The relevance of COP 21 to endangered South American wildlife


  • The aim of the UN COP 21 meeting held in Paris at the end of 2015 was to negotiate a global agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to limit global temperature increases
  • The negotiated “Paris Agreement” formally recognised forests as being of key importance
  • It is hoped this recognition will slow deforestation and habitat loss and help preserve endangered wildlife species in the Amazon

Introduction – what was COP 21?

The 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 21) was held in Paris from 30 November to 11 December 2015. Its aim was to negotiate a global agreement between the 196 parties in attendance to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit global temperature increases. Following lengthy negotiations, a new international agreement on climate change was reached to strengthen the global response to climate change by “…Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels…”. All attending parties signed up to this agreement, referred to as the “Paris Agreement” [1].

However, halting global temperature rise at 2°C will require significant effort from all nation states, and not just through reducing fossil fuel emissions, but also by better managing sinks of CO2 such as forests which absorb huge amounts of CO2 and keep it stored. Deforestation through agricultural expansion, ranching, infrastructure projects, energy exploration and illegal logging all release this stored CO2 back into the atmosphere, whilst also decreasing the overall sink capacity.

What conclusion did COP 21 reach regarding deforestation?

Programmes to reduce emissions from deforestation have existing for some time, for example the United Nations’ Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) programme which launched in 2008, and which aims to place a financial value for the carbon stored in forests by offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands. The follow up REDD+ programme expanded upon this concept, to include the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks, with key stakeholders and programme developers being the indigenous peoples of the forests [2].

The Paris Agreement comes back to this REDD+ concept, and Article 5 is focused on slowing deforestation and forest degradation, by encouraging that “Parties should take action to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases… including forests”. During COP 21, a number of governments (including Colombia, Germany, Norway and the UK) pledged to continue their financial support for projects such as REDD+ to continue to reduce deforestation and forest degradation through results-based payments [3].

How does this relate to endangered species in South America?

Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest is causing habitat loss to countless animal species. If pursued, the vision set out in the Paris Agreement could help sustain at risk populations in the Amazon such as the jaguar, macaw, poison dart frog and black spider monkey [4]. As of 9th May 2016, 176 states and the European Union have signed the Agreement. 16 of those states have ratified the Agreement, but it has not yet entered into force [5].



[2] Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010 – Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations Forestry Paper. Available from