ther weather-related disasters, claiming the lives of 606,000 people, an average of some 30,000 per year, with an additional 4.1 billion people injured, left homeless or in need of emergency assistance. Gore said “This is the acceleration of the climate crisis … It’s like a nature hike through the book of Revelations.”
The figures in the report for this year end in August 2015, but — needless to say — weather related disasters continue to ravage the world. In the whole of 2015 earthquakes, floods, heat waves and landslides left 22,773 people dead, affected 98.6 million others and caused $66.5bn (£47bn) of economic damage. In December 2015 a powerful winter cyclone left devastation across the globe, leading to two tornado outbreaks in the United States and disastrous river flooding, driving temperatures in the North Pole up to 50 degrees above average. On 13 January this year a huge, dry electrical storm set more than 70 fires rampaging across the island of Tasmania, destroying most of the island’s UNESCO world heritage site, which contained unique, ancient and irreplaceable ecosystems, including many trees that were over a thousand years old. This month devastating floods killed 53 people in Pakistan alone.
Four tropical cyclones over the Pacific Ocean, September 2015. Credit NASA/NOAA GOES Project
FOREST LANDSCAPE RESTORATION AND THE BONN CHALLENGE
In order to preserve the planet and combat climate change, we must preserve the forests – between now and 2020 alone, we stand to lose 1,460,000,000 acres of tropical forest and 273,750 species. We must also restore degraded, and deforested land to purpose. There are 2 billion hectares of degraded and deforested land across the world with potential for restoration. Restoration of degraded and deforested lands is not simply about planting trees. People and communities are at the heart of the restoration effort, which transforms barren or degraded areas of land into healthy, fertile working landscapes. Restored land can be put to a mosaic of uses such as agriculture, protected wildlife reserves, ecological corridors, regenerated forests, managed plantations, agroforestry systems and river or lakeside plantings to protect waterways.
The Bonn Challenge was established by the German Government and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) at a ministerial roundtable in September 2011. It is the largest restoration initiative the world has ever seen. The objective of the Bonn Challenge was originally to restore 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested land across the world by 2020. The New York Declaration on Forests raised the Bonn Challenge ambition in September 2014 by calling for restoration of an additional 200 million hectares by 2030, bringing the total target to 350 million hectares by 2030.
Achieving the 350 million hectare by 2030 goal would result in estimates of 0.6 – 1.7 Gt CO2 sequestered per on year average, reaching 1.6 – 3.4 Gt per year in 2030 and totalling 11.8 – 33.5 Gt over the period 2011-2030. Even restoring 150 million hectares would capture 47 Gigatonnes of CO2, and reduce the emissions gap by 17%. Forest restoration is invaluable in the race to tackle climate change. That is why, in 2012, I became IUCN Ambassador for the Bonn Challenge. Not only is forest landscape restoration a critical tool against climate change, it is an issue of the most basic human rights: the right to food, shelter, clean water and sustainable livelihoods. The Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation (BJHRF) of which I am Founder, President and Chief Executive, is committed to forest conservation and restoration. Almost 20 million hectares have already been pledged by governments, communities and the private sector. Commitments of further 40 million hectares are being finalised.
Bianca Jagger outside COP21, Paris 2015
INDIGENOUS PEOPLE’S RIGHTS
I am concerned by the lack of protection for the rights of indigenous peoples in the Paris Agreement, who have time and again been proven the best custodians of ecosystems, including forests. According to Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, “studies over the last year have shown that indigenous peoples outperform every other owner, public or private entities on forest conservation.” According to the Center for World Indigenous Peoples, it was pressure from the United States, the European Union, and Norwegian delegates at COP21 which ’caused reference to the “rights of Indigenous peoples” to be cut from the binding portion of the Paris Agreement, relegating the only mention of Indigenous rights to the purely aspirational preamble.’ Megan Davis, UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Chair, said in her statement to the COP, “Sadly, the agreement asks States to merely consider their human rights obligations, rather than comply with them.”
The critical role of indigenous people in combating climate change is recognised in the Paris Agreement — but their rights are not protected. Article 7.5 of the Paris Agreement acknowledges “that adaptation action should follow a country-driven, gender-responsive, participatory and fully transparent approach, taking into consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems, and should be based on and guided by the best available science and, as appropriate, traditional knowledge, knowledge of indigenous peoples and local knowledge systems.”
Article 7.5’s language regarding women, “a gender-responsive… approach,” is also weak and non-binding. It has long been established that women are disproportionately affected by climate change, especially in poorer countries. They are often most responsible for food production, household water supply and energy for heating and cooking – activities which will be seriously impacted by climate change. Yet women are often underrepresented or excluded from decision-making.
We cannot combat climate change without involving all stakeholders, including women and indigenous people, and their rights should have been at the heart of the Paris Agreement.
The Agreement provides $100 bn in financing to compensate poorer countries’ for ‘loss and damage,’ mitigation and adaptation. But this is a drop in the ocean, to put it mildly. Much more financing is needed to ensure that low lying and developing countries don’t pay the price for decades of reckless gas guzzling, coal burning and emissions by the richest countries.
To hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels” is a mockery. Much as I applaud the historic diplomatic achievements the agreement represents, the treaty contains fatal flaws that threaten us and the planet. This is the most important treaty the world has ever known; world leaders should have come away with an agreement that is bold and ambitious enough to save us from climate catastrophe. As the climate demonstrators at COP21 called out, as they assembled peacefully in the conference halls and Paris streets, as was written large on the signs they carried aloft: it is “1.5 to stay alive.”