Ministerial Declaration on Forests Fails to Deliver on Paris Agreement Ambition

pressA press conference was held on 12 December 2018, just one hour before the release of a Declaration written by the Polish Ministry on Forests for the Climate.  The conference was led by ”Fern,” an EU organization that advocates for forests and the people whose livelihoods depend on them, supported by the Climate Land Ambition and Rights Alliance (CLARA), a collaboration of non-governmental organizations that echoes Fern’s mission with principles of social justice and agroecology.  Forestry campaigners and experts brought in by Fern shared their reactions to what they believed to be a genuine sneak peek at the declaration that was to be released later that same evening.

The Katowice Press Conference Room was graced with opinions from Christoph T., forest campaigner for Greenpeace Poland; a climate coordinator at the Global Forest Coalition and REDD+ expert from New Delhi; Virginia Young from the Australian Rainforest Conservation Society; and Otto Bruun, Policy Officer for the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation.  All of the speakers anticipated a lack of ambition in the Presidency’s declaration, something we cannot afford in our current climate.  These speakers emphasized the need to conserve forests for the sake of biodiversity, soil health, and protection from the effects of extreme natural disasters.  Forest carbon stocks were identified by Young as a complex, integrated system that encompass more than just carbon, and cannot afford to be cut down and burned in our current climate crisis (particularly primary forests).

The foreshadowed lack of ambition was realized in the release of the document.  The Polish Ministry cited Article 5 of the Paris Agreement, whose plain language can be categorized as soft law at best: 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,” and “are encouraged to take action to implement…policy incentives for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation…”

Thus, the PA does not bind Parties to any definitive action towards conserving carbon sinks in the form of forest resources.  The Polish Ministry did not add much to this lack of ambition in their declaration by “encouraging” the scientific community toWooden signpost with two opposite arrows over clear blue sky Old Business Way and New Business Way Business change conceptual image achieve a balance between anthropocentric emissions by sources and removals by sinks in the second half of this century, second only to a pledge that will “ensure an accelerated global contribution to forests and forest products.”  This not-so-subtle dedication to industry is certain to undermine forest preservation efforts many global organizations like Fern are urging governments to uphold.

If the IPCC made anything clear in its recent report, we need a rapid and just decarbonization by 2030 if we want to maintain the ambition of the PA.  This will not come to fruition if we do not work with gusto to protect what Al Gore described today as the cheapest and most efficient form of carbon sequestration already on the market – forests.

Continuing business as usual precludes banking on there being plenty more where that came from.


Oops! How Will a Mistake in a Major Scientific Report Affect the Future of Oceans at COP?

Earlier this week, scientists from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography corrected their most recent study regarding the ocean’s heat absorption capacity. This study, published in the journal Nature, initially reported that the oceans absorbed about 60% more heat from the atmosphere than originally determined. The scientists working on the study used a new method—collecting gases (mainly oxygen and carbon dioxide) that escaped from the ocean to calculate their amounts in the atmosphere. However, the scientists had not considered some “inadvertent errors” in these calculations, which suggested a degree of scientific uncertainty lower than what it actually was. (A more detailed explanation on the corrected errors can be found here). Though their conclusions align with other studies on marine heat absorption, this error triggered a tsunami of doubt on the reliability of the scientific evidence used to develop Climate Change policy.

The ocean just recently got the attention it rightfully deserves. As a major carbon sink, we must pay attention to ocean health if we want to achieve the UNFCCC climate change goals. The Ocean Pathway, established at COP23, was a recent success to bring more awareness to the important role the ocean plays with climate change. The momentum from this looked promising for COP24, but can we expect a change in course?

Science acknowledges that there will always be some level of uncertainty in scientific conclusions. However, developing policy demands the exact opposite—the tolerable level of uncertainty is set as low as possible. These two principles conflict when science is needed to develop environmental policies. How can we reconcile using data with uncertainty to create policy that operates without uncertainty?

