Canadian and other northern forests are given little attention in the climate negotiations. Photo: ©Scalia Media /

Forests – still a neglected issue in climate negotiations

By: Wendel Trio

The protection of forests did not figure high on the UN climate convention’s COP28 agenda last December and it really seems negotiators are waiting for Brazil’s COP30 in 2025.

With attention rightly focusing on the fossil fuel phase-out debate at Dubai’s COP28, it is good to briefly reflect on the outcomes of COP28 as they relate to (Northern) forests. As was expected, forest issues did not figure high on the COP agenda and it really seems negotiators are waiting for Brazil’s COP30, to be held in the Amazon city of Belem in November 2025, to restart real conversations on the important role of forest conservation in the fight against climate change.

Three key elements of COP28’s outcome relate directly to forests:

  • continued dissension on forest-related elements in the rules to implement Article 6 of the Paris Agreement which relates to carbon markets;
  • additional pledges on financial support for forest conservation (in developing countries);
  • the integration of the Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests and Land Use in the outcome of the First Global Stocktake.

Governments have been battling over rules to manage carbon markets. These are very important as forest-related offset projects in particular have been very controversial, both in terms of their actual rather limited contribution to fighting climate change, as well as in their failure to recognise the rights of indigenous peoples and legitimate concerns over their impact on biodiversity.
The discussions on Article 6.2 (which focuses on bilateral markets) revolved around how to ensure environmental integrity of forest projects while discussions on Article 6.4 (which provides a UN managed market) dealt with the inclusion of removals in the mechanism.

The Article 6.2 negotiations were in particular torn between two opposing positions: The US and others promoted an open system that builds on the infrastructure established by the voluntary carbon market. The EU and its partners, by contrast, advocated for a more centralised system with an international transaction registry at its core and high minimum standards for mitigation activities. No agreement was found and negotiations were postponed until 2024.

Regarding Article 6.4, Parties faced the task of taking final decisions that would make the Article 6.4 mechanism operational. This mainly entailed a decision on guiding principles for developing methodologies to calculate emission reductions and to ensure additionality. The recommendations on methodologies tabled by the Supervisory Body of the mechanism shortly before the COP provided an acceptable basis for many Parties, however many Parties also regard these and decisions on the inclusion of removals as an unbreakable package. And including both nature-based as well as technology-based removal activities proved once again a task of such complexity with its crunch issues of permanence, reversals, and leakage that a consensus was impossible to achieve.

For both Article 6.2 and 6.4, final compromise texts were published on the evening of the 12 December but also with discussions through the night, and ultimately Parties were unable to find
common ground. The intense negotiations could not bridge the divide between countries that were aiming for a system with a maximum of flexibility and those that demanded a more centralised approach to increase transparency, environmental integrity and measurable contributions to the ambition-raising character of the Paris Agreement. In light of the loopholes and flaws included in the text proposals for Article 6.2 and 6.4, their non-adoption has prevented further damage.

Countries did, however, move forward on Article 6.8 to establish “non-market approaches” which essentially would lead to more grants for forest preservation, a decision strongly welcomed by countries such as Bolivia.

Several new measures to tackle deforestation (in developing countries) were announced by countries at COP28, with Brazil leading the pack by announcing a new Tropical Forests Forever proposal. This would essentially create a $250 billion trust fund for forest conservation. Critics say that even if the sale of a carbon credit keeps one patch of forest from being cut down, deforestation will often simply shift to another patch that is unprotected. Under this new initiative, governments and corporations would donate to a fund that would pay countries a dividend based on how many hectares of primary forest they keep standing. If a country lets a hectare be cut down, its payments from the fund would be reduced by a factor of 100.

Furthermore, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged $100 million to Papua New Guinea, $60 million to the Democratic Republic of Congo and $50 million to the Republic of Congo to try and encourage private spending on carbon credits to keep forests intact. The UK pledged $38 million to the Amazon Fund, and Norway later committed $50 million.

The biggest result was achieved in the COP decision on the First Global Stocktake, which strongly recognised the importance of ecosystem conservation and also recognised the importance of not only tackling deforestation (which is mostly a developing country issue) but also halting forest degradation (which is more relevant for Northern forests).

The GST decision not only recognises the “urgent need to address the interlinked global crises of climate change and biodiversity loss” but also stresses “the vital importance of protecting, conserving, restoring and sustainably using nature and ecosystems for effective and sustainable climate action”. The GST decision further calls for “enhanced efforts towards halting and reversing deforestation and forest degradation by 2030”. While there is still a very strong focus on the need for funding to support developing countries efforts to reverse deforestation, it is important that countries are reminded through the GST that forest degradation, which is prevalent in the Northern forests of Canada, the US, Europe and Russia, also needs to be tackled and halted by 2030.

Accountability for this and previous commitments remains an issue of concern. A proposal, linked to the Glasgow Leaders Declaration, to develop a Forest Accountability Framework did get support from a range of countries, but this has not yet led to any specific results. On the contrary, concerns were raised over the fact that only a limited number of countries (26) have yet engaged in the Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership (FCLP) while the Glasgow Declaration was signed by 145 countries.

Besides the explicit reference to forest degradation in the GST text, there was little attention for the plight of Northern forests, besides a few side events, including one organised by AirClim with speakers from the Saami Council, Climate Analytics, the European Commission and the Natural Resources Defense Council, highlighting the importance of protecting and restoring Northern forests, while recognising indigenous peoples’ land rights and Northern forests’ importance for fighting biodiversity loss.

Forests also made a prominent appearance in the other major text to come out of COP28: the work programme on the global goal for climate change adaptation. It noted that a future adaptation framework should strengthen efforts toward the preservation and regeneration of forests, and that reducing climate impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity should be one of the targets.

Wendel Trio


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