Forests and climate: Briefing note
Finland is a test case in the fight against climate change. As the world edges closer to breaching the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global temperature rises below 2 degrees, forests have become increasingly important in discussions around how to battle climate change. Yet accounting for emissions from the forests sector is devilishly complex and riddled with loopholes. This briefing focusses on the case of Finland, Europe’s most heavily forested nation.
In September 2015, world governments adopted an Agenda for Sustainable Development with 17 universal Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030. The aims are noble and daunting – end all forms of poverty, fight inequality, address climate change, and ensure that no one is left behind. This leaflet explains why these goals cannot be met without changes to EU forest policy.
It is not enough to see forests as an ‘environment-only’ issue. Protecting forests and the communities that defend them is just as much about poverty eradication, food security, climate change, social justice and sustainable consumption and production patterns. Any EU response to the SDGs must therefore include the protection of forests and the recognition and promotion of the rights of those who live in them.
The UN Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas does not cover emissions from international aviation. These are regulated by the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which has been tasked with adopting a proposal to tackle emissions from international aviation.
Their proposal shows a terrifying like of ambition. This briefing shows that their suggestion of allowing the industry to grow indefinitely, merely introducing compulsory offsetting for growth in emissions from 2027 is fraught with problems. It focuses on the major risk that claimed reductions in emissions in general, and from deforestation in particular, will be counted twice.
Such double-counting would cheat the climate. The briefing is based on Who takes the Credit? REDD+ in a post-2020 UN climate agreement.
The European Commission is currently reviewing the sustainability of uses and sources of bioenergy for the period after 2020. They will also propose a new policy on how to include the land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector in the EU’s 2030 climate and energy framework. This briefing note presents the problems of relying on LULUCF to ensure bioenergy reduces carbon emissions. It shows that the assumption that emissions from biomass harvests are fully accounted for in the LULUCF sector comes with large caveats. More importantly, the incentives and burden of proof should be put on the energy producer, rather than on the land sector.
The coalition recommends that:
- the EU strengthens LULUCF policy, and adopts additional policy measures to ensure that bioenergy delivers robust greenhouse gas emission savings
- the EU introduces a cap on the amount of bioenergy that can be counted towards 2030 renewable energy and climate targets
- the EU legislates against the use of high risk biomass sources and introduces a minimum threshold for the efficiency of energy production systems
As the ratification process for the Paris Climate Agreement begins, a new Fern briefing has shown how the EU’s new policy on land and forests could help it to be more ambitious on its climate change targets, and set a positive precedent globally by developing a separate pillar - with its own target - for the so-called LULUCF sector.
The briefing includes Fern’s recommendations to the EU to decarbonise deeper and faster and to use land and forests to mitigate climate change to help it meet the Paris Agreement’s new, more ambitious target to limit global warming.
It also includes graphs, compiled by the Oeko-Institut, showing the historical and projected emissions and removals from LULUCF sector activities for the EU and each individual Member State.
A new briefing paper issued at the start of the Paris climate talks says that restoring degraded forests can meet the world’s need to remove emissions from the atmosphere, if fossil fuel emissions are simultaneously brought to zero by 2050, and that forest communities should play a central role in this restoration. The briefing, co-written by Fern with the Rainforest Foundation Norway and Friends of the Earth Norway, also rejects the need for dangerous carbon dioxide removal such as Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) and large-scale plantations.
As the European Commission considers an ambitious strategy that can spur a circular economy in the EU, Fern has prepared a position paper on how to break the ‘take-make-use-dispose’ model in favour of one that re-uses, repairs, refurbishes and recycles – and outlines the role that forests can play.