This issue is not new to international climate change regime. The ocean’s introduction into climate change negotiations resembles the path agriculture took only a decade ago. Several years ago, before agriculture made it onto a COP agenda, the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) released a contradictory report shortly after AR5. The IPCC’s AR5 reported a “risk of food insecurity linked to warming, drought, and precipitation variability, particularly for poorer populations.” The NIPCC reported the exact opposite, suggesting that global warming is actually benefitting farmers in Africa and Asia. Though the NIPCC introduced contradictory information to suggest scientific uncertainty with agriculture and climate change, the NIPCC—a nonprofit organization founded by the famous climate change skeptic Dr. Fred Singer—frequently uses their own “scientific analysis” to negate IPCC studies on global warming. This fun fact may have influenced the amount of reliance on this data in subsequent negotiations. There was also some controversy with scientific data cited in AR4. Apparently, the studies on African agriculture were “gray” literature, meaning that have not been peer-reviewed to ensure scientific reliability. Critics making this assertion claimed the same advantages of global warming for African farmers (also using “gray” literature, but that can be for another blog post). Yet, Parties were able to plant agriculture into the COP24 agenda despite the doubt skeptics tried to cast.

The corrected Nature article on ocean heat absorption may have casted doubt on the importance of the ocean in the international climate change regime. But, if agriculture could survive the skeptics, the ocean can survive a miscalculation.


The Log-istics of Carbon Dioxide Removal

Trees are the coolest source of CO2 Removal on the planet.

http://www.climatechangenews.com/2012/10/26/conservation-or-carbon-sinks-can-the-un-see-the-forest-for-the-trees/

Trees and vegetation are known to help cool ambient air temperatures through evapotranspiration.  If left undisturbed, forests can also be a vital source of carbon storage.  Estimates from the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA 2015) show that the world’s forests and other wooded lands store more than 485 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon: 260 Gt in the biomass, 37 Gt in dead wood and litter, and 189 Gt in the soil.

In the most recent IPCC Special Report Summary for Policymakers (SPM), the world’s leading climate scientists assess the pathways the global community can pursue over the next few decades to prevent overshoot ofScreen Shot 2018-10-08 at 3.58.11 PM warming beyond 1.5°C.  The fact that all pathways to limit global warming to 1.5°C require mitigation via some form of Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) is not to be overlooked. But these removal amounts vary across pathways, as do the relative contributions of Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) and removals in the Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) sector.  BECCS sequestration is projected to range from 0-1, 0-8, and 0-16 GtCO2/yr, in 2030, 2050, and 2100 respectively; the AFOLU-related measures are projected to remove 0-5, 1-11, and 1-5 GtCO2/yr in these years.  These contributions appear meager, and they are… but every little bit counts in this climate.

A reasonable argument can be made for increased investment in and use of CCS to achieve emissions reductions.  The SPM makes it clear that forests alone won’t be able to make a significant numerical difference in reduction of CO2 from the atmosphere.  And as the New York Times aptly points out, “the world is currently much better at cutting down forests than planting new ones.”

On the surface, CCS seems like a logical outgrowth from the nature of GHG emissions production.  The IPCC’s Special Report on Climate Capture and Storage (SRCCS) describes CCS as a mitigation activity that Screen Shot 2018-11-15 at 11.37.30 PMseparates CO2 from large industrial and energy-related point sources, which has the potential to capture 85-95% of the CO2 processed in a capture plant.  Direct Air Capture (DAC) technologies like ClimeWorks remove CO2 from the air. Proponents argue that DAC is a much less land-intensive process than afforestation: Removal of 8 Gt/CO2 would require 6.4 million km² of forested land and 730 km³ of water, while DAC would directly require only 15,800 km² and no water.

