To prevent the worst consequences of climate change, we need to act now.
There is a “catastrophic climate gap” between the commitments that countries have made under the Paris Climate Agreement and the emissions reductions required to avoid the worst consequences of global warming, according to UN Environment’s Emissions Gap Report 2017.
The Paris Agreement aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2˚ Celsius, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5˚ Celsius.
Current pledges from governments represent only about half of what would be required to avoid a 2˚C temperature rise, and just one third of what’s required to limit warming to 1.5˚C.
While this “emissions gap” is significant, UN Environment suggests it can still be closed in a cost-effective manner.
One of the major contributors to closing the gap is forests.
The good news here is that 6.3 gigatons (billion tons) of carbon dioxide emission reductions have already been reported over the past six years from forests in Brazil, Ecuador, Malaysia and Colombia alone under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), according to the UNFCCC Lima Hub. This is equivalent to more than the annual emissions of the United States.
“This is a significant step forward, showing that forests can be a central part of the solution to climate change,” says the head of the UN-REDD Programme Secretariat, Mario Boccucci. “We have an unprecedented opportunity: political will, know-how, finance. Now we need to build on progress and scale up rapidly in the coming years.”
“IPCC [International Panel on Climate Change] numbers suggest that if deforestation ended today and degraded forests were allowed to recover, tropical forests alone could reduce current annual global emissions by 24 to 30 per cent,” says the Center for Global Development in its report Why Forests, Why Now?
“In other words, tropical forests hold the potential to constitute somewhere between one quarter and one third of the near-term solution to climate change.”
Agriculture can also help close the emissions gap
A 2015 report from the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists shows that the land sector – global agriculture and forests – can make a large contribution to closing the gap.
According to the IPCC, more than half of agricultural emissions come from livestock, particularly methane-emitting ruminants such as cattle.
While every country can contribute something to the effort to close the gap, the report identifies eight countries with large climate mitigation potential. Each country’s mitigation formula will need to emphasize different opportunities – reducing emissions from the forest sector (Indonesia); increasing sequestration (Brazil); dietary shifts and food waste reduction (the United States and, to a lesser extent, the European Union); and increased efficiency in crop and livestock production (India and China).
Additional support is also needed to halt deforestation in developing countries with high forest cover. Saving forests not only helps fight climate change but can also reduce poverty, protecting the 1.6 million people globally who depend on forests for their livelihoods.
A quick win
Enormous amounts of carbon are released into the atmosphere when forests are cleared. Activities such as selective logging and drainage of carbon-rich peat swamps are also significant emissions sources.
Protecting forests, including mangroves, makes climate action cheaper and faster. We need to build the political case for this across all countries.
“The Emissions Gap Report once again underscores the urgency of redoubling our efforts to reduce emissions,” says UN Environment climate change expert Niklas Hagelberg.
“It shows that solutions exist, and if they are adopted quickly we can turn our current situation around. But with each year we wait, we make our ability to limit dangerous climate change more difficult, risky and costly.”
For further information: Niklas.Hagelberg[at]un.org