transparente forstwirtschaftliche Buchhaltung; die Führungspersonen der EU treffen derzeit Entscheidungen, die den Standard festlegen könnten.  Die Aufnahme politisch initiierter Erntesteigerungen in Referenzwerten bedeutet, dass die atmosphärischen Auswirkungen politischer Forstmaßnahmen wirksam vor den Bilanzen verborgen werden (während sie für Treibhausgaseinsparungen in anderen Sektoren sorgen). Ginge forstwirtschaftliche Buchhaltung von einem objektiv wissenschaftlichen Ansatz aus, würde dies für die Glaubwürdigkeit der Bioenergie-Buchhaltung, die Übereinstimmung zwischen den Klimazielen der EU und den IPCC-Zielvorstellungen von 2°C sowie für die Erfüllung des Gedankens des Pariser Übereinkommens sorgen. Eine falsche Entscheidung würde die Gefahren eines Klimawandels vergrößern und unsere Fähigkeiten untergraben, “unseren Planeten wieder groß zu machen”.

Haftungsausschluss: die Autoren bringen ihre persönlichen Ansichten gemäß ihren Fähigkeiten zum Ausdruck, sie repräsentieren weder ihre Heimatländer noch irgendeine der Institutionen, für die sie tätig sind.

Blog: Białowieża forest struggle is symptomatic of a greater ill

As Polish authorities disregard national protests and international pressure to stop logging, activists face increasing hostility in order to protect Białowieża, Europe’s last primeval forest. Activists estimate that 600-900 trees are felled daily.

When the authorities recently tripled the logging allowed in Białowieża forest (FW 227) – despite the protests of scientists and citizens – international reaction was strong. Białowieża is protected under the UN’s World Heritage Convention, and noting reports of clearcutting and culling bison with ‘utmost concern,’ UNESCO asked Poland to maintain the integrity of protected old-growth forest. It strongly urged Poland to put an immediate halt to all logging and wood extraction.

Białowieża is also a Natura 2000 site, home to more than 150 bird, animal and plant species protected under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. The European Commission initiated infringement proceedings in June 2016. Failing to obtain redress, it referred the matter to the European Court of Justice on 13 July 2017, asking for interim measures to halt the destruction while the issue works its way through the judicial process.

Despite these positive policy steps, there has been no change on the ground.

Indeed, Polish authorities’ response has been belligerent and dismissive of international authority.

Activists attempting to monitor logging activities report that the forest resembles a war zone: harvesters are accompanied by an “an army of forest guards and police  – this is no exaggeration. It really is risky, and the guards have become increasingly aggressive.” Protesters’ license plates have been noted and their cars are followed by guards and police. Some 80 individuals have been sent letters by the State Forest Unit that owns the harvesters, holding them personally liable for losses due to blockades, which it places at 65,000 Polish Złoty (Euro 15,000).

Poland’s Minister of Environment Jan Szyszko issued a declaration in which he invokes wounded nationalism, objecting “to insults directed against Poland and the Poles” by external efforts to ensure respect for legal obligations. He dismisses the dispute in Białowieża as a difference of opinion concerning methods of conservation, and portrays Polish authorities merely as engaging in a more “active” form of protection.

His threats take the form of an invitation to those who would halt the logging – under the influence of “neoliberal organisations” spreading “false information” through a “press with leftist and liberal leanings” – to provide their personal information so that they can be held financially responsible when conservation methods are compared, noting that a 2016 inventory of protected species cost approximately Euro 1.2 million. Scientists, UNESCO representatives, European ministers of environment, and European Commission officials received letters with a similar message.

Beyond the destruction of future generations’ natural heritage, Poland’s antagonistic stance threatens the rule of law. Both chambers of Parliament recently approved a law that hands control of the nation’s Supreme Court to the Minister of Justice by allowing him to dismiss its judges at will.

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council and former Polish Prime Minister, sounded the alarm about the ruling Law and Justice Party’s march toward authoritarianism. Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former President Lech Wałęsa condemned the move, urging a crowd in Gdańsk to “use all means to take back what we achieved for you.” Borys Budka, former Polish Minister of Justice, called the ‘reform’ the “biggest fraud in the history of the Polish Parliament.” President Duda has vetoed portions of this ‘reform’ but announced that he will approve the aspect that allows the Minister of Justice to dismiss heads of lower courts and influence their decisions.

Addendum: On 28 July 2017 the Court granted interim relief in the matter, requiring a halt to logging in order to prevent "serious and irreversible damage" until the case can be decided

The future is uncertain on many levels. The EU is weighing use of Article Seven, an unprecedented move that could lead Poland to lose its voting rights in the Council of Ministers. As for Białowieża, an annex to the management plan is being prepared that would allow still more logging, and given Polish authorities disdain for both national and external legal processes, the effect of any European Court of Justice ruling is uncertain. Chillingly, the extreme-right National Radical Camp has just launched a call for youth to patrol the forests searching for what they call ‘terrorists’ – the activists brave enough to uphold the law on the ground. 

