Linking UNFCC & CBD – a call for practical action

Addressing the linkage between climate and biodiversity crises is widely regarded as essential for resolving them. Yet this linkage still has to be coordinated in practice at strategic level between key organisations. 

A new policy paper with proposals for a Joint SBSTA (Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice) Work Plan, to which Wild Europe has contributed, should help address the situation.

Three actions from cooperation

Coordinated by Griffith University as part of its Global Primary Forest Protection programme, where Wild Europe is a partner, this paper suggests how the ecosystem provisions in the Paris Treaty can be put into operation through three key actions:

  1. Creation of the joint SBSTA to highlight the interactions between climate and biodiversity. This should promote the following aspects:
    • protection of existing natural ecosystems as a priority over restoration of near-natural (which remain nonetheless highly important) to get best return from limited resources
    • the importance of ecosystem integrity in securing biodiversity recovery as well as maximizing address of climate change mitigation and adaptation 
    • actions for achieving this
  2. Integration of the new ecosystem accounting framework developed by the UN Statistical Commission (UNSEEA-EA) into CBD and UNFCCC reporting systems, including focus on the economic as well as environmental benefits of protecting and restoring carbon and biodiversity rich natural ecosystems
  3. The CBD taking fuller responsibility for championing the synergy between climate and biodiversity, and sharing its expertise with the UNFCCC to promote those environmental and economic benefits, with emphasis on long-lasting impacts 

Failures in the current system

Degradation of natural ecosystems with their dense carbon stocks is still advancing rapidly, with danger of tipping points best exemplified by the threat of Amazon rainforest converting into savanna. 

Current UNFCCC Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) accounting rules fail to adequately recognise the huge proportionate importance of carbon stocks, and hence the importance of strictly protecting natural forest – particularly primary and old growth – together with peatlands and wetlands, and their marine equivalents (kelp and seagrass).

A broken carbon accounting system

Fire in Portugal – aggravated by eucalypt and pine mono plantations

Those accounting rules record removal of carbon above ground in a tree (emissions from soil carbon, which are a highly significant result of felling, are not even recorded) at the time of felling, but this is then effectively ‘lost’ (cancelled out in the ‘accounts’) through being set against the relevant country’s overall accounting of growth in biomass.

When the wood is burned in the country where biopower is generated, this is then recorded as carbon neutral.

One major consequence has been emergence of a bioenergy industry that worsens climate change, jeopardises respiratory health and destroys massive areas of biodiversity-rich forest. Yet under heavy subsidy the bioenergy industry is projected to grow strongly – simply because the accounting effectively does not record its emissions. Furthermore wood is counted as a ‘renewable’ energy, even though it takes many decades for the carbon debt from burning to be repaid through regrowth – far too long for the 2030 and 2050 climate targets in the Paris Agreement.

Decision takers in government and the EU may be fooled, but the atmosphere is not – wood bioenergy generates higher carbon emissions per kWh than the fossil fuels it is meant to replace, even coal, and the targets are undermined. Yet alternatives to forest bioenergy are available that are far more fuel efficient, genuinely address climate change, don’t destroy richly biodiverse forests and bring much greater benefits to the economy.

Introducing RECCS

Ntural or old-growth forest, high carbon storage – a green lung for Europe

Since 2020 Wild Europe has been advocating the development of RECCS (Renewable Energy and Climate Change Strategy) that demonstrates how climate change can be far more efficiently tackled by switching subsidies, geared up with third party funding, from forest bioenergy to:

  • alternative genuine renewables (wind, solar, marine, geothermal, together with heat pumps, hydrogen, storage and transmission infrastructure)
  • demand suppressing initiatives (recycling, insulation, fuel efficiency, industrial process technology) 
  • protection and restoration of carbon absorbent ecosystems. 

The RECCS project has now been commissioned with funding from the Packard Foundation.

Misallocation of resources 

Misallocation of resources towards inappropriate Nature Based Solutions has been another key problem. 

Nearly 50% of land use in global Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in 2022 involved planting trees rather than protection of natural forest and restoration of near-natural forest, which is far more cost-effective in mitigating climate change through volume and stability of crucial carbon storage, alongside other benefits including biodiversity preservation, ongoing sequestration, flood mitigation, general resilience and adaptation

For a European context of definitions, management and benefits of such forests, see Wild Europe’s practical guidelines, proposed through its place on the EC Working Group for implementation of EU Forest and Biodiversity Strategies.

The route to closer cooperation

The conclusions of the IPBES/IPCC workshop in 2021 set a valuable example of a clear vision from cooperative thinking, echoed in the declaration of the IPCC Working Group III (2022) that protection offers the highest mitigation value of any action in the agriculture, forests and other land uses (AFOLU) sector. 

This is more fully in line with Article 5 of the Paris Agreement, focussing on protection and restoration of declining carbon sinks, rather than the more active management and bioenergy extraction effectively condoned by IPCC – for all its muted protestations about potential dangers. IPPC’s definition of forests meanwhile fails to distinguish between natural and monocultural.

With so little time remaining for effective action to meet the Paris targets for 2030 and 2050, and a minimum 2% temperature increase looking increasingly likely, close cooperation between the two principle lead parties, CBD for biodiversity and UNFCC for climate change, is an urgent necessity.

This Griffith University Report goes a long way to explaining why and how that should happen.