However, as our blog has cautioned readers in the past, CCS requires significant financial investments from industry and government and are only regionally accessible.  Only places that have sufficient infrastructure and political support can pursue this path of technological sequestration, leaving underdeveloped countries at a major disadvantage.  A recent report published in Nature Research further emphasizes that BECCS will have significant negative implications for the Earth’s planetary boundaries, or thresholds that humanity should avoid crossing with respect to Earth and her sensitive biophysical subsystems and processes.  Transgressing these boundaries will increase the risk of irreversible climate change, such as the loss of major ice sheets, accelerated sea level rise, and abrupt shifts in forest and agricultural systems.  Above all else, CCS ultimately supports the continual burning of fossil fuels. CCS technology may capture carbon, but it also has the potential to push us over the edge.

Money tree

Mitigation has historically been the focus of the FCCC and other collaborative climate change efforts.  Global climate change policy experts are familiar with the binding language associated with activities related to mitigation in the multilateral environmental agreements: Article 4(1)(b) of the Convention calls for commitments to formulate, implement, publish and update national programs containing measures to mitigate climate change; and Article 3 of the Kyoto Protocol (KP) calls for Annex I Parties to account for their emissions reductions in order to promote accountability and activity guided by mindful emissions production.  In the waning hours of the KP, the Paris Agreement has become the new collective rallying document, whose ambitious emissions reduction target has inspired the likes of the IPCC to offer us pathways to get there.

If we are not currently on track towards limiting GHG emissions well-below 2°C in the grand scheme of the FCCC, why not insure some success, however small, buy securing CO2 in forests, not CCS?  Forests are a well-established CDR technology that do not have the associated risks with CCS.  While the most recent UN Forum on Forests report kindly reminds us that forests are also crucial for food, water, wood, health, energy, and biodiversity, the SPM upholds that mitigation contributions from carbon sequestration technology are numerically minuscule in the face of the large-scale change necessary to avoid CO2 overload.  A much more engaged energy overhaul is needed.

The ideal SPM pathScreen Shot 2018-11-15 at 11.10.17 PMway states that afforestation can be the only CDR option when social, business, and technological innovations result in lower energy demand and a decarbonized energy system.  A more middle-of-the-road scenario achieves necessary emissions reductions mainly by changing the way in which energy and products are produced, and to a lesser degree by reductions in demand.  This speaks to the need for a broad focus on sustainable development rather than continuing business as usual.  Regardless of the pathway, forests need to be preserved, whether it be for carbon sequestration, their cooling effects, or merely beauty.

Sometimes there is no turning back.


The Value of a Tree

How much is a tree worth?  How do you calculate its value?  Board feet?  Ecoservices?

PNW ForestFor many people advocating for the implementation of REDD+, the value of a forest is great.  Forests in developing countries like Myanmar, Papua New Guinea and Mongolia are recognized for their vital role in protecting water sources, sequestering carbon, and controlling erosion.  The forests are also valued because they provide ecosystem services and protect biodiversity.  These benefits individually and collectively act as a buffer to the effects of climate change – creating a resilient ecosystem.

But what about the value of a tree?  More importantly, how should developed states value their trees and forests? The Temperate forests of Oregon and Washington and the Boreal forests of Alaska are considered global champions for climate change mitigation.  Yet the timber industry as well as the state and federal agencies that manage forests on public lands value a tree and even entire forest by extractable board footage.  Simply put, the value of a tree is determined by the immediate profit that can be realized by its removal as well as the jobs created in the process.  Little to no account is given to intangible worth like ecosystem services and the forests’ rich biodiversity.  Given less consideration are unforeseeable future benefits like a stable climate.

clear-cut

But if we are to adequately determine whether to remove a tree or a forest, perhaps we should take a page from the book of developing nations.  In doing so, it behooves us to place a proper value on the resource- considering its worth entirely.  We may find that the forest, yes even the tree, is worth more standing.

