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One gigaton of emissions reductions per year – how do we move from ambitions to action?

Blog | Alexandra Popescu
Sun, 21 Mar, 2021 · 8 min read
One gigaton of emissions reductions per year – how do we move from ambitions to action?

“We need to ensure that 2021 becomes the year we went from negotiation to a decade of action,” said Susan Gardner, UN Environment Programme’s Director of Ecosystems Division at the recent webinar on the Green Gigaton Challenge during the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5).

Co-led by the UN-REDD Programme, the Green Gigaton Challenge (GGC) is a new major global effort that proposes to scale up climate ambitions through a public-private bid to catalyse funding for forest-based solutions in order to achieve one gigaton of high-quality emissions reductions every year by 2025. Making these emission cuts will involve supporting tropical forest countries in halting deforestation and restoring degraded forests and in incentivising corporations to purchase high-integrity carbon credits as part of their carbon offsetting portfolios.

The GGC webinar brought together the environment ministers of Norway and Costa Rica, the Rwandan government, GEF, WWF and the UN Food System’s Summit Deputy Special Envoy to discuss how the growing interest in a net-zero economy and in forest investments can be translated into practical, sustainable actions to help mitigate climate change and deliver the Paris Agreement pledges.

Despite the capacity of forests to deliver massive emissions reductions annually, only 2% of climate finance is currently directed towards forest conservation and restoration. In order to leverage the natural, social and economic capital of forests, national governments and the private sector must work together to achieve high-quality emission reductions and to create an attractive, sustainable carbon market.

According to Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, CEO of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), only 0.05% of global finance has been secured so far for nature conservation, while investments in activities fuelling tropical deforestation are 184 times bigger than those in forest conservation. Closing that gap requires fixing the market’s failure in pricing carbon and boosting that price to reflect the positive externalities of keeping carbon out of the atmosphere. It also requires shifting tax burdens to big polluters, phasing out investments in the brown economy and implementing payments for ecosystem services at national levels. Relying on an approach in which environment and agriculture ministers work together to ensure land rights are regulated and respected will also help consolidate a stronger forest carbon market.

Andrea Meza, Costa Rica’s environment minister, sees the Green Gigaton Challenge as a unique opportunity to address market failures and align public policies in a way that sends clear signals to the market and makes natural assets valuable. Forest conservation and restoration require new finance models that leverage public and private resources and new financial mechanisms that allow governments to work with the more than 1.6 billion people relying on forests for their livelihoods.

“The GGC may be the only way to mobilise all our resources to protect our unique natural patrimony,” said Minister Meza. “It’s the only way to address the triple crisis. With forest conservation, we’re also doing mitigation and adaptation and generating resilience and engaging communities in this global effort.”

For Sveinung Rotevatn, Norway’s minister of environment, the Green Gigaton Challenge’s focus on high-integrity carbon offsets will pave the way to success in climate mitigation in the next decade. “The essence of this challenge is to secure large-scale, multi-year predictable results-based funding. Success needs a massive increase in private and public finance. Tropical forest countries face complicated political challenges to putting in place the changes necessary, and they need to be confident in the financial returns for protecting and restoring their forests,” said Minister Rotevatn.

Strong institutional arrangements for investments in forests can help decarbonise an economy like Rwanda’s, said Patrick Karera, Permanent Secretary at the Rwandan Ministry of Environment. “It is critical to have dedicated finance facilities to support government budgets allocated to forestry,” Permanent Secretary Karera said.

While Martin Frick, Deputy Special Envoy for the UN Food Systems Summit, stressed that forest-based climate solutions need to ultimately work for people, Martin Pulgar-Vidal, Global Leader of Climate and Energy at WWF, insisted that the credibility of nature-based solutions and maintaining a permanent narrative linking nature and economics are key for achieving the goals of a net-zero economy.

Working together to support tropical forest countries as they transition to a net-zero economy and protect their forests has never been more timely. The GGC provides a chance to accelerate collaboration between the public and private sectors to build credible, predictable carbon markets that encourage investments in nature-based solutions, innovation and greening commodity supply chains. With COP26 in sight, the GGC aims to send a strong signal that the time has come for change.