IN DEPTH: Forests stand out among the big winners of the Paris Agreement

Somehow unexpectedly, forests were recognized a key role in the global response to climate change outlined by the Paris Agreement. While some observers feared it would have gained just a small mention among the mitigation provisions, the forest sector was in fact granted full recognition and devoted a stand-alone article.

Article 5 is made up of two short but “dense” paragraphs. The first one recalls Article 4 of the Convention, when it calls Parties to “take action to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases” including forests. The second paragraph encourages Parties to take action and support REDD+ activities, with the latter referring to policy approaches and positive incentives for reducing emissions from deforestation and land degradation, and promoting the sustainable management of forests, conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries. The Paragraph also calls for supporting alternative policy tools like the Joint Mitigation and Adaptation (JMA) approaches and their associated non-carbon benefits. Interestingly, the JMA stem from a 2012 proposal by Bolivia which endorsed “the principle of non-mercantilism of environmental functions of forests” and advanced non-market based approaches to enhance their integral and sustainable management. With regards to finance, the accompanying decision to the Agreement “recognizes the importance of adequate and predictable financial resources, including for results-based payments” for the implementation of REDD+ and JMA activities and calls for enhanced coordination of support by “public and private, bilateral and multilateral sources, such as the Green Climate Fund, and alternative sources”.

The reference to REDD+ and JMA highlights the more holistic approach towards forestry endorsed by the Paris Agreement with respect to its processor. Within the Kyoto Protocol, LULUCF mitigation options in developing countries only included Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) afforestation and reforestation projects, with avoided deforestation being excluded because of methodological and political reasons. On the contrary, REDD+ could play an important role within the Sustainable Development Mechanism envisaged by Article 6.4. The mechanism should be aimed at delivering an overall reduction in global emissions, incentivizing participation by public and private entities, and allowing for transfer of emission reductions between Parties. Although further guidance is expected by the COP, the mechanism could mobilize private investments for REDD+ in the delivery of forest-based mitigation actions. Moreover, if included in the respective Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), REDD+ activities could be part of the voluntary cooperation between Parties envisaged by Article 6.1 to allow for higher ambition in both mitigation and adaptation outcomes.

The Paris Agreement delivers a strong signal about the role forests can play for achieving the 2°C temperature goal and, even more importantly, when trying to move towards a 1.5°C trajectory.

Moreover, considering the consequent need for negative emissions, afforestation and soil carbon improvements stand among the most promising “Negative Emission Technology” (NETs) between now and 2050. While much attention is drawn on the potential of forests for mitigation, the Paris Agreement also leaves the door open for their increased contribution towards the adaptation goal. Not only with respect to the synergies between REDD+ and ecosystem-based adaptation, but also in the call made by article 7 to “increase the resilience of socioeconomic and ecological systems, including (…) through the sustainable management of natural resources”.


(Image: Aerial view of the Amazon Rainforest, near Manaus, Brazil. Photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) on Flickr)