A press conference was held on 12 December 2018, just one hour before the release of a Declaration written by the Polish Ministry on Forests for the Climate. The conference was led by ”Fern,” an EU organization that advocates for forests and the people whose livelihoods depend on them, supported by the Climate Land Ambition and Rights Alliance (CLARA), a collaboration of non-governmental organizations that echoes Fern’s mission with principles of social justice and agroecology. Forestry campaigners and experts brought in by Fern shared their reactions to what they believed to be a genuine sneak peek at the declaration that was to be released later that same evening.
The Katowice Press Conference Room was graced with opinions from Christoph T., forest campaigner for Greenpeace Poland; a climate coordinator at the Global Forest Coalition and REDD+ expert from New Delhi; Virginia Young from the Australian Rainforest Conservation Society; and Otto Bruun, Policy Officer for the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation. All of the speakers anticipated a lack of ambition in the Presidency’s declaration, something we cannot afford in our current climate. These speakers emphasized the need to conserve forests for the sake of biodiversity, soil health, and protection from the effects of extreme natural disasters. Forest carbon stocks were identified by Young as a complex, integrated system that encompass more than just carbon, and cannot afford to be cut down and burned in our current climate crisis (particularly primary forests).
The foreshadowed lack of ambition was realized in the release of the document. The Polish Ministry cited Article 5 of the Paris Agreement, whose plain language can be categorized as soft law at best: Parties “should take action to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases as referred to in Article 4, paragraph 1(d), of the Convention, including forests,” and “are encouraged to take action to implement…policy incentives for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation…”
Thus, the PA does not bind Parties to any definitive action towards conserving carbon sinks in the form of forest resources. The Polish Ministry did not add much to this lack of ambition in their declaration by “encouraging” the scientific community to achieve a balance between anthropocentric emissions by sources and removals by sinks in the second half of this century, second only to a pledge that will “ensure an accelerated global contribution to forests and forest products.” This not-so-subtle dedication to industry is certain to undermine forest preservation efforts many global organizations like Fern are urging governments to uphold.
If the IPCC made anything clear in its recent report, we need a rapid and just decarbonization by 2030 if we want to maintain the ambition of the PA. This will not come to fruition if we do not work with gusto to protect what Al Gore described today as the cheapest and most efficient form of carbon sequestration already on the market – forests.
Continuing business as usual precludes banking on there being plenty more where that came from.