Poland pushing forest agenda as climate host, leak shows

(Photo: Commons)

KATOWICE, (CLIMATE HOME) – Poland will ask all nations to agree on forests’ central role in the fight to curb climate change when they host UN talks later this year, a leaked document has revealed.

In a draft statement intended to be adopted by all governments at this year’s major climate conference, host country Poland emphasised the “essential role of carbon sinks in mitigating climate change” and called on states to ensure “that global forest carbon stocks are maintained and further enhanced by 2050”.

The draft has been circulated to governments ahead of the meeting in Katowice in December. It calls on scientists from the UN climate science panel to “explore and quantify” the role of forests in storing carbon in “achieving a balance” with greenhouse gas pollution.

The declaration ends with the statement: “Finally [we] affirm that there is no future without tackling climate change, but there is no future without forests either.”

Scientists and NGOs interviewed by Climate Home News welcomed the declaration, but warned against using forests as a get-out-of-jail-free card for continued pollution.

“I could only support bringing forests in the picture,” director of the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research Michael Tausz said. “However, in the context of COP24, managing forests to take up CO2 does not release [governments] from the duty of curbing emissions, particularly from land-use change, of course.”

In particular, environmentalists are nervous Poland will focus on offsetting carbon emissions through forests, rather than curbing its polluting coal sector. In 2015, nearly 81 per cent of the country’s electricity came from coal.

“Yes the climate is important and forests are important – but to tackle climate change we both need to keep trees standing and reduce fossil-fuel emissions,” said Hannah Mowat, a campaigner specialising in the relationship between climate change and forests from the Dutch NGO Fern.

Speaking to Climate Home News, a spokesperson from the Polish department of forestry, Monika Figaj, insisted that there was no subtext to the declaration. “We do not state in the declaration that reductions of emissions will not be required. The declaration is a strong appeal to meet the Paris Agreement goal of achieving a balance of emissions and removals in the second half of the century. This will require the reduction of emissions, but also the enhancement of sinks – labelled by some as ‘the forgotten solution’. We cannot do one without the other.”

Poland has some of the largest forest expanses in Europe and has lobbied the EU to give greater prominence to forest carbon in its climate policies. But the country was recently found to have violated EU law by logging the Unesco-protected Białowieża forest.

In 2014, the New York Declaration on Forests committed to globally halve forest loss by 2020. That goal is still far out of reach, however. By comparison to the period between 2001 and 2013, the pace at which trees disappeared between 2014 and 2017 rose by 42 per cent.

Earlier this week, Climate Home News published another declaration planned for the December talks. This one focused on the future of workers affected by the transition to clean energy.

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