16/11/2015 05:19 GMT | Updated 15/11/2016 05:12 GMT

How Not Cutting Trees Has Become One of the World's Most Successful Climate Efforts

We are only a few weeks away from the COP21 climate summit in Paris. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 11 per cent of global carbon emissions come from deforestation. That is about the same amount as the emissions from all the world's cars. Efforts to stop deforestation are more important than ever.

Deforestation has been on the agenda for a long time, and the Norwegian government is behind the most successful attempt to tackle this challenge. The idea that was developed in 2007 is so simple, but has proven so powerful: in a world faced with massive deforestation, the simplest and cheapest mitigation effort would be to reward communities for not cutting trees. The result was the Norwegian Climate and Forest Initiative (REDD+). It had an immediate effect.

The growth of REDD+

The initiative to reduce deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) has gathered support worldwide. In less than a decade, REDD+ has contributed to reducing one of the most dangerous global trends, one that threatens not only climate but also some of the world's most important reserves of biodiversity and the traditional homes of indigenous peoples. It has contributed to significant reductions in deforestation in both Brazil and Indonesia, and Norway recently presented a new agreement for the Congo Basin.

Brazil is now on its way to achieve 80 per cent reduction in deforestation by 2020. The reduction of deforestation in Brazil in the last decade is equivalent to about 3 billion tons of CO2 in avoided emissions. In Indonesia, the government has committed to a 1.2 billion ton CO2 cut in emissions from deforestation by 2020.

Through payments for reduced deforestation, REDD+ has made a large contribution. The mechanism is results-based, meaning that the majority of the funding is provided only after the receiving country can prove reduced deforestation. The funds are then used to support sustainable development for communities living in and around the forest.

Right now, humanity is faced with a great challenge: we must reduce climate emissions to prevent an increase in average global temperature of more than 1.5 degrees. Increasing temperatures have massive and devastating consequences, like shortages in food and water, failed crops due to too much or too little rain, and uncertain economies.

Increasing ambition

If there was ever a time for scaling up ambition, it is now. We need to do much more of what we know will work, like prevent deforestation and increase investment in renewable energy.

In just a couple of weeks, world leaders will gather at COP21 in Paris to finalize a new global climate agreement. Norway's environmental minister recently met with Prince Charles in London and she gave clear signals that Norway was considering increasing support for the Norwegian Climate and Forest initiative (REDD+), just what we should expect from one of the world's wealthiest nations at a time when all countries need to contribute.

What happened next? One can hardly believe it: On the same day that the UNFCCC stated that we need 50 percent more effort to stay below 2C degrees global warming, the Norwegian government presented a budget proposal that would cut its contributions to reduce deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) by 13 per cent.

Cutting one of the most important climate initiatives ahead of the COP in Paris sends a dangerous signal and it comes at a time when we need efforts to save the forests more than ever. With the impressive results shown by the REDD+ initiative, the proposal came as a surprise to many.

Norway hopes to use the COP in Paris to gather increased support for the REDD+ initiative. Many environmental NGOs have highlighted the importance of an ambitious REDD+ initiative and now fear that the proposed cuts will weaken Norway's position in Paris.

The Norwegian proposal is yet to be approved by the Parliament, where the minority government is dependent on additional support for the proposal to pass. The opposition is in favor of a continuation of the support and has already criticized the Government's proposal.

In order to gather the much-needed support in Paris, Norway and other contributors to REDD+ must step up their game and continue to lead the way towards a future safe from the worst impacts of climate change. This is not the time to reduce efforts, but to increase them.