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Forests and climate: Reports

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.

More is needed and with political will, it’s certainly possible from the tropics to the boreal forests. 

In populated agricultural landscapes, there is huge potential for increasing carbon storage by reviving trees and woodlands through agroforestry. 

As our case studies show, locally managed community forests have a track record of delivering successful, pro-poor, sustainable forest restoration. Properly done, this would have the co-benefits of stemming the planet’s catastrophic loss of biodiversity, respecting customary land rights and bringing clear benefits to rural communities. Governments need to do more to support forest restoration, but it will always be true that such projects must, at one and the same time, benefit people and ecosystems as well as respect the planet’s carbon budget. 

This report also exists in German (.pdf below) and French.

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. In the face of mounting criticism, the international aviation sector – via its specialised UN agency, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) – has come up with a plan which it says will reduce its climate impact.

A large part of this plan is offsetting.

Fern's new research shows that forest carbon offsets fail to meet ICAO's proposed criteria for accepting offests. It also details two forest carbon offset projects that have been used by major international airlines to compensate for flight emissions – despite failing to meet nearly all of ICAO's proposed criteria.

If ICAO is at all serious about ensuring its own criteria are met, it must exclude forest offsets from its offsetting mechanism.

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PDF iconfern_unearned credit.pdf1.88 MB

What impact has the Renewable Energy Directive had on EU forests?

The EU Renewable Energy Directive was launched in 2009 to great fanfare and the promise that the EU would fulfil at least 20 per cent of its total energy needs with renewables. Few could have guessed that a policy intended to help the EU meet climate goals would lead to vast increases in the burning of wood, degrading forests in Europe and beyond. See a summary of the new research commissioned by Fern, Birdlife Europe and Transport & Environment:
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Briefing note:

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PDF iconFull report489.12 KB
PDF iconReport summary310.81 KB

Going Negative - How carbon sinks could cost the Earth

The 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change was a landmark, which put the use of land-based sinks such as forests at the heart of the global blueprint for stemming global warming.

This raises two problems.

1. It may encourage the growth of sinks as an alternative to cutting emissions (offsetting). The difference from offsets is that negative emissions encourage emission reductions as well as (not instead of) fossil fuel reduction.

2. It may encourage the false idea that achieving a “balance” between the current emissions and sinks will prevent overshooting the declared temperature target. To limit global warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius – and preferable 1.5 degrees,” we need to actively reduce the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, hence – “negative emissions.”

The scale needed to engineer a stable climate through carbon sequestration by trees requires significant areas of land, putting pressure on poor-world land to lock up rich-world emissions and could compete with other world priorities such as food security, biodiversity protection, human rights and ending poverty.

But it doesn’t have to.

Done right, through systems such as community forestry agro-ecological farming, the promotion of forests and agricultural soils as carbon stores could also promote biodiversity and benefit communities. Carbon sinks and sustainable development could go together.

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PDF iconGoing negative version 2.pdf3.04 MB

Going beyond 40% - options to ensure LULUCF maintains high environmental integrity of the EU climate and energy package

As the ratification process for the Paris Climate Agreement begins, a new study produced by the Oeko-Institut for Fern 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.

Read a briefing summary on this issue.

The European Union (EU) has a target to reduce emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2030. This is an economy-wide target and therefore includes the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) sector. During the first half of 2016, the European Commission will make a legislative proposal for how to link LULUCF to the EU’s climate and energy framework. The Commission has outlined three possible ways for integration in the impact assessment prepared for the 2030 Climate and Energy Framework:

  • Option 1: LULUCF pillar: maintain non-CO2 agriculture sector emissions in the Effort Sharing Decision (ESD), and further develop a LULUCF sector policy approach separately
  • Option 2: Land sector pillar: merge the LULUCF and non-CO2 agriculture sector emissions into one new independent pillar of the EU’s climate policy
  • Option 3: include LULUCF in the Effort Sharing Decision (ESD)

Böttcher and Graichen (2015) showed that if all LULUCF credits were included in the Effort Sharing Decision (Option 3), depending on accounting rules used, the effort needed to reach the 40 per cent target would be reduced by between 7.5 and 16 per cent of total emissions. This means a 2030 target for sectors in the ESD and EU ETS of between 37 per cent and 33.6 per cent (instead of an at least 40 per cent target). The study highlighted that implications of the different options depend to a large degree on the design of accounting rules for different land use activities. The scientists concluded that the LULUCF sector should be accounted for separately to not harm ambition in other sectors.

