MARRAKECH: New initiatives on forest protection give boost to climate action agenda

9 November 2016 – The global effort to protect and sustainably manage forests and deliver on climate change targets got a major boost at the United Nations Climate Conference (COP 22) taking place in Marrakech, Morocco, where several projects on protecting woodlands worldwide were announced today.

Forest actors at the meeting, formally known as the 22nd Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), expressed cautious optimism, welcoming the progress made on forest protection but warned against complacency.

“We know that the annual net loss of natural forests is slowing – a 25 per cent decrease in 2015 compared to 2000. But this is very much about restoration, regeneration of forests and reforestation, [but] unfortunately tropical forest clearing continues,” said ‘Climate Champion’ Laurence Tubiana at a press conference.

Ms. Tubiana, the French Ambassador on climate change, and Hakima El Haité, Moroccan Minister in charge of Environment, were appointed Climate Champions by the previous UN Climate Conference, known as COP 21.

“It is improving, the action was effective, but we have to improve it if we want to be really consistent with the [Paris targets],” Ms. Tubiana added, referring to the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change, which was adopted in the French capital last year and calls on countries to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future, and to adapt to the increasing impacts of the phenomenon.

Also at press conference, René Castro Salazar, the Assistant Director-General for Forestry of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), also warned against complacency.

“Forests are still disappearing at close to three million hectares per year […] especially natural forests. We hope the remaining four billion hectares of forest of the world will be sustainably managed, that will be the only way to preserve the resource. Addressing climate change cannot be done without a sustainable forest management programme,” he underscored.

In efforts to tackle climate change, forests play an important role as they absorb and store carbon as trees grow, thereby eliminating emissions from the atmosphere. But deforestation and forest degradation have the opposite effect: they release carbon into the atmosphere. Currently, deforestation and forest degradation are responsible for 12 per cent of global carbon emissions.

“Forests are one of the largest and most cost-effective responses we have to climate change,” said Helen Clark, Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), said in a news release.

According to Mr. Castro Salazar, healthier forests not only help combat climate change but also contribute to many other global development goals by providing food, income, fuel and shelter.

The sense of prudent optimism was shared by the Senior Director of the Forest and Climate Program of the non-governmental organization WWF, Josephina Brana-Varela. “There is a lot of progress. We are on the right path but we need to do it faster,” she said at the press conference. To that end, she drew attention to the “very unusual coalition of partners” that has emerged around the issue, including developed countries, developing countries, corporations, private sector actors, indigenous people, and multilateral organizations.

A dozen initiatives were presented yesterday at COP 22 by countries from Africa, Asia and South America during Forest Action Day, which is part of the Global Climate Action Agenda initiative by France and Morocco to boost cooperative action between governments, cities, business, investors and citizens.

Among initiatives, the Government of Indonesia announced that it is implementing a moratorium on clearing super-high-carbon intact peatlands. Colombia announced forest plans linked to the peace process, including an initiative to put very large areas of forest under the control of indigenous people.

The Moroccan Government announced an initiative called ‘Strengthened Action in Favor of Forests in the Mediterranean-Sahel Region in the Context of Climate Change’ to help countries of that region meet multilateral commitments to forests.

“The idea is to form a collaborative partnership throughout the region given the interactions and strong relationships in environmental and socio-economic areas,” said the Secretary General of the High Commissioner for water and forests of Morocco, Abderrahim Houmy, at the press conference.

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