Impressions of COP21: Q & A with WHRC’s Deputy Director, Scott Goetz

Deputy Director Scott Goetz

WHRC: What are your overall impressions of COP21?

Scott Goetz: My primary objective in attending COP21 was to help ensure that reducing carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) remained part of the agreement signed in Paris and to be implemented by 2020.  REDD+ is particularly important to the mission of WHRC because it is focused on forests and the benefits they provide, which includes not only climate change mitigation but also habitat for biodiversity, sustainable resources for people, and various other ecosystem services such as clean air and water.  REDD+ did prevail, and financing for it will be forthcoming, even though negotiations among countries over the language related to REDD+ were sometimes contentious. It was a bit of a nail biter.

WHRC: What was personally the most interesting part for you?

SG: An interesting evolution in REDD+ has occurred over the past 10 or so years that I’ve been participating in the COPs. We achieved real traction with REDD in 2007 and incrementally since then, addressing the various components of the + in REDD+, such as forest restoration, preservation of natural (as opposed to plantation) forests, and safeguards on biodiversity and human livelihoods. As part of that evolution, REDD+ is currently about people in landscapes with forests, as opposed to forests per se; i.e., for REDD+ implementation to succeed and gain the financing it needs, it has to support people who make their livelihoods in forest environments. To me that was an interesting and important aspect of REDD+ in the climate negotiations.

WHRC: What from your perspective was achieved?

SG: COP21 was expected to be more fruitful than, for example, COP15 in Copenhagen, which ended in disappointment and disarray. And indeed it was. The fact that REDD+ prevailed is a significant achievement in valuing forests and forested landscapes as a means to mitigate climate change, along with everything else they provide. That achievement reflects the work of many people at WHRC, our partners, and many others around the world.  Of course, there were many other aspects of the Paris Agreement that were successful, including the commitments (INDCs) of some 186 nations to limit global warming, even if the current commitments may be insufficient to keep global temperatures from rising less than 2 degrees C.

WHRC: How did / will COP21 impact your work?

SG: The fact that REDD+ is included in the Paris Agreement means we now move into advancing its implementation in tropical forest nations.  Coming into COP21, we published and promoted a unique synthesis (in Environmental Research Letters) reviewing the current state of the art and future prospects for implementing the operational aspects of REDD+ related to forest monitoring.  That synthesis lays out a framework for advancing all REDD+ components than can be informed by a combination of field measurements and satellite remote sensing.

WHRC: What would you like our constituents and the public to know about WHRC at COP?

SG: WHRC played an active role in many aspects of the COP21 process, which included a plethora of parallel activities all advancing at different rates and with different sticking points. I was particularly impressed that WHRC not only had 8 scientists involved in various aspects of the COP, but we also had 8 members of our Board equally engaged in Paris. I think that shows real commitment and emphasizes the critical relevance of WHRC’s mission.