“Forests are now a huge battleground in the climate debate, because in 2018, policymakers accepted that - more than ever - they have to be at the heart of international climate strategies.

Cut down trees in the forest

Throughout the year, we really tried to help shape this debate: by alerting people to the dangers of following the wrong policy paths, and by presenting a positive vision for forests.

The early part of our year was spent transitioning campaigns around the EU’s new Renewable Energy Directive (RED) for the period 2021 -2030, and its new Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) Regulation as they are both now in the implementation stage. 

Siberia roads

We also did an investigation into forest destruction in Kuzbass in Siberia. This was a follow-up on our earlier work on forests and coal, and it revealed the deadly impact that coal mining is having on the indigenous Shor people and their forests, and how the EU is a huge market for coal from Kuzbass. Destroying forests for coal is obviously a double whammy in climate terms. 

After that, we built towards big moments later in the year.

Central to the climate campaign is raising awareness about good and bad ways of using forests to pull emissions out of the atmosphere, so-called ‘negative emissions’.

Log pile cut down for bioenergy

A ‘negative emissions’ technology which is touted as a “saviour” in some quarters is Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS). In September we published a briefing highlighting its dangers and uncertainties. It generated quite a bit of interest, including from Leonardo DiCaprio

In October the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its report warning that we’ve only got 12 years to stop a climate catastrophe. 

Protesting against deforestation

In the same month, as part of the Climate Land Ambition and Rights Alliance (CLARA), we published what was effectively a ‘shadow’ IPCC report, pulling together a huge body of scientific evidence to show how we can achieve the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping warming below 1.5°C by strengthening land tenure rights, reducing our consumption, protecting and restoring natural ecosystems, and improving agricultural practices.

The report attracted international media coverage, as it was the first blueprint for how we can tackle the overlapping crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and land rights violations. We organised a launch event in Brussels in October, outlining what the report means for an EU audience. 

At the end of November, the European Commission published its long-term climate strategy for how the EU can reach net zero emissions by 2050. It recognised the risks of scaling-up forest-based bioenergy, and underlined the crucial role that forests and land should play in fighting climate change.

Friends of Earth protest against deforestation

I think that Fern played a really fundamental role in getting the Commission to widen its perspective of how to tackle climate change, and that will only grow with the attention now given to the biodiversity crisis.

The Commission’s vision of a climate neutral society – though far from perfect – recognised the risks of BECCS and promoted restoring forests to fight climate change. This change in tone was the culmination of years of research, reports and events which hammered home the message that we need to reduce reliance on negative emissions technologies and promote forest protection and restoration.

What I love about my role is that it involves the translation of science to action, whether through laws or supporting communities. Between science and action there’s a tonne of differing opinions, some better than others. Frequently that opinion is concealed behind technical wording, which has to be disentangled. I see that disentangling as an important part of my work.

Climate restoration in Scotland

In a way I see my job partly as being a bridge between policymakers, scientists and the public: trying to translate some very complicated terminology and concepts to the wider public as these issues which will affect them for decades.”

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