Last week, the Adaptation Sub-Committee (of the Climate Change Commitee) put a spotlight on the need to protect our high carbon habitats especially our peatlands to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from poor land management.  The RSPB has long believed that protecting nature can help tackle climate change and this informs our advocacy at home but also internationally through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Today, I have invited the RSPB’s lead advocate on climate change, John Lanchbery, to provide a reflection on what’s up for grabs in Paris at the end of the year from.  

This December, in Paris, World leaders are due to agree a new treaty on climate change. We will be there as part of the BirdLife Partnership - with friends and colleagues from Mauritius to the USA and from South Africa to Nepal.

The twenty first conference of the parties (COP 21) to the UN Convention on Climate Change will be my twenty first COP. I have been to all of the main meetings since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 where the Convention was signed. Things have changed a lot since then.

Climate change science has improved beyond recognition and so has high level political engagement. There were no commitments to reduce emissions in the 1992 treaty, although it did say that developed countries should take the lead and “aim” to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2000.

By the end of this year, almost all nations will have formally pledged to tackle climate change. Most developed countries will commit to cut emissions well below 1990 levels. Most developing countries, especially emerging economies, will have made significant commitments too.

Even so, these promises will not add up to what is needed to keep warming below the globally agreed goal of two degrees Celsius. More will need to be done and one area where much more effort is required is in stopping our often wasteful use of land.

A quarter of all human emissions come from land use, mainly from deforestation and agriculture. To successfully tackle climate change we must cut these emissions by conserving and enhancing forests, peatlands and grasslands and by farming more sustainably.

Some good work has been done. Brazil has cut its deforestation rate by nearly 80% since its peak in 2004 whilst cattle and soy production, originally the two main drivers of Amazonian deforestation, has increased. Much more effort like this is needed.

Natural ecosystems are also vital for removing carbon dioxide from the air. The Earth only has two ways of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere: the oceans and the forests which absorb roughly equal amounts. It is thus essential to conserve and restore natural forests. It is also vital to prevent further acidification of the oceans.

We and our BirdLife Partners know about how to use land for nature and, almost always, what is good for nature is also good for climate change. So in Paris we will be working on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD+) and on the rather boring sounding land use accountancy rules.

In REDD+ we are especially focussed on safeguards for biodiversity – bearing in mind that biodiverse forests also hold the most carbon. In the accountancy rules the aim is to make sure that they encompass all emissions from land and forests, which they do not at present. This will ensure that forests, peatlands and grasslands are properly valued for the carbon that they store. It will also ensure that emissions from biomass are counted rather than ignored, as they often are at present.

In the run up to Paris, I shall ask John to provide occasional updates on significant developments but will also provide you with opportunities for how you can continue to exert pressure on decision-makers to ensure we get the right deal in Paris.


  • What a really top quality blog. Besides the need to make major reductions internationally in man made carbon emissions,it also highlights how vital it is to conserve and not despoil the Earth's natural carbon removal systems such as forests, seas and peatlands.

    It was also pleasing last night to watch President Obama's interview with Sir David Attenborough and to hear that at least one of the top world leaders is totally comitting his country to combating climate change.

    All this tends to put our Government in a rather poor light, especially Mr Osborne's recent cancellation of energy efficiency standards and carbon off setting targets, for housing on brownfield sites. When this is added to so many other issues, such as misuse/ burning of our upland moorlands and the lack of marine conservation zones for England and Wales it really illustrates the somewhat Victorian and antideluvian attude this Government seems to bring to so many of todays pressing evironomental and conservation problems. .