 


Seas the Day

Living along the bottom of the seabed are the hydrothermal vents. These vents exist in environments under immense pressure, with volatile temperatures, toxic minerals, and devoid of sunlight. As the tectonics plates spread and magma rises, hydrothermal vents form. They are created when seawater circulates through fissures in the ocean’s crust and becomes super-heated by magma. After the mineral-rich waters reemerge, the minerals solidify to to form vents. These vents are the homes of biodiverse ecosystems and valuable mineral deposits. Thus, it is a target for scientific research, the biotechnology industry, and mining companies.download

Even these deep sea communities are affected by climate change. Ocean temperatures are rising because the ocean acts as a buffer, sequestering excess heat in the atmosphere. The rising temperature stresses food chains that deep sea organisms rely upon, increases ocean acidification, and deoxygenates the ocean. Deep sea hydrothermal vents have unique properties that are especially relevant to mitigating climate change impacts.

Hydrothermal vents are a cornucopia of scientific potential in addressing climate change. These vents have evolved a plethora of uniquely evolved organisms that advance mitigation efforts in the climate change arena, aid in the clean-up of oils spills, and have potential applications to the medical field. For example, vent organisms have the ability to consume consume 90% of the released methane. In the atmosphere, methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. These qualities have been put to use in creating industrial carbon-scrubbers.

While hydrothermal vents pose a significant aid in mitigating climate change, it is under threat from exploration and mining. Deep seabed mining involves exploiting mineral deposits from the seabed, such as though primarily found at hydrothermal vent sites. This “deep sea gold rush” has driven many industries to begin see the deep sea as a source of profit. As a result, Companies from around the world have claimed almost all of the Atlantic ridge, spanning from below the equator up to the polar caps. Seabed mining requires highly disruptive and damaging processes that have the ability to irreversibly alter hydrothermal vent ecosystems.DSM-infographic

 Currently, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) has granted numerous exploration licenses for the ocean floor. The ISA requires “responsible” exploration of the seabed and applies new technologies to monitor the environmental impacts of mining. However, even if the best available science were applied to mining the deep seabed, it is virtually certain that deep sea mining “would be disproportionately high relative to terrestrial mining.” This is because a complete mining project would require the killing of invertebrate communities and create sediment plumes that would disturb thousands of miles of seafloor.

Thus, a more robust governing system is needed. Luckily, international organizations have stepped up in this arena. One such organization is the Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI). DOSI works to identify priority management needs for resources in the deep ocean, is developing a set of best practice standards for sustainable use and development, raise awareness, and compile scientific date. DOSI focuses upon aiding developing countries in generating policies that protect and manage deep ocean resources like hydrothermal vents. Organizations like DOSI provide feasible alternatives policies and management strategies for development. These alternatives are crucial when dealing with sensitive, valuable, and unique ecosystems.download (1)


Draining the Swamp

Peatlands contain peat soil, which is wet, thick, and made of partially-decomposed plant materials. The International Peatland Society (IPS) cover approximately 3% of the Earth’s surface. Tropical peatlands in Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Southern Africa contain 10-12%of the total peatland resource. Peatlands are also extremely valuable ecosystems because they foster biodiversity, are a habitat for multiple species, provide quality drinking water, support local economies, and minimize flood risk.

Figure-1-Global-peatland-distribution-Riccardo-Pravettoni-UNEPGRID-Arendal.As the plants in the peatlands remain saturated with water and fail to decompose, carbon gets trapped within the plants. Due to this process, the soil acts as a carbon storage. When peatlands are drained, the plants complete the decomposition process and release copious amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Approximately 15% of peatlands have been drained, which contributes nearly 16 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per day. The remaining 85% of peatland contains approximately 550 gigatons of carbon. In 2016, the draining and burning of peatland accounted for 5% of anthropogenic carbon emissions.

peat_presentation300pxUsing international climate policies, it is important to conserve and rehabilitate peatlands globally. International cooperation towards more sustainable use of peatlands began at the 2011 Durban Forum which recognized “wetland drainage and restoration,” as a focus area. The Durban Forum later identified peatlands as “hotspots” of greenhouse gas emissions in 2013. Moving up to this past year, at COP 22, a new global initiative was launched in Marrakech to reduce GHGs by protecting peatlands. The Global Peatlands Initiative, led by the UN Environmental Program, aims to increase conservation, restoration, and sustainable management. The initiative aids national governments in meeting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change  (UNFCCC). From this structure, countries are more incentivized and have the ability to address peatland conservation and restoration in their mitigation, adaptation, and sustainable development goals.

