Rainforest in Sabah. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Shortly before the Warsaw climate talks, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) released its Emissions Gap report, highlighting the growing gap
between the emissions reductions that are needed to stay below 2 degrees and the trajectory the world is on at the moment.
The report clearly identifies forests as one of the most important options to reduce emissions which can be delivered in the short term. While parties
urgently need to start phasing out fossil fuels and stop emissions from fossil fuels no later than 2050, protecting forests now can help significantly to
keep a realistic chance of staying below 2 degrees.
For this to happen, it is extremely important that all emissions reductions from forest protection happen in addition and not instead of
reductions from fossil fuel emissions. Some countries would like to protect forests but would like to do so only in exchange for a license to burn more
fossil fuels (also known as offsetting). If forests are used to burn even more fossil fuels and tap new fossil fuel resources such as drilling for oil in
the Arctic, there is little hope left for the world to remain below 2 degrees.
The example of Brazil shows that forest protection can be implemented in a relatively short amount of time. While less than a decade ago emissions from
deforestation were by far the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions for Brazil, in the last five years deforestation has been significantly reduced.
Sustaining this trend requires strong national legislation to protect forests and – as the example of Brazil also shows.
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.
Until this year Brazil has been a front-runner in this but the newest deforestation rates, released on November 14th, indicate that this might
be changing. The first data presented after the approval of the New Forest Code shows that, after four consecutive years of decline, 5,843 square
kilometers of forest were lost between August 2012 and July 2013, what represents an increase of 28 percent compared to the previous period.
Brazil’s past experience lends support to UNEP’s focus on forests as one of the best options to close the emissions gap in the short run. Recent
developments, however, must be a call for caution showing that only sustained commitment to protecting the world’s forest and zero the deforestation can
deliver robust results.
In Warsaw countries therefore must come to a strong agreement that protects the world’s remaining forests and makes sure that this protection is additional
and cannot be used to offset continued emissions from the fossil fuel sector. Emissions from the destruction of forests make up between 10 and 15 per cent
of global CO2 emissions, or as much as the transport sector (land, air and sea) combined. Countries will not be able to prevent catastrophic
climate change if forests are not protected in addition to reducing fossil fuel emissions. Replacing one with the other – as offsetting does – will
simply not be enough to save the climate.
If negotiators make the right decisions in Warsaw, forest protection could deliver extremely important and urgent carbon emissions reductions that can help
close the emissions gap. In addition to bringing emissions down in the short run this also helps to protect biodiversity as well as to strengthen local
communities’ and indigenous peoples’ rights, if strong safeguards in this regard are being implemented.
Clearing of hillsides for palm oil production.
Renata Camargo is Political Coordinator at Greenpeace Brazil, and Sebastian Bock is Political Advisor at Greenpeace International