As 2020 approaches, the climate action spotlight is on forests

Amazon Canopy. Warwick Lister-Kaye /

With 2020 fast approaching, countries, companies, and other stakeholders are taking stock of their climate commitments. As they consider ways to meet and enhance climate goals, interest in net zero emissions commitments and carbon removal technologies has grown. But what these discussions reveal is that forests are crucial. Capable of significantly reducing net emissions at a low marginal cost, and in the short-term, forests are an important piece of the climate change mitigation puzzle.

This year, tropical forests have dominated the spotlight. The forest fires raging throughout Brazil, Bolivia, and Indonesia are part of a disturbing trend: despite commitments from governments and companies, deforestation is still on the rise globally. Key forest ecosystems such as the Amazon continue to face the pressures of crop expansion for agricultural production, illegal extractive activities like timber harvesting and mining, relaxed legal enforcement and weakened environmental policies.

As deforestation persists, the planet’s capacity to absorb carbon pollution diminishes and more carbon is being released; tree cover loss in tropical forests accounts for about 16 to 33 percent of global emissions. We should be alarmed. But we should also be hopeful. Here are a few reasons why:

Results-based payments for REDD+ are flowing
Results-based payments reward verified emissions reductions from tackling deforestation and forest degradation. After roughly 10 years of work on how to implement reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) programs, finance for emissions reductions from REDD+ activities is starting to flow. Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ghana have all signed landmark agreements with the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) Carbon Fund. This agreement could collectively unlock performance-based payments of up to US$ 155 million.

Through the Green Climate Fund’s (GCF) results-based payments pilot program, Brazil received US$ 96 million for 19 million tons of emissions reductions from avoided deforestation. The agreement was the first of its kind in GCF’s history, and has paved the road for future proposals and approvals of payments for REDD+. More country proposals are in the pipeline, and the GCF has allocated a total of US$ 500 million for those proposals.

Support for Natural Climate Solutions is growing
Natural Climate Solutions (NCS), which refer to the sustainable management and use of nature to address climate change, are gaining widespread recognition. Research has shown that NCS can provide one third of the emissions reductions needed to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.

NCS, especially forests, were the focus of a number of important announcements at the United Nations Climate Action Summit and Nature’s Climate Hub, including:

  • Two parallel initiatives designed to help scale finance for tropical forest conservation, Emergent Forest Finance Accelerator and the Architecture for REDD+ Transactions (ART), were publicly launched. Emergent is a new nonprofit finance facility that will guarantee long-term demand to REDD+ jurisdictions and provide a means for corporations and other buyers to easily access credits from jurisdictional level forest protection programs that meet the highest environmental and social standards. It will rely on the ART, which will provide a rigorous standard to transparently register, verify, and issue emission reduction credits, to assure the quality of the credits.
  • Norway and Gabon announced an agreement stipulating that the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) trust fund will guarantee a minimum price of up to US$10/ton for national scale credits approved via the ART’s The REDD+ Environmental Excellency Standard (TREES) for up to US$ 150 million over 2016-2025. This is the first time an African country will be rewarded in a 10-year deal for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and degradation in the past and the future.
  • To help world leaders formulate realistic plans to enhance their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) by 2020, a group of nongovernmental organizations launched a “Guide to Including Nature in Nationally Determined Contributions: A checklist of information and accounting approaches for natural climate solutions.” This document provides a quick reference guide to the resources available to countries as they consider how they might incorporate NCS to enhance their NDCs and fully capture the power of nature to meet their goals.

Multi-stakeholder collaboration is rising
As 2020 looms ahead, companies are becoming increasingly aware that they may fall short of their commitments to reduce deforestation. In light of this, many companies are recalibrating their approaches and are beginning to recognize that to achieve impact at scale, they must collaborate, even with unlikely partners.

During Climate Week, representatives from Amaggi and Marfrig spoke about how they are collaborating with government and civil society to support Mato Grosso, Brazil’s sustainable development strategy, known as the Produce, Conserve, Include strategy (PCI). The PCI brings together stakeholders from government, corporate sector, civil society, and producer groups to increase productivity while reducing deforestation. Mato Grosso Governor Mauro Mendes echoed his support for the strategy, reaffirming the government’s support for the PCI and for multistakeholder collaboration across different sectors. All panelists emphasized that collaboration and jurisdictional level action is needed for the PCI to succeed.

Nearby, 19 agriculture-centric companies, together with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, launched a new initiative called “One Planet Business for Biodiversity” to protect and restore biodiversity, including by eliminating deforestation and enhancing management, restoration, and protection of forests, within their supply chains and product portfolios. Key to the success of this initiative is collaboration between businesses, farmers, and other stakeholders to drive the systemic change needed to drive impact at scale. It’s clear that leading actors are now gravitating towards approaches that depend on collaboration.

Momentum around key decisions is building
This year could be decisive in determining the future of large-scale finance for REDD+ programs. Just last month, California’s Air Resources Board endorsed the Tropical Forest Standard. The adoption of the Standard, which outlines California’s guidelines for what tropical forest states would need to do to have their emissions reductions from tropical forests credited in an emissions trading system like California’s carbon market, not only reflects California’s climate leadership, but also sets an example of how to achieve real, verified, large-scale emissions reductions with forest credits.

In the United Nations space, UN climate negotiators are slated to decide on key rules needed to unlock significant private sector investment in emissions reductions under Article 6 of the Paris agreement, while members of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Technical Advisory Body are in the process of assessing emissions unit programs that have applied for eligibility under the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). The outcomes of these processes have the potential to generate and facilitate demand for credits from reduced deforestation and catalyze funding for large-scale REDD+ programs.

Policies and actions to protect forests can help the world meet the goals of the Paris agreement, preserve plant and animal biodiversity, sustain the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities, and avert the worst impacts of climate change. The destruction of forests that is currently unfolding should be further motivation to celebrate the advancement in forest protection that’s been made, and push stakeholders around the world even harder to enact the policies and decisions needed to protect the world’s forests.

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