It took over a decade for the global framework called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) to become official. It was written into the Paris climate change agreement in 2015, with an explicit reference for the provision of financial support. Now a Virginia Tech researcher is working to make it a reality.
Carol Franco, a senior research associate in the College of Natural Resources and Environment’s Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, has provided technical support for the Dominican Republic’s delegation to international climate talks since the 2009 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen and has been attending such meetings as a delegation member since the 2012 conference in Doha, Qatar.
Franco’s focus has been on REDD+ and the financial mechanisms to support its implementation. “The Paris conference was a huge success because there is an article that specifically focuses on forests and REDD+ in the new climate agreement,” Franco said. Forests, which cover about 31 percent of the Earth, absorb carbon from the atmosphere, but the conversion of forests to other land uses is responsible for about 10 percent of net global carbon emissions.
The adoption of the Paris agreement was an extremely important step, but just the beginning, Franco said. Now comes implementation. Signing of the accord starts in April 2016 and implementation is due to start in 2020.
As a senior technical advisor for the Dominican Republic’s National Council on Climate Change and its Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Franco was part of the team that developed the country’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). “The Dominican Republic’s INDCs are conditional. We are already doing mitigation actions, but we will need funding for an additional 25 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, which is the country’s proposed target,” Franco explained.
The Dominican Republic is already experiencing sea-level rise in the northeastern coastal area of the Samana Peninsula, “So the country needs to focus first on adaptation,” Franco said. “The lives and livelihoods of people in the coastal areas are threatened. We need to develop risk and vulnerability assessments and management plans as well as early warning systems. There is also agriculture in the coastal areas, so there is a lot to lose in order to ensure food security.”
At the Paris meeting, Franco presented the adaptation component of the Dominican Republic’s INDCs to a panel organized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. “We included the ecosystem-based approach as part of our adaptation actions because it is the best way to holistically conserve and manage our ecosystems and ensure the Dominican Republic’s adaptation to climate change,” she said.
In her position at Virginia Tech, Franco has been successful in securing funding for the development of an international climate change program. In addition to contributing to REDD+ policy negotiations and implementation in the Dominican Republic and Mexico, she is researching the health of ecosystems and the value of the services they provide in the Dominican Republic’s border with Haiti. She also is developing a course that will take Virginia Tech students to the Dominican Republic to learn on-the-ground implementation of mitigation and adaptation policies for climate change.