In addition, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has presented strategic action plans to ensure peatlands are used effectively and efficiently. The FAO facilitates action by guiding nations through their “strategic actions.” The FAO actions include assessment, monitoring, protecting, and resorting of peatlands. It also has broader goals of ensuring sustainable care of the peatlands such as engaging with local communities, generating effective economic governance, stimulating market-based mechanisms to support the peatlands, and information exchange on peatland care. The IUCN has also bolstered the FAO’s actions and further recommends peatlands be considered in forestry agreements relatingto climate change and a moratorium on peat exploitation.

downloadThe United Kingdom have both taken active steps towards conservation and rehabilitation of peatlands within their territory. Peatlands cover 12% of the UK’s total territory, but 80% are in poor condition due to drainage or extraction. In response to this issue, the Wildlife Trusts have taken on the mission of restoring the peatlands on a regional basis called the “Million Hectare Challenge.” As a part of this, more than ten regions in the UK have adopted individual long-term rehabilitation programs. Regional programs such as the UK’s Million Hectare Challenge and FAO’s international initiatives provide foundations for other counties.

Peatland restoration remains an ongoing issue, but it is has become a recognized method for nations to satisfy their sustainable goals and meet their obligations under the UNFCCC. Overall, peatlands represent an opportunity for significant reduction of greenhouse cases if managed correctly. Luckily, as the standards and methods are being developed, it is likely restoration will become increasingly efficient and effective.


Blue Carbon: A Solution

Coastal ecosystems such as tidal salt marshes, seagrass meadows, and mangrove forests, are “blue carbon ecosystems” because they act as carbon sinks. Blue ecosystems have the ability to sequester copious amountsmangrove-forest-1 of carbon. However, if they are destroyed, they increase GHG emissions. Scientists estimate approximately 1.02 billion tons of carbon dioxide is emitted per year by degraded coastal ecosystems. In addition, these ecosystems support coastal water quality, fisheries, provide recreational activities, support the tourism economy, and protect against extreme weather events.

Under the Paris Agreement countries must submit Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and National Determined Contributions (NDCs). In these, parties include information on the scope and impact of their mitigation and adaptation programs. Blue carbon 5054ee8189f79.imageecosystems are included in 28 countries’ NDCs for mitigation and in 59 countries’ adaptation strategies. While these numbers are growing, there is enormous potential benefit to incorporating blue ecosystems into NDCs. The blue carbon ecosystems are a significant part of countries’ NDCs as they act as a carbon sink, contribute to coastline protection, and food security. If coastal wetlands loss was halted by 50%, the equivalent would offset the emissions of Spain.

There are two main ways to address effective management of blue ecosystems to achieve this goal. The first is avoiding coastal wetland conversion by creating protected areas. Countries can also restore coastal wetlands. In order to facilitate these activities, multiple blue carbon institutions have been founded. The Blue Carbon Initiative works to restore and pr107397_webomote sustainable use of coastal and marine blue ecosystems by partnering governments, research institutions, NGOs, and local communities. The International Partnership for Blue Carbon works at building awareness, exchanging knowledge, and accelerating practical action. In addition the Nature Conservancy’s Blue Carbon program is also invested in this issue. The Nature Conservancy has been building a scientific foundation for conservation, identifying demonstration sites where wetlands can be conserved, and leveraging policy and financial mechanisms to ensure action.

Overall, blue carbon presents an area of great potential impacts upon GHG emissions. While the UNFCCC does not yet recognize “blue carbon,” it has been increasingly used in countries’ mitigation and adaptation strategies. With increased action being taken by international organizations, it is likely that blue carbon will play a significant role in lowering carbon emissions in the future. 


