Putting Forest Communities First: Day One at SB48
The 48th Sessions of the UNFCCC Subsidiary Bodies is underway and already the sparks are flying. We were lucky enough to attend the opening plenary at which starting positions were openly challenged, promising a provocative and sincere dialogue during the sessions to come. The plenary outlined the structure of the week in which The Paris Agreement ‘rule book’ will be developed and finalised in preparation for its implementation in 2020. As each organisation read their opening statements, the wide scope of the technical and political interest groups was realised. With such diverse groups, each with so much at stake, there is a sense of urgency in the room.
From the opening of procedures we looked forward to the approaching sessions in Katovice, ‘The Road to COP24’. The focus of this side event was to understand the views of the developing countries in the key issues of COP24. The speaker from China expressed that the voices of developing countries must be heard at Katowice and that transparency and guidance were the key to making the Paris agreement a success. Furthermore, many of the speakers expressed concerns about the over-complexity of the document, comparing it to a ‘Frankenstein’s monster’ that need to be transformed to an ‘angel’. The bottom line was that the Paris agreement is something to protect and uphold. It is an agreement that unifies all countries, and strikes a delicate balance by allowing economies to grow whilst working towards a safer climate. Therefore it should be written in a way that is simple, fair, and easy to implement for all countries.
Turning our attention to the forest, we heard about the boundless potential of natural forest management for the sequestration of Carbon and protection of biodiversity. The key issue discussed here was about co-benefits of returning the forest to communities. Indigenous people are a major stakeholder in conservation and climate change, many losing their homes and traditions as a result of land use change.
When speaking of sequestration through forest, some suggest the idea of broad scale monocultures, providing timber and large quantities of biomass. However this method is not sustainable, and employs only one benefit of the forest when there are a multitude. Monocultures do not improve biodiversity, monocultures do not provide ecosystem services to local communities, monocultures do not promote traditions and cultures, but the natural forest does all these things. By returning the forest to the indigenous people, as has been observed in Nepal, the biomass is restored and dense forest returns to degraded and lost forests due to the stewardship of the local people. This results in a higher ecosystem integrity, and an engagement of communities with the forest, which is critical when it comes to safeguarding it.
Co-benefits are crucial when striving to achieve balance in the Paris agreement. Each method that is employed much be conscientious for the natural world, but also for the socio-economic world. We look forward to the contrasting points of view in the coming days.
Isabelle Gough is an Environmental Science Student at University of Copenhagen. Her main interests involve Biodiversity, Soil Ecology, and Boreal forests.