By Olivia Sánchez Badini
These past few days at COP21 have been huge for forests! For the first time ever, heads of government from sixteen major forest and donor countries released a joint statement endorsing forests as a key climate solution. As part of this, the governments of Germany, Norway, and the United Kingdom announced a collective aim to provide $5 billion between 2015-2020 to reduce emissions from tropical deforestation through REDD+ performance-based payments – almost five times higher than the $1.1 billion that have been paid since 2009 for verified emission reductions!
Although a far cry from the estimated $20 billion a year needed to halve deforestation at a global level, this announcement sends a major policy signal placing high-level importance on forests in climate change mitigation and adaptation. It builds on previous pledges made last year through the New York Declaration on Forests (an action statement to end tropical deforestation by 2030 and halve it by 2020), and includes specific pledges such as continued support for Brazil’s Amazon Fund.
And today, the entire morning was dedicated to forests as part of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda (LPAA) Focus on Forests event. The LPAA is a declaration that was made in December 2014 to provide a platform for collaboration between state and non-state actors as a way of strengthening climate action beyond COP21, including taking robust steps towards low-carbon, climate-resilient societies. The LPAA initiatives specifically addressing forests include the New York Declaration on Forests, protection of 400 million ha of forests by indigenous peoples, the Lima Challenge, the Landscape Restoration initiative, and zero deforestation commitments from commodity producers and traders.
“There is no climate solution without forests” – Felipe Calderón, former President of Mexico
I attended the LPAA Focus on Forest for the last three sessions, which included panels on Latin America and Global Partnerships with government and non-state actor leaders (from Peru, Paraguay, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, WWF, FAO, WB, GEF, Norway, Consumer Goods Forum, International Indigenous Forum on Climate Change), as well as the Closing Remarks by former Mexican President Felipe Calderón. Here are my five take-away points:
- There is a clear stated commitment to protect forests. With an unprecedented awareness and clear science on the importance on forests, the discourse has shifted away from what it was a few years ago: from asking why, to asking how. As such, a firmer step is being taken towards full-fledged implementation. Reliable information on forests is crucial for both implementation and accountability, and technology is an important enabler.
- Cross-sectoral collaborations are strong and ongoing in the conversations about deforestation and forest degradation – involving agriculture, energy, and a myriad other sectors. Put forward directly by Mexico in its opening statement, the idea of an integrated synergistic approach was also visible in the room with Paraguay: both the Minister Secretary of the Environment and the Director General of Itaipu Binacional hydroelectric power plant, “the world’s largest generator of renewable clean energy”, were present. Through Itaipu clean energy projects, it is estimated 7ha of forest are protected for every MW produced.
- The involvement of the private sector and non-state actors plays an increasingly important role. For instance, governments are partnering with the private sector to transform supply chains to become deforestation-free, and leveraging hundreds of billions of private investments in forestry and agriculture. Similarly, something that emerged repeatedly was the importance of focusing on and cooperating with small and medium enterprises.
- Related to all of the aforementioned points, the role of partnerships (such as public-private partnerships) is emerging as an instrumental way for moving forward.
- Conserving our forests and reducing deforestation and forest degradation in the tropics is a global effort that can only succeed if all actors work in unison. This includes the tropical countries themselves (e.g. through public policies, land tenure reforms), the international community (e.g. major donors), and non-state actors, such as the private sector. There is no way forward without political will, honest commitments, and cooperation.
“The private sector can, will, and must be part of the solution” – Tine Sundtoft, Minister of Climate and the Environment, Norway
The LPAA Focus on Forests was a historic session, and a kind I had never personally attended before. Including opening remarks by the President of the Republic of Peru Ollanta Humala Tasso, the Prince of Wales, and Minister Ségolène Royal, it was certainly out of the ordinary to be sitting a few meters away from these important global players – CEOs, Presidents, Ministers! Besides enjoying hearing and reflecting on all their statements, I was also surprisingly pleased about the woman leadership in the Global Partnerships panel, with five out of seven panelists being women (this was not the case for the all-male Latin American panel, however).
It is also clear to me that all of the above conditions and commitments, such as the new $5 billion pledge, will need to be vested in local interests and realities. Do you think that these commitments from governments and non-state actors at COP21 will actually make a difference on the ground, for the world’s forests and for all of us who directly and indirectly depend on them? Have you experienced the impact of programs like REDD+ in your home country, in forestry and other sectors? Let us know your thoughts!
Stand with Forests joint declaration, November 30th. From left to right: Mary Robinson (United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Climate Change), Amber Rudd (Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, UK), Gregory Hunt (Minister for the Environment, Australia), President Joko Widodo (Indonesia), President Ali Bongo Ondimba (Gabon), President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón (Colombia), Stéphane Dion (Minister of Foreign Affairs, Canada), Prime Minister Erna Solberg (Norway), Tine Sundtoft (Minister of Climate and the Environment, Norway), Gabriel Vallejo López (Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, Colombia). Photo: Afp-Services / silvereg