Continuing to Decouple

Photograph by Carlos Barria - REUTERS

Photograph by Carlos Barria – REUTERS

For the third year in a row, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the energy sector remained level while the global economy grew. This continues to buck the economic thinking that economic growth, typically measured with gross domestic product (GDP), cannot be decoupled from environmental degradation. The current trend of decoupling GDP from CO2 emissions is largely due to the global growth of renewable energy use. Solar energy was the fastest growing source of renewables in 2016, while hydropower supplied the largest portion of global electricity demand growth of all the renewables. 

A recent report from PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency released September 28, 2017 found that of the five largest emitters, which account for 68% of global CO2 emissions, only India showed a significant rising trend of greenhouse gas emissions. China, the U.S., the E.U., Russia, and Japan all had flat or decreased greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. However, in a departure from the IEA report from March 2017, this report found that global emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions rose in 2016. Of these non-CO2 greenhouse gasses, methane emissions represented the largest portion—19% of global emissions. The primary sources of methane include fossil fuel production, cattle, and rice—a staple crop in the developing world.

Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile, another recent study released in September 2017 in Science revealed that a thinning of tropical forest density has led to a net carbon loss across every continent. This indicates that forests are no longer behaving as sinks because they have been degraded through logging, fire, and drought, among other factors. Forests provide a vast natural resource for developing countries yet increasing the sink capabilities of forests through afforestation, reforestation, and decreased forest degradation are among mitigation goals of these countries. This study highlights both the importance and the challenge of those goals. The international target of limiting warming to no more than 2˚C is unattainable without vast carbon sinks like these forests.

The decoupling of emissions from economic growth globally is cause for celebration. However, as seen with India, this trend is still tentative as developing countries work to increase economic growth, which could include increased agricultural production, forests use, and energy use. To continue decreasing global emissions, more work is required to assist the developing world with sustainable development. Increased methane emissions from the agricultural sector and increased CO2 emissions from loss of forest mass are among several challenges facing the developing world as they seek to grow. There are viable solutions to many of these problems. Yet these solutions require significant assistance and resources from the international community.

The developing world requires assistance in electrification and energy diversification in the way of hydropower and other renewables so the decoupling trend can continue. These countries also require capacity building to bolster forestry sector projects; the transfer of technology and best practices to assist with the growth of sustainable agriculture; and of course, continued mitigation efforts from developed countries.


Bonn Challenge Takes First Steps

rainforestThe Bonn Challenge is a global initiative to restore 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded lands by 2020, and 350 million by 2030. So far, 38 countries have pledged to restore 124.32 million hectares in order to achieve this goal. The challenge now is holding these nations to their commitments and ensuring the necessary financing mechanisms are in place to support their efforts.

A partnership of several organizations, including the Global Canopy Programme and Unlocking Forest Finance, has initiated three pilot programs in South America to test a landscape-focused approach. A landscape restoration project focuses on the drivers of deforestation – generally, agriculture and poverty – and works with local communities to manage land uses in a way that meets the needs of the community and the needs of the ecosystem as a whole.

The pilots focus on finding private investors to build disneypermanent markets for premium crops, rather than securing government and NGO grants, because these partnerships will be more permanent and sustainable than a government-sponsored program. For example, Walt Disney has partnered with local coffee farmers in San Martin, Peru to grow sustainably harvested coffee at a fair price for exclusive sale at Disney World. This guarantees the farmers a premium market that ensures their continued participation in the program.

In addition, today the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced the launching of its new website for tracking news, analysis, resources, and updates on forest landscape restoration projects around the world. The website so far provides detailed analysis on policies, successes, and failures in 42 different nations. It will also soon offer a “Bonn Challenge Barometer,” which will quantifiably track forest landscape restoration successes in support of the Bonn Challenge and provide resources to help address obstacles to progress.


