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With several heads of state, including Indonesia, Brazil, and the Congo, making a commitment to halt deforestation, the role of forests and climate was among the highlights at the start of COP21 on Monday in Paris, perhaps as a direct result of the massive environmental and health tragedy taking place in Indonesia.

"We know that healthy forests absorb carbon but we are destroying them at massive rates," said Ricardo Tejada, global communications director of the nonprofit International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Science has allowed for a far better understanding of the role that tropical forests play globally. New reports from Global Forest Watch and Woods Hole Research Center, which mapped carbon in indigenous territories, find a staggering 20 per cent of tropical carbon stock in these areas — and the potential for the world to drastically cut deforestation in a short period.

“The carbon map showed that in Indonesia alone, indigenous areas store 32.7 gigatons of carbon," said Abdon Nababan, secretary general of the Indonesian Indigenous People's Alliance (AMAN).

There is now also a better understanding of the role of forests in helping achieve ambitious but necessary mitigation goals.

"There are two billion hectares of degraded forests that could be restored and that restoration could be a massive ally in tackling climate change," said Tejada.

The Indonesian delegation spoke forcefully during events at COP21, claiming it was making drastic changes in its governance system to reduce forest fires and meet its stated goals in its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, which pledged a 29 per cent annual emissions cut by 2030 compared to business-as-usual levels.

Countries with significant forest cover stood out at the start of COP21. Now it is time for the rest of the world to act and show they value tropical forests as well.

Next in the agenda is designating more funds from the Green Climate Fund, which aims to invest US$100 billion in developing countries per year by 2020 for forest protection, and figuring how best to expand and strengthen REDD+ to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk.