As the Practicum’s resident forester, it is my duty to take a closer look at how the Paris Agreement deals with forests. For context, emissions from the forest sector currently make up anywhere from 10-15% of annual global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (Van der Werf et al. 2009), similar to emissions from personal cars and trucks (Silvia-Chavez 2015).
Forests and deforestation are explicitly referenced in their own article of the Agreement, Article 5, which contains just two paragraphs. This text reaffirms and solidifies the role of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) in the Agreement and any subsequent actions by Parties. In short, Article 5 suggests that Parties steward forests as sinks of GHGs, and encourages them to “implement… the existing framework” for policies- including payments- which mitigate climate change through forests. Although this text is brief it provides a powerful statement on how forests will be treated in the coming century. Essentially, Parties have agreed that deforestation cannot continue and that forests must be better managed to ensure mitigation and adaptation to climate change. Exactly how this will happen will be worked through in the coming years, but the Agreement is clear that finance from developed to developing countries will play a key role in facilitating this.
Perhaps a more important testament to the importance of forests in the future is given in Article 4 (Mitigation):
“to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century (UNFCCC 2015)”.
This statement affirms that the world is relying on forests (and other natural sinks of GHGs) to offset total anthropogenic GHG emissions by the middle of this century. Currently, scientists believe that forests and other sinks absorb as much as 60% of annual anthropogenic GHG emissions (Pan et al. 2011); this figure includes forests and oceans. Thus, marked emissions reductions are necessary across all sectors, a fact which is already known.
Overall, I am very proud and happy that the Agreement puts so much faith in our forests. The world is asking a lot of our forests. I am eager to read scientific literature and analysis from forest scientists to see if they believe forests can rise up and meet the challenge put before them in the Agreement.
References and Additional Resources:
Bellassen, V. & S. Luyssaert. 2014. “Carbon sequestration: Managing forests in uncertain times” Nature 506, 153–155 (13 February 2014) doi:10.1038/506153a: http://www.nature.com/news/carbon-sequestration-managing-forests-in-uncertain-times-1.14687
Pan, Y., Birdsey,R.A., Fang, J., Houghton, R.A., Kauppi, P.E. and Kurz, W.A.et al. 2011. “A large and persistent carbon sink in the world’s forests”. Science 333,988–993.
Silvia-Chavez, G. 2015. “ Forests Emerge as a Big Winner in Paris Agreement”. Huffington Post 12 December 2015: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gustavo-silvachavez/forests-emerge-as-a-big-w_b_8793226.html
UNFCCC 2015. Paris Agreement: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09r01.pdf
UN REDD Program: http://www.un-redd.org/aboutredd
Van der Werf, G. R., Morton, D. C., DeFries, R. S., Olivier, J. G., Kasibhatla, P. S., Jackson, R. B., … & Randerson, J. T. 2009. CO2 emissions from forest loss. Nature geoscience, 2(11), 737-738.