 

Blog: Aviation industry's carbon offsetting plans keep flying into trouble

by Julia Christian

Keeping global warming below 1.5°C - which the Paris Agreement strives to – means fundamental changes for industries from energy to transport. Yet the aviation sector - one of the planet’s biggest emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2) - is trying to avoid making changes.  If it were a country, aviation would be the world’s seventh largest emitter. So the challenge to reduce its emissions is urgent. The response so far from the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has been to actually propose an increase in flying.

ICAO released its plan to make aviation sustainable in September 2016. Instead of getting the sort of fanfare the Paris Agreement received, its plans were met with shock and horror. Despite small positive steps such as introducing more fuel-efficient planes, the main thrust of their plan was to use the widely discredited tools of offsetting and biofuels.

This can never be considered “green”.

ICAO claims it will “offset” its increased emissions through a Global Market Based Mechanism. It remains unclear where these offsets will come from. Given the huge number of credits airlines would need to purchase to meet these plans, many presume that the industry will focus on trees, which have long been seen as a source of cheap offsets. A handful of conservation organisations are even touting them as a solution to ICAO’s growth plans.

But there is one problem: forest offsets don’t work…

…aviation emissions are released by burning fossil fuels which have been storing carbon underground for millennia. This permanent increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cannot be solved by a temporary storage in forests. As soon as trees burn or decay, they release the emissions right back into the air — and emissions keep rising.

Even if offsets did work, with less than five years left until global emissions put the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature aspiration out of reach, we do not have the luxury of choosing between reducing emissions and protecting forests. We need to do both.

In addition, forest offset projects have a dubious history of displacing local communities from their land—despite international safeguards. Unjust offset projects leave rural people in poor countries — those least responsible for climate change — yet again paying the price for the consumption habits of a small class of people: only seven per cent of the world’s population fly.   

Finally, the size of the offsets required is completely unachievable. When countries signed the Paris Agreement in 2015, they made commitments to reduce their emissions, including by protecting and restoring their forests. When one looks at how much forest has already been counted as part of forested countries’ Paris Agreement commitments, there is virtually none left for airlines to use as offsets, and certainly not enough for the massive emissions increase they plan.  

The ICAO is meeting in October this year to decide which projects will be allowed as offsets under their Global Market Based Mechanism. One hundred NGOs have already agreed that forests must not be one of the options, even if this means giving up on ICAO’s dream of constant upward growth.

Blog: Analysis of draft LULUCF reports

By Hannah Mowat

The recently-published draft reports of the Land Use Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) regulation give an indication of which direction the different committees’ rapporteurs would like to take the file. Here we offer a quick overview of the main highlights and lowlights:

Environment Committee report: The ENVI Committee is in charge of the LULUCF file and so its report is of most interest. It is worrying therefore that rapporteur Norbert Lins’ draft proposes to fundamentally weaken the LULUCF Regulation in two key ways: First, he suggests ignoring the emissions related to any increased harvesting that took place between 2009 - 2012; second, he proposes doubling the cap on forest management credits from 200 to 400 megatonnes (MT). Allowing Member States to offset a further 200 MT would be the equivalent of leaving almost 200 million more cars on the road. Lins’ report goes against his native country Germany’s amendments, which seek to strengthen the Commission proposal.

Agriculture Committee report: The rapporteur Elisabeth Köstinger’s report (which closely follows the amendment proposed by her native country Austria) undermines the Commission’s proposal in almost every way. The proposal removes the need to count emissions and removals from forests correctly, so that, for instance, future emissions from forests would not be counted. Changing the way emissions from forest removals are counted fundamentally undercuts the ability of the EU to ensure that bioenergy emissions are properly accounted for, since the carbon dioxide released from bioenergy is meant to be counted at the point of harvest not the point of combustion. The proposal also further weakens the credibility of credits generated by forest management, ending the hopes of many Member States that forest management could be used to offset emissions in the future.

Development Committee report: Rapporteur Florent Marcellesi has chosen to strengthen the Commission’s proposal in several ways. Recognising the international implications if the EU agrees weak rules, he proposed that all human-induced emissions are counted – not hidden in forests. This sets the best precedent for countries facing high levels of deforestation.

Industry, Research and Energy Committee report: Rapporteur Marisa Matias also proposes to strengthen the LULUCF Regulation, suggesting that emissions and removals from wetlands be counted and affirming that any actions to increase carbon in land and forests must comply with the EU’s biodiversity legislation.

Comment on COP22: The Paris Agreement - a forest and rights perspective

November 4, Brussels – The Paris Climate Agreement enters in to force today, less than a year after it was agreed. Such a rapid adoption indicates that there remains strong political will to tackle climate change. Fern’s analysis of the Agreement, called it an “historic moment and an achievement of international diplomacy”. We also warned that the net zero emissions target risked relying too much on the land use sector which could pose significant additional risks to forests, food security, and the land rights of vulnerable communities.

