The climate change challenge: thoughts from COP17

Between 28 November and 9 December 2011, world leaders gathered in Durban, South Africa, for the 17th annual Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP17) to discuss future commitments for addressing climate change.

The stakes were high as the future of our planet was debated. Results from the conference were somewhat disappointing however, with little progress being made on countries’ emission reduction targets.

Reaching a consensus on a more inclusive agreement that incorporates obligations not only for industrialised countries (as in the present Kyoto Protocol) but also for developing countries was considered too ambitious at this stage.

As a result a decision was taken to prolong the lifespan of the Kyoto Protocol (which was due to expire at the end of 2012), allowing leaders more time to negotiate a new deal, which would then enter into force in 2020.

On a more positive note, an agreement was reached on the management of the Green Climate Fund, which would distribute US$100bn per year by 2020. These funds would be raised from a mix of public and private sources and directly linked to meaningful (and transparent) mitigation actions. The specifics on who will actually contribute (and how much) is still unclear at this stage however.

REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) was yet again highlighted as an important tool for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, and it was agreed that REDD+ Readiness activities will be eligible for funding from the Green Climate Fund.

Fauna & Flora International’s (FFI’s) work on REDD+ currently centres around community projects, policy dialogue and the development of benefit sharing models, safeguards and pilot projects. FFI will continue to share the lessons learned through these activities, and to link its REDD+ projects with national and subnational policies.

How can REDD+ help prevent and mitigate climate change?

Forests are known as ‘carbon sinks’ because the trees absorb and store carbon dioxide (one of the main greenhouse gases) through photosynthesis; in fact forests store most of the world’s terrestrial carbon.

What is more, forests are home to at least two thirds of the Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity and provide many other ecological services (such as erosion prevention and water cycle regulation) that are hard to put a monetary value on.

When forests are cleared, most of the carbon stored in the biomass is released into the atmosphere. It has been scientifically proven that emissions from deforestation and degradation currently account for around one fifth of global, man-made emissions. This makes destruction of forests the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

REDD+ is a financial mitigation mechanism agreed to be part of a post-Kyoto Protocol agreement. REDD+ provides incentives for:

  • Reducing emissions from deforestation
  • Reducing emissions from forest degradation
  • Conservation of forest carbon stocks
  • Sustainable management of forests
  • Enhancement of forest carbon stocks

FFI is currently running a number of REDD+ projects, which are helping countries prepare to benefit from the REDD+ mechanism.