By Etienne Laffargue, Policy Intern

Looking up at trees
Credit: Chuck Fazio

“This is truly a historic moment,” said ban-Ki-moon regarding last Saturday, when negotiators of 195 nations agreed to a deal aiming to keep average temperature increases “well below 2 degrees Celsius,” in an effort to avoid catastrophic consequences of climate change. The Secretary General of the United Nations applauded the deal for being the first of its kind concerning climate change, referring to it as “one of the most crucial problems on Earth.”

Agreement Provides Positive Progress

The results of 13 days of intense negotiations in the suburb of Paris are promising. The deal brokered seeks to dramatically reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, and, for the first time, both developing and developed nations are expected to cut emissions. The deal is a framework aimed at keeping average temperature rise “well below” the 2 degrees Celsius threshold, above which scientist predict strong and dangerous weather disturbances. It also expresses the ambition of restricting temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, past which we could witness the disappearance of low-lying islands.

The core of the deal is made of non-binding individual national pledges to reduce emissions. It was the United States that pushed for non-binding rather than binding targets. This approach may seem counter intuitive, but previous agreements largely failed due to their restrictive nature. As political scientist David Victor, from University of California – San Diego, points out, the newfound flexibility is exactly what is needed to build an increasing impactful agreement. This voluntary basis reflects a bottom-up approach where each nation can decide the rate of its cuts in emissions. What is legally binding is that countries must ratchet up their targets every five years and are subject to a transparency mechanism called “monitoring, reporting and verification.” That means, they must submit reports on emissions and emission cuts using a universal accounting system to be reviewed by expert panels. This is extremely positive because it provides a much needed framework for the civil society and the international community to pressure for stronger emission cuts regularly.

While current pledges will only keep temperature rise below 2.7-3.5 degrees Celsius, it is encouraging to see that so many countries have agreed to make pledges, to have their progress monitored and to make stronger pledges regularly. In striking this agreement, governments have made clear their intention to mitigate climate change and have taken the important first step of cooperation, which can only gather momentum as trust continues to be built between parties.

Forests’ Role in Combating Climate Change

The agreement indicates the role forests play in climate mitigation. It encourages parties to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, recognizes the role of conservation and sustainable management of forests and suggests using result-based payments for forest protection. Though the text on forests is succinct, American Forests will keep pushing for smart policy that protects forests and will continue implementing reforestation programs throughout the world so our trees remain valuable carbon sinks.

It is up to all of us to face the climate challenge with determination. This deal established a basis for the work to come, and now, our country must do its part to keep climate change to a minimum. We, at American Forests, are optimistic about the opportunities offered by this deal and hope that you will join us in our steady effort to raise awareness about the importance of forests in climate change mitigation.