Ensuring ambition in the land-use sector through the Paris climate agreement

Representatives from countries around the globe met in Bonn, Germany this month to work on what could be the world’s most grueling but important group project: consolidating 90 pages of text into a global climate agreement to be finalized in Paris this December.

Governments and civil society organizations have more work to do before Paris, including ensuring land use is treated in a simple, flexible and ambitious way in the global agreement.

One sector that could play a fundamental role in the agreement is the land-use sector, which includes agriculture, forestry, wetland management, and other land management practices.

The land-use sector contributes about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. But it also has great potential to reduce emissions, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, improve rural livelihoods, and promote countries’ ability to adapt to a changing climate. The land use sector could also be an important part of countries’ emission reduction targets after 2020, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

Interest in the importance of land use has brought together a broad group of civil society organizations – EDF, Conservation International, Forest Trends, National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, Union of Concerned Scientists, and World Wildlife Fund– to focus on the potential role of the land-use sector in the Paris agreement. With support from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the groups have held a series of discussions on this topic alongside the United Nations climate negotiations.

Pipa Elias (right, The Nature Conservancy) introduces a discussion on whether the land-use sector is adequately addressed in the draft Paris text. (Photo credit: Steven Panfil, Conservation International)

During this month’s Bonn talks, we held two workshops in which we invited governments and civil society organizations to step back from their detailed work on the Paris text and reassess their progress toward promoting ambitious climate actions in the land-use sector in national and international policies.

For one workshop, we invited country negotiators to evaluate whether the draft text adequately addresses the land-use sector or whether further elaboration will be needed before or after Paris to drive action in the sector.

Participants generally agreed that the Paris agreement should take into account land-use issues by:

Building in incentives: Incentives are often necessary to trigger ambitious actions in the land-use sector, so the delivery of incentives needs to be clear if countries are going to include this sector in their INDCs. Developing countries will need financial incentives and other support, often from external sources, to continuously improve their capacity and to promote activities that yield climate mitigation and adaptation benefits. Developed countries can create incentives that reduce emissions and boost sequestration in their own land sectors, while also supporting external actions in developing countries.

Striking the right balance with flexibility and environmental integrity: The agreement should strike a balance that encourages all countries to participate in land-use sector mitigation, accommodating different capacities and circumstances, while also ensuring integrity in the way emissions reductions are measured. Too much rigidity could limit innovation and ambition, but too much flexibility could make it difficult to compare efforts among countries and ensure the environmental and social integrity of their activities.

Developing a work-plan after Paris: By the December meeting in Paris, countries need to have common expectations and objectives for accounting for land use in order to include the sector their INDCs. However, they may also need a process to continue to clarify and elaborate land-use issues after December. The outcomes of Paris should allow for further work on land-use issues, in order to build on early ambition and lessons learned, with the goal of transitioning to more comprehensive accounting for land use for all countries over time.

“Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” covering about 30% of global emissions have been submitted so far. Source: http://cait.wri.org/indc/

Twelve “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” covering about 30% of global emissions have been submitted so far. Source: WRI CAIT.

In another workshop, we discussed how countries could include the land sector in their INDCs. We invited the World Resources Institute (WRI) to present its recent guidance on INDCs, which it developed with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). We also made our own presentations on how the United Nations decisions on INDCs relate to the land-use sector and the current status of the sector in the draft agreement. Participants discussed the differences between reporting and accounting for emissions from the land-use sector; the importance of social and environmental safeguards; and treatment of natural disturbances in land-use accounting.

We will continue this discussion in a WWF webinar, (“The Land Sector in INDCs and the 2015 Agreement”) from 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM EDT on Thursday, June 25th, 2015.

Much of the real work will happen after Paris, when countries will begin to implement the agreement in their national land-use and environmental policies. However, governments and civil society organizations have more work to do before Paris, including ensuring land use is treated in a simple, flexible and ambitious way in the global agreement.

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