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The Paris agreement and forests

Climate change is a global problem that requires action from all. The main international discussions on how to mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects take place at the United Nations level. In 2015 an Agreement was finally achieved in Paris with the goal of keeping global temperature rises to well below 2°C. The Paris Agreement has placed forests centre-stage, since it states that carbon dioxide emissions must be balanced with removals of carbon. Forests naturally keep carbon out of the atmosphere, so many interpret the Paris Agreement as supporting forest restoration.

Restoring forests, especially if it is led by communities, can benefit the people who live in and depend on them, whilst improving ability of forests to purify water and increase biodiversity. It could be bad for the climate however if restoration is allowed to delay the more urgent need to cut fossil fuel emissions. If the Agreement increases industrial use of monoculture plantations for example, this could also damage communities and the environment.

During the Paris climate conference (the 21st Conference of the Parties known as CoP 21), Fern, Rainforest Foundation Norway and Friends of the Earth Norway released What role should land and forests play in the Paris Agreement? It argued that if we strengthen local communities’ tenure rights on forested land, keep forests standing and restore degraded forests, we can keep the global temperature rise to 1.5 °C, as long as we also reduce fossil fuel emissions to zero well before 2050.

Protecting and restoring forests would also mean there is no need for untested ‘negative emissions’ plans.