Tropical Forests Hold Key to Addressing Climate Change
April 23, 2015
His Royal Highness Prince Charles
A new report from Prince of Wales International Sustainability Unit highlights vulnerability of world's rain forests. The latest climate science demonstrates how important forests are for the mitigation of global climate change. The potential for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions from reducing deforestation, reducing degradation and pursuing forest landscape restoration could play a major role in our efforts to meet the global obligation to keep global temperatures beneath a 2C rise.
Tropical Forests Hold Key to Addressing Climate Change
His Royal Highness Prince Charles
(April 7, 2015) -- The latest climate science demonstrates how important forests are for the mitigation of global climate change.
The potential for greenhouse gas emissions mitigation from reducing deforestation, reducing degradation and pursuing forest landscape restoration is highly significant.
Together, doing just these three things could play a major role in our efforts to meet the global obligation of keeping climate change to beneath a 2C rise in average global temperatures.
And we can act on forests now, therefore buying much-needed time to enable the global transformation to a low carbon economy that places our cities and landscapes within a truly resilient and sustainable system.
But forests are not just about the climate change challenge, however vital and pressing that may be.
They are also home to many thousands of indigenous and tribal peoples, some of whom remain uncontacted, such as in the Colombian Amazon, which I had the privilege to visit last year and to the countless other species with whom they have lived in a symbiotic relationship for thousands of years.
There is a remarkable correlation between indigenous reserves and tropical forest conservation.
Many millions more people depend directly on forests for their well-being and livelihoods.
The report references recent illuminating work on the biodiversity and ecological interactions of tropical forests; on the role of forests in regional and global water cycles, on which so much of our food security in turn depends; and on how forests enhance our adaptive capacity and resilience and also reduce the risk of disasters.
For all these reasons, and for the intrinsic value of forests, which we have a duty to recognize and respect, there is a strong onus upon us to act.
Fortunately, and despite the scale of the challenges before us, the report also shows that there is growing local and international agreement on the action required to protect forests.
This is just as well for we are, in effect, consuming the forests and, with them, the planet's ability to survive the blight of climate change.
Each and every one of us has a vital role to play, whether as consumers, investors, managers or as those who are charged to agree and implement policies.
And, equally, every country and institution has a role to play in addressing its forest footprint and the causes of forest loss, whether driven by biofuels policy, illegal deforestation and degradation, increasing global demand for beef, soya, leather, pulp and paper, sugar and wood, or mining, roads and infrastructure.
Ultimately, of course, there is a need to consume much less and to tread more lightly on the face of this planet; it is, after all, the only one we have, but we still perversely persist on including it in our throwaway society.
This year's multilateral political settlement, culminating in the Sustainable Development Goals and at the UNFCCC in Paris in December, should lay the groundwork for that transformation to happen.
For the world's forests, and all of the world's people who depend upon them (particularly many of the poorest people on Earth), this is perhaps the best opportunity toensure the protection of the forests and therefore provide our species with a recognizable future.
It is, in think, becoming gradually understood that we need to treat the Earth as if it were a patient. It is one, I fear, that is in an increasingly critical condition and which requires intensive care.
Given that the forests are in effect the planet's lungs, destroying them can surely only be an act of insane irresponsibility. It is not, after all, that we lack the technology, the money or the ability to safeguard their survival and, therefore, our own.
Will, therefore, humanity, at the last, prove itself equal to the challenge and find the determination and the will to implement the solutions to this problem, from which, of course, many other positive benefits will arise?
For, in the memorable words of Mahatma Gandhi: "What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another."
This text is an extract from Tropical Forests: a review, published by the Prince of Wales' International Sustainability Unit.
Prince Charles: Nature could go "bust" unless we protect it
Report: Countries reveal progress on 2020 forest restoration challenge
'Tropical Forests: A Review' -- A New Report
Edward Davey / The Prince's Charities' International Sustainability Unit
LONDON (April 14, 2015) -- Dear Friends and Colleagues,
I write to draw your attention to the Prince's Charities' International Sustainability Unit's new report on tropical forests, 'Tropical Forests: A Review', published in April 2015.
The report, which carries a Foreword by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, can be here.
I attach recent press coverage in the Financial Times, and a few additional links below to other articles on some of its key findings. The report includes a synthesis of recent academic findings on biodiversity, ecological integrity, defaunation and ecosystem functionality of interest to readers of this list.
Forests Can Soak Up a Third of Carbon Emissions
Tropical Forest Review
Prince Charles Calls for Action on Deforestation
Tropical Forests Report
Tropical Forests Hold the Key to Addressing Climate Change
Report Finds Deforestation is Bad for Climate Restoration
New Forests Can Absorb Excess Atmospheric Carbon
We hope the report is helpful and of interest, and would welcome thoughts, comments and feedback.
