Roberto Faidutti FAO Brazil 1999

Photo: Roberto Faidutti, FAO Brazil

(This post originally appeared in GO-REDD+, an information service of the UN-REDD Programme for the Asia-Pacific region)

By Joel Scriven, UN-REDD Programme

September 2014 saw the release of the Global Carbon Project’s (GCP) 2014 Global Carbon Budget. The GCP brings together leading scientists to make annual estimations of where human-sourced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are coming from and where they are going. It presents findings within the historical context of global emissions – making it essential reading for anyone with an interest in climate change mitigation.

Some of the headlines are perhaps not surprising: the US remains the highest per capita emitter (at 16.4tCO2/person/year), emissions from China are growing fast (and have surpassed the EU in per capita terms), and coal is the major fossil fuel source accounting for 59% of the growth in global emissions in 2013. All of which is reflective of trends in global geopolitics, commodity prices and development path trajectories. But what about emissions from forestry and land use? The answer may come as a surprise.

global climate project 03-12-14Although emissions from land-use change peaked in 1998, largely as a result of the El Niño effect increasing the intensity of fires in Indonesian peatforests, overall they have been in decline since 1990. In fact, as a proportion of total global emissions, and as a result of the growth from fossil fuels, contributions from land-use change are estimated to have fallen from 36% in 1960, to 19% in 1990, to 8% in 2013.

So why all the fuss about mitigating land-use and forestry emissions through REDD+? Well, the answer lies partly in the global mitigation portfolio and partly in the ultimate resting place of all these emissions. Firstly, it is important to place this relative decline in land-use and forestry emissions in the context of the rampant growth of emissions from fossil fuels. After all, in 2013 these emissions still amounted to over 3 gigatonnes of CO2: not a small amount. Secondly, through addressing emissions from this sector, we can safeguard numerous and well- ocumented other environmental services such as conservation of biodiversity and other environmental services, livelihood provisions for forestdependent people, water quality provisions, and so on. Thirdly, it is considered to be a relatively cost- ffective (read: cheaper!) approach to mitigating climate change than, say, replacing all diesel-spouting buses with electric ones.

So that’s the main reason for reducing emissions from forests. But there’s more: where do these GHGs actually go, once released, from coal, gas or forests? Of the total human-sourced emissions between 2004 and 2013 (approximately 35 gigatonnes of CO2 per year), only 44% ended up in the atmosphere where they play havoc with our climate system. Of the remainder, 26% went into the oceans and 29% was absorbed by forests (technically, the ‘land sink’ – but most significantly comprised of forests). To recap: one third of global human GHG emissions are taken up by forests.

This is of huge importance for 1) the role of forests in preventing emissions from reaching the atmosphere; and 2) further justification for keeping our remaining forests intact as emission sponges. These facts also draw our attention to the ‘+’ in REDD+. As countries develop their strategies for REDD+ implementation, and while the inevitable starting point may be analyzing the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, the importance of conserving remaining forests, sustainably managing forests and enhancing their forest areas, should not be overlooked.