Forests in the COP21 Climate Change Agreement: Momentum on and Mention of Forests in the Climate Change Text

Author: Ruth Metzel

Forests’ role in combating climate change was formally recognized in the climate change agreement achieved in Paris this month. This recognition includes formal mention of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) in the agreement text as well as new commitments to increase forest financing from the governments of Germany, Norway and United Kingdom.[i] An agreement to establish a new international REDD+ center to facilitate collaboration on implementing REDD+ was signed between multiple tropical countries in an initiative spearheaded by Panama, President of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations.[ii]

These accomplishments at COP21 were built on a growing tide of momentum toward action on forests. As COP21 approached, roughly 54% of countries had prioritized the land use sector within their national contributions to mitigating climate change. An informal review in late November found that 80 intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) out of the 147 submitted had mentioned the land use sector (emissions from agriculture and forestry).i  Of the ministerial and presidential speeches in the first days of COP21, approximately one third mentioned forests, 28% mentioned agriculture, and 14% mentioned biodiversity as priorities in the discussions. The mention of land use emissions by over half of countries in their INDCs and the mention of forests by one third of world leaders in their initial speeches to the conference is indicative of the importance that forests hold in climate change mitigation.

Important recognitions of forests within the COP21 adopted text include:

  • In the Finance Section of the Decision, the Conference of the Parties…
    • Recognizes the   importance   of   adequate   and   predictable   financial   resources, including for results-based payments, as appropriate, for the implementation of policy approaches and positive incentives for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation,   and   the   role   of   conservation,   sustainable   management   of   forests   and enhancement of forest carbon stocks; as well as alternative policy approaches, such as joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests; while reaffirming the importance of non-carbon benefits associated with such approaches; encouraging the coordination of support from, inter alia, public and private, bilateral and multilateral sources, such as the Green Climate Fund, and alternative sources in accordance with relevant decisions by the Conference of the Parties; [iii]
  • In Article 5 of the Agreement:
    • Parties should take action to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases as referred to in Article 4, paragraph 1(d), of the Convention, including forests.iii
    • Parties are encouraged to take action to implement and support, including through results-based payments, the existing framework as set out in related guidance and decisions already agreed under the Convention for: policy approaches and positive incentives for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries; and alternative policy approaches, such as joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests, while reaffirming the importance of incentivizing, as appropriate, non-carbon benefits associated with such approaches.iii

The International Center for Implementation of Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (ICIREDD) will aim to build upon these mentions of forests in the Paris text by further supporting work toward implementation of REDD+ activities in a way that is effective, fair and transparent.ii The founding members (Panama, Guinea Bissau, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic) and key initial donors (Norway, the United Kingdom, Germany, United States, Canada, Japan and the European Union) may have taken the initial steps toward carrying the momentum on forests from COP21 forward into the New Year and beyond. However, only the New Year will tell whether the center will be successfully established according to the principles of effectiveness, fairness and transparency agreed upon in its founding text, and whether it will be able to successfully leverage increased financing from additional sources to turbocharge REDD+ implementation.

[i] Outcomes from COP21: Forests as a Key Climate and Development Solution. (2015, Dec. 18) Retrieved from http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2015/12/18/outcomes-from-cop21-forests-as-a-key-climate-and-development-solution

[ii] Panamá será sede de Centro Internacional sobre Bosques y Cambio Climatico. (2015, Dec. 10) Retrieved from http://www.miambiente.gob.pa/index.php/homepage/ultimas-noticias/otras-noticias/1632-panama-sera-sede-de-centro-internacional-sobre-bosques-y-cambio-climatico

[iii] Adoption of the Paris Agreement. Proposal by the President. Draft decision -/CP.21. (2015, Dec. 12) Retrieved from http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09r01.pdf