Tag Archives: carbon

Managing Expectations for the Paris Climate Conference and Beyond

This article was originally posted here on New Security Beat, the blog of the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center.


The focus of the global community on the outcomes of the Paris Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December is unprecedented. The world awaits, anticipating the details of an international and legally-binding agreement to address climate change. [Video Here]

The prospect of a successful outcome is certainly a source of optimism and excitement. “[T]he eyes of the world will be on Paris…all indications seem to point toward success,” said Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UNFCC, in a video made specifically for the ongoing “Managing Our Planet” series. The road to Paris has been enabled by many other negotiations – from Kyoto to Copenhagen to Durban. These talks have set the precedent for a deal to come soon. However, despite this optimism and vision of an effective and comprehensive climate strategy, it is important to look beyond Paris.

To set the Paris deal in motion, the global community must ensure effective implementation, deliver adequate financing, and encourage transparency and accountability. Without these critical components, the negotiations will not stop temperatures from rising to dangerous levels. After the post-Paris celebrations calm down, the global community must keep up the momentum or risk another failed attempt at addressing climate change.

The Structure of the Negotiations 

The Paris negotiations will culminate in the Paris Alliance – a visionary and comprehensive plan to address global climate change. The Paris Alliance includes four pillars: a legally-binding international deal; a national plan from each country; financing of at least $100 billion annually; and formal recognition of non-state actions focused on alleviating climate change. This is an all-hands-on-deck, all-of-the-above approach; it will be implemented by all countries worldwide and utilize a variety of tools. Both mitigation and adaptation will be addressed, harnessing interventions ranging from higher fuel efficiency standards to renewable energy development to forest conservation.

Furthermore, the Paris negotiations are structured in a unique way. Historically, the UNFCCC has relied upon the premise of differentiation – developed and developing countries were expected to contribute to solutions in different ways. For instance, in the Kyoto Protocol, developed countries (polluters of the past) were responsible for meeting legally binding emissions targets, while developing countries were not. Although this is rooted in the polluter-pays principle, developed countries, including the United States, were not keen on it.

At the Wilson Center on October 14, Lisa Friedman, deputy editor of ClimateWire, emphasized the role of differentiation in the climate agreements, noting that “this fight has been going on for a long time…and the U.S. rejected [Kyoto] because of that.”

The deal in Paris, however, is quite different. Each nation must submit an Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) document detailing what commitments it will make. This voluntary, bottom-up approach ensures that each nation feels a sense of ownership. The national plans will hopefully eventually “add up” to carbon emissions reductions that prevent a rise in global temperatures of more than two degrees Celsius.

Expectations vs. Reality

As of today, at least 126 nations have submitted INDCs. The submission of so many plans months before the conference is a positive sign that negotiators will avoid last-minute uncertainty. Carbon accounting and transparency, along with innovative technological solutions, are integrated into many plans. However, as of now, the INDCs do not add up to match the two degrees Celsius target to which the global community aspires.

Commitments so far do not add up to match the 2° C target

Many hard commitments are not yet in place. Exact targets for mitigation and commitments for financing, for example, are lacking. The plans to compensate those most affected by climate change are not yet agreed upon. Furthermore, the strategies to follow up on and upgrade these commitments are missing.

The details of the mitigation targets, financing, compensation for loss and damage, and other components will ultimately be determined by politics. The final outcome is unpredictable at this point, said Yamide Dagnet, a senior associate with the World Resources Institute’s Collective Climate Action Objective. She emphasized that the negotiations are likely to involve “asks and gives” between nations negotiating until “the final hour.”

Looking Beyond

When the dust settles this fall, the Paris COP is likely to produce the first binding, comprehensive international agreement to address climate change. After the celebrations die down, however, it is critical that the global community push for effective implementation of the Paris Alliance.

Nations must strive to reach their goals in a timely manner, deploying their resources and reporting on their progress to ensure transparency and accountability. Further, governments will need to begin investigating ways to avoid unintended consequences of their strategies and consider tradeoffs between goals (e.g., between renewable energy development and habitat connectivity in a biodiverse region).

Here in the United States, the 2016 presidential election is likely to play a key role in successful implementation of the deal. If the United States is not on board, Paris threatens to be another Kyoto.

If all goes well, and every nation successfully implements their INDCs, then the success of Paris will still have only just begun. Implementation will not be simple nor will benefits be immediate. Momentum may fade. “It’s very important that we don’t backtrack,” said Dagnet. “We need to keep the momentum way after Paris.” In order for the deal to truly be successful, there must be enough institutional and political will to carry this deal forward for decades into the future.

Sources: World Resources Institute.

Photo Credit: Bonn session of the UNFCCC Subsidiary Body for Implementation and Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice, October 2014, courtesy of the UNFCCC. 

Speaking for the trees: protection of forests is compromised by PADDD

This is the third in a series of weekly blog posts that will cover conservation topics with a focus on protected areas and the laws and institutions that support them (or don’t).

