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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 and our Twitter account