2016 Quietly Ushered in a New Global Era in Climate and Land Use

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Author: Jason Funk | Published: December 27, 2016

Future historians may look back at 2016 as a year that marked a significant shift in the land sector, leading to the acceleration of carbon sequestration around the world. It confirmed and widened the opportunities for countries to sequester carbon through better management of forests, croplands, pastures, and wetlands, while adding to the urgency of this opportunity as a key element of our efforts to prevent disruptive climate change. Fortunately, many countries have begun to take action at a large scale, and others are learning from their examples. At the same time, new resources to spur sequestration are being mobilized at an unprecedented scale. Although the year might be characterized as one of preparation and cultivation, rather than tangible, high-profile outcomes, the seeds of 2016 promise to bear significant fruit in the years ahead.

Global momentum on enhancing forest carbon is unleashed

After years of negotiations, the global climate community has aligned behind efforts to protect and restore forests, which have enormous potential to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Building on initiatives like the Bonn Challenge, the Warsaw Framework for REDD+, and the New York Declaration on Forests, 2015 concluded with worldwide consensus in the Paris Agreement that “Parties [to the Agreement] should take action to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases,” including “biomass, forests and oceans as well as other terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems.” In 2016, we saw many countries begin to act on this commitment, individually and collectively, with a proliferation of new plans and policies, fueled by growing investments and practical science. More than 120 countries included forests in their commitments, with activities ranging from afforestation in Afghanistan to sustainable forest management in Zambia.

Many countries were already taking action toward reducing emissions from deforestation and enhancing forest carbon sinks, and 2016 gave them an opportunity to secure the gains they had made. For example, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Malaysia have each built a solid foundation for action in forests, by 1) developing monitoring systems that can track fluctuations in emissions from forests, 2) initiating processes for consultation with stakeholders, and 3) establishing official baselines for tracking progress, which have been reviewed by international experts. In 2016, we saw further progress, with nearly a dozen countries submitting forest baselines for formal review – as well as development of recommendations for how to make this process more accessible and streamlined, generated by an expert dialogue in which I played a role as a facilitator and co-author. These baselines and the associated accounting systems, used to track progress, are crucial early steps that set the stage for forest countries to secure financial support and implement policies that can build up forest carbon.

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