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Comment on the COP21 - the end of negotiations draw near

Forests in spotlight as COP21 climate talks approach endgame

As the 21st UN Climate Conference reaches its final days in Paris, how is the outcome shaping up for forests? On Wednesday 9th December, the first text of the Draft Paris Outcome was released and parties met to give their views on the text. With negotiators working through the night, a new version is expected on Thursday afternoon. Forests are a potential sticking point on the agenda, with the EU playing a crucial role in shaping what happens.

Hours before the draft text came out, the EU and Brazil opened the door for land and forest carbon offsets by proposing to set up a new Clean Development Mechanism (which they are calling the Sustainable Development Mechanism) and by stating that offsets would not need to be permanent, but only ‘long-term’.

Since the sequestration of carbon in land and forests is not permanent, this suggests land and forests could be used to offset continued fossil fuel emissions. These ideas have made their way into the latest draft text.

Fern sees this language, visible in paragraph 36 of the decision text, as an opening for forest and land-related offsets, which we consider to be a disaster for the climate, given that carbon stored in land and forests is not permanent, and land-based sinks are inherently at risk of reversal to the atmosphere. Attempts to further weaken offsetting mechanisms in order to introduce forest carbon credits merely underscore the fundamental incompatibility between forests and carbon trading.

With already 1C of warming, the window of opportunity to keep warming to below 1.5C is rapidly diminishing, meaning effort is needed from all sectors in all countries, leaving no room for offsets, especially if they are not permanent, as is the case with forest and land. To limit temperature rises, there is a need to increase carbon sequestration in land, and the best way to do this is by recognising forest dependent communities’ rights to their land. And  this must happen in addition to ending reliance on fossil fuels.

Furthermore, REDD+ continues to be discussed in Paris. A ministerial facilitation group chaired by Ecuador, Switzerland and the Republic of Congo is largely discussing one paragraph of the text (Article 3 bis of the current text), where debate is over whether or not REDD+ must be referenced in the Paris outcome.

A group of countries called the Coalition for Rainforest Nations seems to want REDD+ defined as a mechanism (essentially referring to REDD+ as a market approach), while Brazil and others don’t see a need to ‘anchor’ REDD in the new agreement, given that it is already established through the Warsaw Framework.

Currently the draft is a reference to previous COP decisions on forests. And while the purpose of the agreement includes human rights, currently only the preamble explicitly makes reference to the rights of indigenous peoples.

Any mention of land or land use has disappeared from the draft, and a reference to ecosystems integrity remains only ‘noted’ in the preamble – extremely weak language considering the importance of ecosystems in regulating the climate, not to mention sustaining life on earth.

Fern hopes to see all reference to offset mechanisms removed from the final Paris Outcome, along with a strong acknowledgement of the role of ecosystems and indigenous peoples in keeping carbon in the forests.

In January 2016, a ForestWatch special will take an in-depth look at what the Paris outcome means for forest and the people who live in them.