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The key role of forests in meeting climate targets requires science for credible mitigation

Nature Climate Change volume 7, pages 220226 (2017) | Download Citation

Abstract

Forest-based climate mitigation may occur through conserving and enhancing the carbon sink and through reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation. Yet the inclusion of forests in international climate agreements has been complex, often considered a secondary mitigation option. In the context of the Paris Climate Agreement, countries submitted their (Intended) Nationally Determined Contributions ((I)NDCs), including climate mitigation targets. Assuming full implementation of (I)NDCs, we show that land use, and forests in particular, emerge as a key component of the Paris Agreement: turning globally from a net anthropogenic source during 1990–2010 (1.3 ± 1.1 GtCO2e yr−1) to a net sink of carbon by 2030 (up to −1.1 ± 0.5 GtCO2e yr−1), and providing a quarter of emission reductions planned by countries. Realizing and tracking this mitigation potential requires more transparency in countries’ pledges and enhanced science-policy cooperation to increase confidence in numbers, including reconciling the 3 GtCO2e yr−1 difference in estimates between country reports and scientific studies.

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Acknowledgements

Author Jim Penman passed away recently. Jim Penman was the UK and EU negotiator on LULUCF for many years, coordinator of key IPCC methodological reports and credited as one of the key architects of the LULUCF process under the UNFCCC. He was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for his work. He was an outstanding scientist and negotiator, who strived always towards a better world.

Author information

Author notes

    • Jim Penman

    Deceased.

Affiliations

  1. European Commission, Joint Research Centre, 21027 Ispra (VA), Italy

    • Giacomo Grassi
    •  & Frank Dentener
  2. Cabot Institute, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1SS, UK

    • Jo House
  3. FAO consultant, 00153 Rome, Italy

    • Sandro Federici
  4. PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, PO Box 30314, 2500 GH The Hague, The Netherlands

    • Michel den Elzen
  5. University College London, London NW1 2PS, UK

    • Jim Penman

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Contributions

G.G. conceived the analysis on (I)NDCs, executed the calculations and drafted the paper. J.H., F.D., M.d.E. and J.P. contributed to the analysis and to the writing of the paper. S.F. provided data from FAO FRA 2015 and contributed to the analysis. J.H. was supported by the Leverhulme Foundation and EU FP7 through project LUC4C (GA603542).

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Giacomo Grassi.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3227

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