CO2 spikes again

image_imageformat_lightbox_431973355NOAA reports that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose 3.05 parts per million in 2015, the largest annual increase recorded at the Mauna Loa Observatory since it began in 1957. Last year was the fourth consecutive year that CO2 concentrations grew by more than 2 parts per million. More recently,  the change in average CO2 concentration from February 2015 till last month shows an even higher increase – 3.76 parts per million – bringing the current total concentration to 404.02 parts per million.  To put these numbers in perspective, pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide were 280 parts per million and when Mauna Loa started mid-20th century, they were below 320 parts per million. CO2 levels have increased over 40% since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

Scientists attribute some portion of this annual spike to the 2015 El Niño, because this weather pattern leads to tropicalco2_data_mlo_anngr droughts that then produce wildfires ( e.g. Indonesia in 2015). Drought also limits forest growth, which decreases the number and size of trees that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. These impacts are temporary as the forests bounce back in normal, non-El Niño years.

But Ralph Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (and son of Charles Keeling, who founded the Mauna Loa program) warns that “the eventual recovery from this El  won’t bring us back below 400 ppm, because its impact will be dwarfed by the global consumption of fossil fuels, pushing CO2 levels ever higher.”


Will it Be a REDD+ Letter Day for Our Forests?

Photo Source: Shutterstock

Photo Source: Shutterstock

Yesterday, the Parties received a “clean” version of the draft Paris Agreement, and at 8PM the Parties convened to share their first impressions on this draft Agreement. One hot topic repeatedly discussed was the status of our forests. Many Parties are advocating that the Paris Agreement establish a mechanism that incentivizes the reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and promotes the conservation and sustainable management of forests and enhances forest carbon stocks in developing countries, while also enhancing the non-carbon benefits (REDD+). Currently, a formal REDD+ mechanism is missing from the draft text, and many Parties are not happy.

In the ADP 2-12 Draft Paris Agreement, Article 3 bis established a formal mechanism on REDD+, but this mechanism was removed from the most recent draft Agreement. Instead, Article 3 bis in the most recent Draft Agreement simply encourages the Parties to conserve and enhance forests, and encourages them to incentive REDD+ actions without ever directly referencing the REDD+ acronym. The language of encouragement has received a variety of reactions from the Parties and from interested NGOs.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, Conservation International, Environmental Defense Fund, Forest Trends, National Wildlife Federation, and The Nature Conservancy all issued a joint statement on Article 3 bis in the latest draft, saying:

1370267590_sumatran-orangutans_6779_600x450

Photo Source: Shields Energy Services

“This new text includes a specific provision that   would send a strong political signal to support better protections for forests in developing countries and encourage developed nations to provide the financial incentives to do so.”

Additionally, the joint statement declared:

“The new draft of the Paris Agreement makes it clear that countries can increase their ambition to address climate change by using the approach of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), as an enduring tool for reducing emissions and incentivizing countries to scale up their efforts to protect forests.”

While these NGOs support the language used in the most recent Article 3 bis, many developing country Parties raised objections over the language during the Comité de Paris meeting last night.

Panama, speaking on behalf of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, explained that the Paris Agreement needs to demonstrate a collective, serious implementation of REDD+ through reinsertion of a REDD+ mechanism in Article 3 bis. Furthermore, Panama argued that no valid reason has been provided by other Parties explaining why a formal REDD+ mechanism cannot be launched in the agreement here in Paris. As a result, Panama submitted an edited version of the draft Agreement reinserting the formal REDD+ mechanism into the text to the COP Presidency. Panama closed its comments saying there must be a formal REDD+ mechanism in the Paris Agreement if the agreement is
going to truly be ambitious.

624144waterfall

Photo Source: Coalition for Rainforest Nations

Many developing countries supported Panama’s position on REDD+. These countries include: the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Dominican Republic, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Tanzania, and many others commonly associated with the Coalition for Rainforest Nations. As Parties continue to meet and develop the draft Paris Agreement today and tomorrow it will be important to watch Article 3 bis to note if the language promoting REDD+ remains voluntary expressed through the term “encouragement” or becomes a formalized mechanism under the UNFCCC expressed in the terms “establishing a REDD+ mechanism.” In the end, this debate over language will determine the level of commitment the Parties agree to concerning the protection of forests under the UNFCCC.