All good wishes,
Edward Davey, Senior Programme Manager
Prince's Charities' International Sustainability Unit
The latest climate change science demonstrates that, left unchecked, global warming presents 'severe, pervasive and irreversible consequences' for humanity and the planet. Climate change is principally driven by the burning of fossil fuels and by greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, degradation and land use change.
As a result of the latter, the Earth's natural capital is continuing to be badly degraded -- water, soils, air, forests. Within the global forest estate, the worsening condition of tropical forests remains a matter of particular concern.
Despite success in reducing forest loss in some countries, there are no signs yet that overall rates of deforestation or degradation are decreasing: a major 2013 paper (for 2000-2012) reports a year on year increase in the area deforested in the tropics of 200,000 hectares a year. And, at the overall level, the annual area lost remains very significant, c.8.5 million hectares.1 for degradation, a number of regional studies report extensive and alarming losses (see Section 4).
The global warming consequences -- from greenhouse gas emissions and a reduction in the capacity of forests to absorb and store carbon -- are grave, and likely to be especially acute in tropical regions themselves. Forest loss also leads to the breakdown of critical ecosystem services, such as water provision, and interferes with regional climatic patterns, with serious knock-on effects for agriculture and food security.
the drivers of deforestation and degradation are dynamic and inter-linked. attempts to deal with them have tended to be specific, yet because of the many variables and feedback loops, they need to be addressed holistically.
In particular, it can be argued that the causes and consequences of tropical forest degradation have been given too little attention, with the science now pointing toward degradation being a very significant component both of greenhouse gas emissions and the weakening of forest ecosystems.
solutions such as reDD+ need to reflect these realities, but although much progress has been made, this has not in the main yet been at the spatial level where action matters most: the landscape. With respect to finance, progress toward a pipeline of fundable forest protection projects and programmes has not been matched by measures to stimulate demand. As a result, a significant funding problem exists, compounded by long-term uncertainty about how reDD+ will be financed at scale.
The new climate economy report estimates that donor countries need to double their contributions if the gap between current and required finance is to be bridged. But increased pledges and disbursement should not be seen as a panacea.
The effectiveness of the mechanisms and instruments, which deliver reDD+ funding is equally critical, as is the imperative for renewed ambition -- from tropical forest countries and the international community alike -- to achieve success at scale.
The enabling conditions for the enduring conservation and wise stewardship of forests go beyond the scope of reDD+, although many of the key factors are being addressed within this framework. Security of land tenure and effective land-use planning are essential prerequisites, which in turn rest on recognition and respect for rights, and strong and accessible institutions and processes.
Over-arching conditions include good governance and economic growth, and the existence of mechanisms and markets, which provide investors (including governmental funders) with confidence that positive environmental and social outcomes can be obtained effectively and legally. Collective endeavour and a sense of shared responsibility are needed for success to be achieved, with support and leadership at the highest level from Governments, companies and civil society.
Climate mitigation and forest science
Tropical deforestation remains a major driver of global warming, emitting 0.8-0.9 Gigatonnes of carbon (Gtc) annually, equating to 8% of global carbon emissions. less widely recognised, tropical forest degradation accounts for a further 0.6–1.5 Gtc per annum, equating to a range of 6-14% of all anthropogenic carbon releases (or 10-14% if estimates are based on the recent noteworthy studies by Grace et al. and Houghton, see Table 3, Section 2). In aggregate, the two sources may account for 14-21% of all carbon emissions, perhaps higher still when tropical peatlands and mangroves are included.
On the other side of the tropical forest carbon ledger, current sequestration of atmospheric CO2 is also significant, drawing down 1.2-1.8Gtc a year. the convention in greenhouse gas accounting is to 'offset' these removals against tropical forest emissions; that approach is arguably insufficient, for two reasons.
Recent findings on the importance of forest protection as a means to safeguard continuing sequestration indicate that a significant proportion of CO2 absorption occurs as a result of human agency. Additionally, the net accounting approach distracts attention from the reality of much higher gross emissions.
These considerations provide the rationale for a different accounting approach, in which the data are combined. actions to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and degradation, and to safeguard existing tropical forest sequestration could, in aggregate, contribute as much as 24-33%* (3.45-3.86Gtc) of all carbon mitigation (12.05-12.46Gtc); perhaps more if other variables are taken into account (see Table 6, Section 2).
The wide ranges for degradation and sequestration reflect continuing uncertainties, and the data are best seen as indicative of the significance of these factors, pending further research. Nonetheless, the benefits of considering the mitigation and sequestration potential of tropical forests in the round seem clear: 24-33% is a highly significant component of the overall carbon mitigation goal, underscoring the critical importance of tropical forests within the climate challenge.
The inter-connectedness of the factors at play means that continuing deforestation and degradation will produce a double loss (CO2 emissions and a lower level of CO2 absorption), while success in reducing them will result in a win-win outcome (lower co emissions, more sequestration).
