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What are carbon sinks?

A carbon sink is anything that absorbs more carbon than it releases as carbon dioxide. European forests are currently a net carbon sink as they take in more carbon than they emit. In climate negotiations, this temporary reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is also known as negative emissions.  

Forest carbon sinks are not an excuse to delay action in reducing fossil fuel emissions. This is because carbon absorbed by trees is dynamic. Forest carbon moves between the atmosphere (as carbon dioxide) and the tree (as carbon) in a continuous cycle, known as the forest carbon cycle.

Carbon stored in fossil fuel is static, remaining trapped outside the atmosphere for thousands of years.  This means that forests can never cancel out or ‘offset’ emissions from fossil sources. Using forest carbon sinks to justify carbon dioxide emissions from fossil sources will increase concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, making it impossible to meet the global goal of keeping international temperature rises to well below 2°C.

Despite the clear difference between fossil and forest carbon, United Nations climate negotiators often suggest that planting trees or reducing deforestation is equivalent to reducing emissions from burning fossil fuels. Until this myth is finally busted, schemes to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD), the Clean Development Mechanism or LULUCF have the potential to do more harm than good.

While it is quite possible to keep coal in the hole and oil in the soil, no government or company can ever ensure that carbon will remain in trees. Forest fires, insect outbreaks, decay, logging, land use changes and the decline of forest ecosystems as a result of climate change are all hard or impossible to control. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to protect and restore forests, just that we need to do it at the same time as reducing fossil fuel emissions to zero.

For more information on any of these issues please see REDD-Monitor or Fern’s video on LULUCF.

Most recent publications

Achieving the 1.5 Target with Forests: What Role for the EU? - Panel event

 
Latests developments provided an important opportunity for Fern and its partners to invite EU representatives, experts and civil society to our panel event on 7 March 2018, "Achieving the 1.5° Target with Forests: What Role for the EU?" chaired by MEPs Heidi Hautala (Greens/EFA) and Carlos Zorrinho (S&D). The event discussed the Commission workplan priorities, reiterated the relevance and impact of the VPAs, encouraged EU institutions and Member States to integrate FLEGT principles and forests into relevant climate interventions, and raised the importance of restoring degraded forest ecosystems by working closely with local communities.

Nepal shows how forest restoration can help people, biodiversity and the climate

by Hanna Aho

A revolution is unfolding in the foothills of the Himalayas: trees are coming back to areas run by communities.

Over the past quarter century, the foothills of the Himalayas have seen a radical transformation. A pattern of destruction that unfolded over decades is steadily but irresistibly being reversed.

VPAs and NDCs: Sharing the Toolbox? – How lessons learned from EU FLEGT can be put to work for the Paris Agreement

As the Paris Agreement is ratified by each of its signatory states, they commit to put into action their specific national plans to combat climate change. These plans are called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC).

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PDF iconVPAs and NDCs.pdf2.89 MB

Implications of new research for the IPCC 1.5°C special report, with a focus on land use

Interested scientists are currently invited to review the Second Order Draft of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on
how to achieve the 1.5°C target. Assembled here are key findings from a number of papers that appeared in the latter half of 2017 and pertain to the land-use sector.

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PDF iconland use and 1-5 degrees.pdf671.06 KB

Response to the Verified Carbon Standard

By Fern

In November 2017, Fern published new research showing why forest carbon offsets should be ineligible for the United Nations (UN) ICAO. The VCS issued a public “rebuttal” to our publication.

Fern wishes to reassert why forest offsets and, more broadly offsetting itself, is not a viable solution to climate change or a way to protect communities’ rights.

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