 

 

 


Decarbonization or Climate Neutrality? Which is the Better Path to 2°C? Is There Even a Difference?

https://www.bartlett.ucl.ac.uk/energy/events/ucl-energy-seminar-ddppIn order to keep global temperatures under 2°C, the threshold generally accepted as the best way to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, there must be a limit on cumulative CO2 emissions. For those of you not tracking mitigation negotiations closely at COP21, there is some hot debating surrounding long-term signals maintaining this threshold. Delegates are looking at two potential options, decarbonization and climate neutrality. But what’s the difference?

While the two options may seem rather similar, they carry with them significantly different implications. Climate neutrality would require that countries achieve annual zero net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by a specified date. What this means is that for every ton of anthropogenic GHG emitted, an equivalent amount must be removed from the atmosphere. This sounds great in theory. However some parties are concerned, and for good reason, that climate neutrality equates to more of a political move around than effective action.

Here’s why. Climate neutrality allows for those emitted GHG emissions to be compensated with removals via carbon offsets such as sequestration, carbon capture and storage. To actually keep global temperatures under 2°C with carbon offsets, large-scale uptake of negative emission technology will have to be implemented. According to Kevin Anderson of the University of Manchester, there are problems with relying on negative emission technologies to achieve an under 2°C global temperature target. Anderson noted that these technologies have never worked at scale, have huge technical and economic unknowns, and have major efficiency penalties. These technologies are often not worth the hype.
http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2013-01-25/using-a-traffic-app-cuts-commutes-manages-angerIn essence, climate neutrality means that CO2 may still be produced, but not all parties think this is a bad thing. It may leave room for developing countries to continue emitting GHG and thus enable them to continue essential sustainable development projects. However, a concern is that developed countries may purchase carbon offsets for their emissions from developing countries with natural carbon sinks. This allows for developed countries to continue with a “business as usual” approach to emission mitigation efforts rather than encouraging them to radically change their consumption patterns.It allows for the possibility that wealthy developed countries may pay for their emissions by buying carbon offsets from developing countries with lower emissions and natural carbon sinks.

Alternatively, decarbonization tends to be understood as a process that results in a decarbonized global economy with no anthropomorphic CO2 emissions. Amongst the scientific community, it is widely accepted that to successfully achieve climate stabilization, full decarbonization of our energy systems is likely our only option. While this idea seems rather straight forward, there is confusion about how decarbonization may be interpreted and implemented. While full decarbonization tends to mean zero unabated CO2 emissions, it is possible that decarbonization within the Paris Agreement would allow for emissions to be balanced with adequate reductions and carbon sinks. There are also concerns that a decarbonization option would not account for non-CO2 GHG emissions.

http://www.climatechangenews.com/2012/10/26/conservation-or-carbon-sinks-can-the-un-see-the-forest-for-the-trees/What is clear is that whichever option ends up in the Paris Agreement, further clarification and definition of terms should be made first. For either option to be effectively implemented, they should be accompanied by specific timeframes, definitions, rates, and standardized accounting measures.

 


Are deserts carbon sinks?

Can arid regions – specifically deserts – act as carbon sinks?  This study, led by Professor David Evans of Washington State University and published in the current edition of Nature Climate Change, offers this conclusion:  “Results provide direct evidence that CO2 fertilization substantially increases ecosystem C storage and that arid ecosystems are significant, previously unrecognized, sinks for atmospheric CO2 that must be accounted for in efforts to constrain terrestrial and global C cycles.”desert

Good news in terms of potential progress on reducing CO2 in the atmosphere and global warming.  But Christopher Field, who directs the department of global ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University, runs a project where similar experiments are conducted on grasslands, and is the lead author of the new IPCC report, puts it into perspective:   “It is worth noting that, although the sink in this experiment is significant, it is … about a hundredfold less than typical sinks in young forested ecosystems not exposed to elevated carbon dioxide, so the bottom line is that deserts will not save us from climate change.”