Forest Ecology and Science
A burst of new science since 2000 has enriched our understanding of how tropical forests (including peat and mangrove forests) maintain and renew themselves through an array of ecological and environmental interactions. The findings highlight how logging, defaunation and other disturbances disrupt or extinguish such interactions, impair ecosystem functioning, and lead to weakened forest resilience.
Resultant impacts on the carbon and water cycles are of fundamental concern, as these cycles drive the services on which humanity is dependent -- including rainfall generation, water supply for agriculture, co-absorption, and carbon storage. There is a case for the rapid incorporation of current ecological understanding into global forest policy and forestry practice.
The Drivers of Deforestation and Degradation
the drivers of deforestation and degradation vary across the tropics and include commercial and smallholder agriculture, mining, roads and infrastructure, legal and illegal logging, and defaunation. They are also inter-connected and dynamic, implying the need to address them holistically, at all levels of governance.
The challenges are compounded by difficulties relating to the valuation of the services forests provide, and a range of definitional issues. Projected increases in global demand for wood products and agricultural commodities will significantly increase pressure on tropical forests over the next few decades.
* the percentages attributable to deforestation and degradation within the 24-33% range (see table 6) are different from those shown above (and in table 3). this is because they are percentages of a larger total, which includes sequestration in the combined estimate.
Policy Responses: REDD+
Launched in 2005, reDD+ is seen by many as the best hope for tropical forest protection. While the scheme is yet to become fully operational, more progress has been made to date than is generally recognised, particularly through the development of reDD+ technical capital and capacity building.
A target-based, landscape-scale and jurisdictional approach could deliver effective outcomes that meet reDD+ objectives. Synergies between reDD+, supply chain and restoration initiatives could improve outcomes and catalyse greater finance flows.
The potential roles of a range of mechanisms and instruments, including jurisdictional reDD+ approaches (including bonds), public sector subsidy models (akin to feed-in tariffs for renewable energy) and other concessional finance approaches hold promise as options for stimulating demand, which remains the over-arching reDD+ challenge.
Supply Chains, Restoration and Other Efforts
Efforts to develop deforestation-free supply chains are making significant progress, but need to move more rapidly from the commitment to the implementation phase. Other supply chain priorities include expansion beyond soy, beef, palm oil and timber, and the identification of alternative lands for production that meet rigorous carbon, biodiversity and social criteria.
For restoration, the key question relates to purposes: what should degraded forest landscapes be restored to? There is a need for quantified targets to ensure that one objective is not achieved at the expense of others.
Care needs to be taken that the climate mitigation function of forests and the provision of other ecosystem services are not marginalised within restoration initiatives. for conservation, the under-valuation of carbon and biodiversity services provided by protected areas remains a serious concern; the eligibility of protected areas for reDD+ funding should be revisited.
A further priority is the urgent need to devise policy responses that address the issue of defaunation as an agent of forest degradation.
Sustainable forest management and global wood demand
The role of selective logging within forestry could valuably be re-assessed in the light of new findings on its role as a driver of degradation.
The expansion of socially and environmentally sustainable tropical plantation capacity could help to meet rising wood demand, reduce pressure on natural forests and enhance livelihoods through community plantation schemes. A certified degradation-free supply chain concept could be developed for plantation outputs.
Securing the right enabling conditions for wise tropical forest management is a vital but complex challenge. The key conditions include better land use planning, land tenure reform, strong governance, community rights and livelihoods, effective management, donor and investor confidence in forest financing schemes, and the effective utilisation of technology.
International and Regional Efforts
Recent international initiatives, particularly the new york Declaration on forests, the Bonn challenge and the lima challenge, are raising the level of ambition and catalysing action. The Unsustainable Development Goals, which are likely to include a goal encompassing forests, and the new inter- Governmental panel on ecosystem services, provide further opportunities to prioritise tropical forests across the Un system.
Initiatives such as the Governors' climate and forests task force and the three Basins initiative indicate the importance and value of regional action. And forests, reDD+ and land use ought to be a central feature of the forthcoming climate agreement in Paris in December 2015.
Where We Are
the original thought behind the writing of this report was to provide a quick snapshot of the state of progress on preserving tropical forests, to acknowledge recent positive developments and to see if anything might be identified to fill the gaps.
As is evident, it has become a rather broader document than anticipated. perhaps the starkest conclusion is that, despite all that has been done, it is still not enough and the rate of deforestation is still increasing.
In addition, it is apparent that while the focus on the drivers of deforestation and degradation has widened, it is not yet broad enough to encompass adequately the systemic and interconnected nature of the problem.
This lack of a truly systemic approach creates a real challenge, as it appears improbable that success can be achieved unless the solutions proffered mirror the complexity of the social, economic and ecological interdependencies which form the basis of the forests' existence.
Perhaps, though, the clearest message is that these ecosystems, which are essential for our survival, are only salvageable if there is a real determination by both the public and private sectors to take the difficult policy, economic and financial decisions required to ensure appropriate governance and management. Evidently, this would seem not yet to be the case.
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