More evidence backs role of forests in tackling climate change, but when will we get action?

WWF
WWF
Feb 4 · 3 min read

Will Baldwin Cantello, Lead, WWF Global Forest Practice

© Luis Barreto / WWF-UK

A new study confirms what we have feared for a long time — deforestation is diminishing the ability of tropical forests to absorb carbon dioxide, a critical function of forests in mitigating climate change. It also brings some surprising news, that boreal forests are serving an increasingly important role as a carbon sink, absorbing emissions at a faster rate.

The study comes on the heels of another paper that tells us that embracing nature-based climate solutions would be enough for 20 countries to achieve carbon neutrality before 2030. These two studies combined make an even stronger case for avoided deforestation and for protecting stable forests, including intact forest landscapes, which make up a large portion of total global carbon storage in forests. The role of forest restoration and tree planting gained the attention of businesses and political leaders at Davos, which is important, but only part of the solution. These studies are two timely reminders of why our trillion trees vision encompasses and emphasizes halting loss of forests and maintaining their integrity.

© Wild Wonders of Europe / Inaki Relanzon / WWF

The science is clear — safeguarding forests and halting deforestation can help achieve targets set out under the Paris Agreement and help keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius. What’s not clear is whether enough will be done to achieve this.

This is an opportune moment for clear action, including:

1. For countries to show leadership and include — with clear and quantifiable metrics — targets for forest protection, restoration and avoided deforestation in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). This is important for all countries but particularly tropical countries, where deforestation is rising, and also for countries that are home to boreal forests. Much more can be done to reduce risks to stable forests and the important carbon sink function they provide, both within the NDC framework and in national policies that recognize the value of intact forest landscapes and high conservation value forests.

2. A clear need to connect NDCs to national biodiversity strategies and action plans under the new global framework to be agreed at the 2020 UN Biodiversity Conference in October this year, given the important role that forest wildlife play in maintaining forest carbon.

3. Scaling up of public and private sector finance for forests. Only 3 per cent of climate finance goes to forests and land use despite the critical role of forests in mitigating climate change. This share should be increased and businesses I speak to are increasingly interested in connecting their work to national plans on climate mitigation and biodiversity loss too — which could be an additional important source of expertise and resources.

4. Clear recognition of the roles, rights and practices of Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLCs), who are an essential part of the solution. There is clear evidence that areas in the hands of IPLCs have served as a buffer from deforestation and helped keep the important carbon function of forests intact. New research shows that indigenous territories and protected natural areas in the Amazon have stored more than half of the carbon in the Amazon, but this environmental service is being lost due to increasing forest degradation and disturbance.

2020 is a crucial year for the environment. It’s time to put science into action.

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