Independent of the question which option will be chosen and what level of flexibility will be allowed between different sectors, there is the need to develop a target for LULUCF. This target can either be a separate target without any flexibility between sectors or an integrated target allowing for a certain exchange between sectors. In any case criteria and rules for accounting are needed that ensure environmental integrity as required by the Paris Agreement. Such a target would be a prerequisite for exploiting the term ‘at least’ and increasing the EU’s overall target beyond 40%.

The aim of the study is to develop options to identify LULUCF credits with high environmental integrity that could help the EU to formulate a target for the sector. These options are developed by applying criteria and indicators that ensure environmental integrity of potential LULUCF credits. Where possible the volume of credits resulting from the sector is determined. The options are evaluated regarding how they reflect data availability, how robust the metrics are (low uncertainty when measured/collected, low inter-annual variability), whether they follow a transparent approach, and how relevant they are to the LULUCF sector. Also the question how suitable metrics are to set incentives to improve management in the LULUCF sector is of relevance.

Results

Based on available data and assumptions on future development of GHG emissions and removals from the LULUCF sector, we find that options exist to allow the EU to increase its level of ambition by including LULUCF in its 40% target and ensuring environmental integrity. Current rules are not sufficient to fulfil principles of environmental integrity such as those defined in the Marrakech Accords. A number of basic changes are proposed, such as moving towards land-based accounting, changing base years for cropland and grazing land management, changing accounting for afforestation and forest management.

The level of ambition could be increased further if accounting was made conditional to environmental performance, e.g. the maintenance or increase of carbon stocks. The additionality of mitigation in LULUCF can only guaranteed if the target is set after such rules have been formulated.

Despite the fact that challenges of data availability exist for some MS (e.g. regarding data on emissions and removals from cropland and grazing land management) most options can be implemented without additional efforts. Data gaps need to be identified and addressed by research and the development of guidance. In order to develop accounting rules further and increase coherence and consistency of the generation and use of rules, especially regarding FMRLs, an oversight body would help to provide independent guidance and supervision.

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PDF iconLULUCF_target_Oeko_report221.48 KB

Double Jeopardy: coal's threat to forests

Coal is the single biggest contributor to man-made climate change, while deforestation accounts for up to one-sixth of CO2 emissions. So when forests are torn down to make way for coal mines the danger to the planet intensifies.

Fern has launched a new report - Double Jeopardy: coal's threat to forests - which shows that at least 11.9 million hectares of forest across the world are at risk from coal mining.

A crucial element of the report is an interactive website, which, for the first time, uses GIS mapping technology to give a global picture of where forests are being threatened by new coal-mining concessions.

Beyond the ‘double whammy’ that razing forests to burn coal poses to the climate, there is its devastating impact on forest-dependent communities. The solution, in part, lies with them. Protecting their tenure rights should be a key part of the strategy to keep forests standing and, where coal lies beneath them, keeping it in the ground.

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PDF iconCoalForest_Report.pdf885.29 KB

Designing a LULUCF pillar that works for forests and climate

This report by the Institute for European Environmental Policy was commissioned by Fern to develop proposals for how best to include the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) sector's emissions and removals in the EU’s climate target framework. Our underlying objective is to bring LULUCF into the framework in ways which genuinely add to the EU’s mitigation contribution to tackling climate change.

Read our press release about this briefing here.

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PDF iconIEEP_LULUCF_report890.66 KB

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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.

DocumentSize
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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