As the build up to the 2016 Marrakech climate conference (COP22) continues, Fern is urging the EU to limit greenhouse gas emissions sooner rather than later, and to offer greater protection to forests and forest peoples’ rights.

More ambition

The EU’s current emissions reduction targets were set before the Paris Agreement was negotiated. These targets have no chance of achieving the Paris Agreement and so will have devastating impacts on some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

The EU’s biggest instrument for dealing with climate change is the Effort Sharing Regulation, which mandates member states to reduce emissions in certain key sectors by 30 per cent. Increasing the ambition to a 45 per cent reduction is both achievable and consistent with the Paris Agreement.

Forests are more than a place to keep carbon

The Paris Agreement comes after years of prevaricating and delay which has meant that levels of greenhouse gases are so high that we already need to look at how to remove them as well as getting close to zero emissions. As trees and forest ecosystems extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and temporarily store carbon, they seem an obvious place for emissions-removal work. There is a real danger however that, if done poorly, such attempted reductions would threaten food security, community land rights and forests. Fern highlights the issues in our report on the topic, Going Negative.

The best and safest way to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is to restore existing forests, and the most consistent way to ensure rich and biodiverse forests is to respect and protect the land rights of the communities that live there.

Despite the urgent action required, the EU’s proposed new regulation on land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) will allow Member States to actually increase carbon emissions. This needs to change. The Regulation should incentivise the restoration of European forests, thereby increasing their capacity to store carbon. This restoration work must not however be used as an excuse for industry to pump even more greenhouse gases in to the atmosphere.

Changing consumption patterns

Deforestation is still a major source of carbon emissions, and most deforestation is caused by commercial agriculture. As a leading consumer of products grown or reared on deforested land, the EU needs find ways to strip deforestation out of its international supply chains. If it cannot do this, the chances of the world meeting the targets set by the Paris Agreement are slim.

The EU is currently conducting a feasibility study into an Action Plan to reduce deforestation and protect rights, to tackle precisely this issue. Fern and many other NGOs are calling on the EU to ensure such an Action Plan considers all the areas in which action needs to be taken.

One way to reduce emissions is by replacing fossil fuels with low carbon alternatives, such as wind and solar. Unfortunately, EU renewable energy policy presently relies on biomass. Bioenergy provides almost 65 per cent of overall renewable energy consumption despite the fact that burning biomass for energy can increase carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and reduce the carbon stored in forests or wood products. Fern explains the possible climate impacts of bioenergy use in a briefing note ‘Burning trees is no solution to climate change’.

Fern will be attending the COP and will be analysing how decisions will affect forests and forest peoples. All material will be available from our website www.fern.org and our Twitter account https://twitter.com/Fern_NGO

Most recent publications

Return of the trees

By Fred Pearce

To have a fair chance of limiting global temperature rise to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius, it will be necessary to remove at least 500 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere. The best way to do this is to work with local communities to restore degraded forest ecosystems. As this report shows, this is entirely possible. 

It must, however, go hand in hand with halting forest loss and reducing fossil fuel consumption. Not instead of. Governments around the world have made pledges such as the Bonn Challenge to support restoration and reforestation projects, but even if the Bonn challenge is successful it would only remove 50 billion tonnes, 10 per cent of what is needed.

Community-led forest restoration helps fight climate change

December 19, 2017 (Brussels) - Restoring natural biologically diverse forests could remove 500 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, making a significant impact in the fight agai

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PDF iconReturn of the Trees PR.pdf114.48 KB

How the Fiji UN climate summit affects forests

Kate Dooley was in Bonn, tracking the developments in the UN climate summit. She has written this overview of the talks from a forests perspective for Fern. 

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PDF iconComment COP23.pdf1.17 MB

While climate change wreaks havoc, airlines hide plans to double emissions behind a widely discredited scheme.

By Julia Christian

In Bonn last month delegates from around the world discussed how to implement the Paris Climate Change Agreement  – which aims to tackle the greatest threat currently facing the planet.

At exactly the same time almost 6,000 kilometres away in Montreal, representatives from the global aviation industry were hell-bent on undermining the Agreement’s aims.

The absurd scenario simultaneously playing out in different meeting rooms on different continents can be traced back to the 1997 climate talks in Kyoto.

Unearned credit: Why aviation industry forest offsets are doomed to fail

Unlike other sectors, international aviation is not included in 2015’s Paris Agreement. This has allowed aviation to lag behind other sectors when it comes to reducing emissions.

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PDF iconfern_unearned credit.pdf1.88 MB

Airlines’ ‘action’ on climate change means doubling emissions

This press release exposes the flaws in the airline industry’s plans to offset its carbon emissions. It is also available in German.

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PDF iconICAO final.pdf467.91 KB
PDF iconICAO Fern PR_DE.pdf585.14 KB

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