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A Global Effort is (Finally) Agreed Upon

As outlined in my previous post, A Song of Forest and Carbon, forests are necessary to combat climate change.

Like the UNFCCC agreements, an international agreement on how to reduce deforestation has been in discussion for years. The output of this agreement is called the Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) program. This is a global effort to protect forests by promoting pro-forest activities at local levels. This global effort has been in the works for a decade.

Shadowed by the Curse of the International Agreement, decisions were delayed by lack of compromise:

  • How will we ensure that local communities benefit?
  • Forests aren’t just big carbon sinks, how will we protect their other attributes (like biodiversity)?
  • How will we make sure these programs are implemented? Effectively?

These questions were finally answered, and the answers were agreed to yesterday… to the surprise of many.

In this particular instance, the curse was lifted. Many were baffled by this “sudden” reconciliation of differences.  “Maybe [country representatives and negotiators] really did just get tired of looking at each other”, surmised one of the participants.

Countries are Beginning to Champion Forests

Over the last few months, country members of the UNFCCC have been submitting documents that outline their plan of action. In UNFCCC language, these documents are called the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). These detail how many emissions these countries intend to reduce and how they are going to do it. These outlines will help construct a sound Paris Agreement.

So far there have been 12 INDC submissions. Of these INDCs, not many have addressed forests as a key to reduce their national emissions.

Over the last two weeks, during the Bonn Conference, two INDCs were published by Morocco, and Ethiopia. Through these documents, both countries proclaim their dependence on protecting forests and increasing forest cover in order to reduce their national emissions. Morocco plans to reforest 200,000 hectares worth of land, Ethiopia plans to reforest 7 million hectares.

Ethiopia’s emissions are heavily land based, so naturally most of their activities would involve changes in agriculture and forestry. However, Ethiopia’s plans for reforestation sound pretty ambitious. When I think of Ethiopia, I think of the images of vast dry deserted land.

When I arrived at the World Conference Center this morning, I had an opportunity to interview an adviser to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Mulugeta Mengist Ayalew. He told me that just 50 years ago, half of Ethiopia’s territory was covered by forests – I was shocked. But economic needs put massive pressure on Ethiopia’s forests, reducing its coverage to about 3% decades later. Since the early 2000s, activities, like REDD+ projects, have helped to slowly increase forest cover. Ayalew told me that Ethiopia’s tree numbers are back up, and now forests account for 14% of its territory. He mentioned that the given goal of increasing forest cover by 7 million hectares is an underestimate. Ayalew was confident that with efforts tying in agriculture and forestry (like shade grown coffee), Ethiopia could actually increase its forest cover by 14 million hectares.

Through these efforts, Ethiopia could actually be a sink (as opposed to a source) for emissions by 2025.

A Happy(ish) Ending

Okay, so I’m a little biased when it comes to forests. I love them. And the fact that they featured prominently in discussions and outcomes over the last two weeks at an international event is awesome.

Today is the last day of the conference. The UNFCCC scuttlebutt states that tensions are running high and negotiators feel that it  has “hardly been possible to achieve clarification of options and negotiate on the text.”

However, I think the fact that a final global plan on how to protect forests has been agreed to gives hope for this, admittedly, more massive agreement. As Kofi Annan explained, “More than ever before in human history, we share a common destiny. We can master it only if we face it together. And that, my friends, is why we have the United Nations.”