“We need to continuously, strongly and publicly argue that carbon sequestration is only one of many ecosystem services that forests can provide”.
“Climate change has focused our attention on the need for urgent and decisive action if we are to avoid the Earth passing a point of no return beyond which the future will be out of our hands” declared IUCN Deputy Director-General Dr William Jackson earlier this month in a keynote speech to the 18th Commonwealth Forestry Congress in Edinburgh.
Delegates were meeting in the Scottish capital to clarify the connections between forestry and finance, agriculture and energy generation in relation to climate change, with the aim of influencing government policies.
Speaking of the tipping points, caused by rising temperatures, which could lead to this ‘point of no return’ - including loss of the world’s tropical forests - Jackson was nonetheless eager to point out that climate change is not the only process that can result in irreversible dramatic changes: “it is important to acknowledge that several other ‘planetary boundaries’ are directly relevant to forests, particularly land use change and biodiversity loss and that these two issues are inextricably linked to and interact with climate change.”
The Earth’s forests, which provide a substantial carbon reservoir, are also a source of an estimated 17 % of current global greenhouse gas emissions, as a result of deforestation and forest degradation. FAO has recently estimated that the annual global net loss of forests is 5.2 million hectares, and that approximately 13 million hectares of forests were converted to other uses or lost through natural causes each year between 2000 and 2010. Addressing deforestation and forest degradation is therefore, Jackson urged, “a fundamental element of a global strategy to stabilize green house gases”.
One notable global approach to mitigate climate change is ‘REDD-plus’, (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation). REDD-plus aims to reduce emissions of green house gases from forests, through: responding to deforestation and forest degradation; conservation and sustainable management of forests; and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries.
The REDD-plus approach has made considerable progress and yet alone it will not be enough – it is only a part of the solution to climate change. In the longer term, Jackson stressed, “it is essential that all reasonable approaches to stabilize green house gases are used”, particularly the potential technological and engineering solutions.
He urged delegates to unite in pursuing other key responses: “There are 1 billion hectares of degraded forest lands and secondary forests worldwide that are potentially suitable for restoration….we need to seize the opportunity that forest restoration can play in climate change”.
However, strategies such as REDD and restoration are best achieved through including all relevant actors and stakeholders in informing decisions. The greatest challenge this entails is that those with most to gain or lose through managing forests, the rural poor, are often those least well equipped to take part in negotiations.
Changing perspective from global issues to local realities, Jackson explained that forests are not only important to stabilizing green house gas emissions, but also for their role in helping people adapt to the inevitable consequences of climate change: “forests can help build long-term resilience and … avoid inappropriate adaptation because forest-based solutions can build on local needs and capacities, with proper consideration to groups such as women and indigenous peoples”.
Dr Jackson closed by aspiring to a future where the forests are seen as a fundamental part of combating climate change, while equally being recognized for their value “in relation to land use change and biodiversity loss as well as in the wellbeing of people … and in leading us to a more sustainable ‘green economy’”. Read the full speech here.