The Lorax speaks for the trees http://www.drseussart.com/

Today is World Environment Day – a day designated by the United Nations Environment Program which aims to promote dialogue on environmental issues at an international scale. I’d like to take this opportunity to “speak for the trees” – just like the Lorax would do. Here, I’ll highlight some of the benefits of forests, ways that we have tried to protect them, and one way that they have been compromised by policy changes.

Why should we care about trees? Here are just a few reasons.

1. Trees store carbon and pull carbon dioxide, a harmful greenhouse gas, out of the atmosphere every day. The natural biological processes that trees undergo – the storage of carbon in their cells and photosynthesis – help combat climate change.

The Carbon Cycle - Trees sequester carbon. http://dapa.ciat.cgiar.org/carbon-sequestration-one-true-green-revolution/

Trees and the Carbon Cycle http://dapa.ciat.cgiar.org/carbon-sequestration-one-true-green-revolution/

2. Trees and forests provide essential habitat for the world’s biodiversity. Tropical forests, in particular, harbor a richness of biodiversity around the world in biodiversity hotspots. The Indo-Pacific region and portions of East Africa and Madagascar are examples of biodiverse tropical forests upon which many species and people depend.

Biodiversity Hotspots, as defined by Conservation International http://www.conservation.org/How/Pages/Hotspots.aspx

Biodiversity Hotspots as defined by Conservation International http://www.conservation.org/How/Pages/Hotspots.aspx

3. Urban trees help regulate local air quality, provide shade, and regulate the urban heat island effect. Cities can get extremely hot, especially during afternoons in the summer. Built infrastructure and paved surfaces like sidewalks, streets, and parking lots tend to be much hotter than naturally vegetated areas. The presence of trees and other vegetation in urban areas can help reduce the urban heat island effect and cool things down.

Trees help reduce the urban heat island effect. http://healthyurbanhabitat.com.au/urban-heat-islands/

What policies are in place to protect forests?

Forest policies can be roughly divided into two categories: reactive and preventative. Reactive forest policies or projects aim to restore degraded or deforested forest areas. For example, the World Resources Institute, the Nature Conservancy, and the US Forest Service all work to restore and track growth of forested areas. Restoration helps improve forested areas that have been lost to fire, have been cleared for agriculture, or whose ecosystems have been affected by habitat fragmentation or climate change. On the other hand, preventative policies to protect forests including the establishment of national and private protected areas, indigenous reserves, and payments for ecosystem services programs such as REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation). In all of these schemes, native forests are meant to be left untouched and continue to sequester carbon as they would naturally.

Despite the good intentions of these policies, protected areas which aim to prevent forest loss are not universally permanent. Recent research in Peru, Malaysia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo has identified widespread protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) in these tropical forest nations. One hundred and seventy four enacted and eight proposed events in these three nations alone have been documented to date. For example, in Peru, PADDD has occurred in at least 14 different national parks (WWF 2015) and affected a striking 22% of its protected area estate (Forrest et al. 2014).

Country Profile for Peru showing PADDD events http://www.padddtracker.org/countries/PER

Critics may wonder – does removing pieces of land from protection actually matter? Yes – PADDD matters for forests and the carbon that they are meant to store. Forrest et al. found that areas that were removed from protection (either downsized or degazetted) were deforested at rates greatly exceeding deforestation rates in protected areas. This should come as no surprise. However, the study also found that deforestation in PADDDed locations was higher than in areas that had never been protected. This suggests that forests may have been cleared soon after laws were passed to open the forests to logging; PADDD enabled accelerated deforestation. In addition, PADDD was found to be a significant predictor of deforestation in a regression model, even when controlling for access to the forest. Access was controlled for because it has been shown to correlate with higher deforestation rates; forests nearer to roads and the forest edge are more likely to be deforested. The Forrest et al. study is  the first of its kind to demonstrate that PADDD has real consequences – for forests, biodiversity, and the global climate.

Forest loss was highest in PADDDed areas - much higher than protected areas and even higher than never protected areas. Forrest et al. 2014

Forest loss was highest in PADDDed areas – much higher than protected areas and even higher than never protected areas. Forrest et al. 2014

On this World Environment Day, think about the trees and the benefits they provide. Although there are many well intentioned and effective policies in place to safeguard forests and encourage their restoration, we should be aware that protected area policies can be impermanent and that legal changes to protected areas matter – for the trees.


Forrest, Jessica L., Michael B. Mascia, Sharon Pailler, Siti Zuraidah Abidin, Mara Deza Araujo, Roopa Krithivasan, and Juan Carlos Riveros. “Tropical Deforestation and Carbon Emissions from Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement (PADDD).” Conservation Letters, September 1, 2014, n/a – n/a. doi:10.1111/conl.12144.

World Wildlife Fund.  2015.  PADDDtracker: Tracking Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement [Beta version].  Accessed 04-06-2015. www.PADDDtracker.org.