Reforestation And The Road to Paris

July 15, 2015

We are just five months away from the 2015 UN Climate Summit in Paris. All around the world— and really, everyone from business icons to politicians and farmers are watching— people are eager for an agreement that would keep atmospheric warming below 2 degrees Celsius. 

Their hopes are grounded in a desire to address some very real problems. A recent heat wave in Pakistan that lead to over 1,000 deaths is being linked to climate change. Meanwhile, yet another study has come out warning of increased health risks from extreme weather over the next century. It’s hardly time to stop and smell the roses, but really, where are we at on the road to Paris? Here’s the latest. 

Reforestation - Paris Climate Summit - Ben & Jerry's

In Case of Emergency, Plant More Trees

There’s been plenty of criticism about the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions that member states, now including China, have put forward leading up to the December UN Summit. The “INDCs” are the amount of carbon each country is committing to cutting. In short, they aren’t adding up.

But here’s a nugget of good news that came out of the latest UN climate summit: governments have actually signed off on plans for a UN-supported forest protection plan. Deforestation and land degradation is increasing, and now amounts to about 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Getting a solid agreement to stop all the clear-cutting and incentivize countries to preserve their forests is a big deal, and an unexpected resolution this far before December.

Meanwhile, Brazil and the US have been engaging in a climate pledge dialogue, much like the one Obama negotiated with China. The outcome looks pretty decent, with Brazil announcing they would restore an area of forest about the size of Pennsylvania. But possibly most encouraging is the mutual pledges to up the amount of renewable energy that each country will include in their power mix. Another sticking point leading up to the Paris Climate Summit is whether developing countries, including Brazil, will commit to the same level of contributions that mroe industrialized countries are committing to. We’re hopeful that this pledge is a positive step toward protecting the world’s lungs, and ensuring all countries come along with the UN deal.

Territories and Regions Demand Commitments

The UN Climate Summit and the negotiations leading up to December aren’t the only major meetings going on this year. In early June, the World Summit Climate and Territories gathered over 800 non-state local and subnational governments to discuss and declare their demands for resolving climate change.

Their message to national negotiators working on an agreement for December’s UN Climate Summit was clear: The regions and territories are where climate action will or won’t be successful. In many places around the world, the work has already begun, and the message is that change isn’t just necessary— it’s financially viable. California, already the seventh largest economy in the world, has built financial strength out of green jobs and clean tech, and is planning to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030.

The conference yielded demands that any agreement include guarantees for sustainable jobs, and send a clear message to the private sector that the world will be building a totally new infrastructure to transition away from fossil fuels. Let’s hope climate negotiators are paying attention to the folks that are actually going to do the work.

Science Shifts from Assessing Risks to Defining Action

In mid-July, the Our Common Future Under Climate Change conference in Paris will shape the role that science plays in moving the world toward a zero-carbon future. It’s super heady to think about, but at this point, we’re counting on the world scientific community like Metropolis counted on Superman.

The massive meeting of the minds if framed around the shift in the scientific community (and the world at large, minus certain parts of the US government) from assessing risks and optional scenarios for action, to really drilling down to the details of what form that action has to take. It’s a chance for scientists, stakeholders, and the public to take inventory of what we know, and to discover and share new solutions. 

The four-day program is chock full of topics that would make a mere mortal’s head spin. We’re expecting a huge agreement this December. After the negotiators pack up and head out, these are the men and women who have to dig in deep and invent new ways to get us there— lift a cone to them if you get the chance.

International Development Must Consider Climate

The carbon reductions being put forth by each country leading up to the Paris UN Climate Summit represent a major step forward. Yet a huge part of our world is still undeveloped, or teetering on the verge of diving head first into fossil-fuel driven economies like the ones we’re supposed to be transitioning from.

Another significant conference happening this July in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia considers the issue of ensuring nations can both adapt and persevere through the worst outcomes of climate change, and have the tools and support necessary to shift away from fossil fuels while they still can. The outcome of the Financing for Development conference will lead to Sustainable Development Goals that will be taken up by the UN General Assembly in September. As the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told Stanford University this past June, “These three stops — Addis Ababa, New York and Paris— give us the last chance to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and our best chance to end poverty.”

August and October will see two more rounds of UN negotiations before the main event in December. There is so much momentum outside the UN process that we’re still hopeful we’ll see something lasting and significant on the table in Paris. Until then, we think it would be a good idea for climate negotiators to read up on this grad school student’s experience in a climate negotiation simulator. And for everyone else, keep the pressure on for 100% renewable energy by 2050, and for a full and lasting agreement on a zero-carbon future this December!