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BLOG: After COP21, what next for rainforests?

COP21 may be over, but on the rainforest front the work is just beginning, writes Claire Raisin, Director Size of Wales

Rainforests are vital when it comes to preventing, and responding to, climate change. They are a major carbon sink, absorbing nearly a fifth of the world’s man-made CO2 emissions every year (IPCC 2014). The destruction and degradation of tropical forests releases the same amount of CO2 emissions as the entire world’s transportation – cars, trains, planes and ships all together. Keeping the world’s forests standing, and reforestation of cleared areas, is the most effective and efficient way to tackle climate change.

Since 2010 Size of Wales has been helping to fund projects that support communities in Africa and South America who depend on the forest for their livelihood. These projects aim to improve living conditions as well as protecting and managing forests. Needless to say we were delighted that a global deal was agreed at COP21, and that real importance was placed on forests, both from governments and businesses. Many Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) included important references to forest conservation. The UK, Norway and Germany have collectively pledged to contribute $5 billion for forest conservation. This money will enable developing countries to improve law enforcement against illegal logging and land clearance.

But that’s only the beginning - now it’s time for the hard work, as countries must implement their promises. Following COP21, we now need to see real action from the international community to keep up the momentum and prove that they are taking this agreement seriously. All countries now need to continue to strive for the targets of the New York Declaration on Forests , i.e. to halve natural forest loss by 2020, and to end it altogether by 2030. We’re pleased that an agreement to halt warming to 2° was made, and glad that countries will push for 1.5°. These goals must be achieved if we want to avoid massive changes to the Earth’s climate.

One of the countries that is vulnerable to climate change impacts is Uganda, where the majority of the population depends on agriculture, which again is prone to climate variability. The area has already suffered severe droughts and heavy hail storms in recent years affecting agricultural yields. Rising temperatures, increased intensity and frequency of rainfall, floods, heat waves and storms would all have a massive impact on the country.

Uganda’s Mount Elgon region has been ravaged by deforestation and agricultural expansion, leading to dangerous landslides. Size of Wales is supporting the work of Mbale CAP to plant 10 million trees, which will help to improve climate change resilience. One million trees have already been planted, and soil stabilisation is being restored by reforesting the Mbale area – putting an end to landslides.

In Guyana, Size of Wales has been working with Forest Peoples Programme to support the Wapichan indigenous group. The Wapichan community aims to secure legal title to their customary forests by mapping traditional land and developing plans for forest conservation and sustainable livelihoods.

The forests in Guyana are threatened by deforestation from illegal timber and mineral exploitation. Indigenous groups are the best protectors of forest and were finally recognised as such during COP21.

Over the next five years Size of Wales is planning to double its impact and help to protect an area of tropical forest twice the size of Wales. By 2020 we hope to expand our contribution to the global effort to protect the world’s remaining rainforests– not by locking them up but by enabling them to be used in a sustainable way by the communities that have depended on them for generations.

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