From Cancún we need to Look Beyond the Forest to Reduce Emissions

Cancún afforded yet another moment for concerned stakeholders to come together to share best practices, including lessons learned from various initiatives, and one point of agreement was that for the world to mark success in proposed efforts to reduce emissions from greenhouse gases and sequester carbon, it is high time that focus expanded beyond the forest sector, even in the context of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+).

One of such lessons was presented by the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) in a Working Paper that used examples such as Kenya to demonstrate that REDD+ is essentially cross-sectoral and would best be implemented within ‘overarching policy frameworks such as a national low-carbon development strategy, national poverty reduction strategy, or national biodiversity conservation strategy.’ ASB’s work on REDD underscores this fact and our project on Reducing Emissions from All Land Uses (REALU) in Cameroon, Indonesia, Peru and Vietnam provides options for lanscape approaches to REDD+ that are fair, efficient and effective in emission reduction efforts. The project, which enters it’s second phase this year, provides global synthesis on readiness for landscape approaches to reducing emissions from all land uses as a logical next step for the success of REDD.

So far, work under the project continues to generate critical evidence that highlights the need to take on a landscape approach. Research presented in a recent ASB Policy Brief No.16  called for an inclusive institutional approach to the REDD mechanism by highlighting the case of Indonesia, where two-thirds of the 0.6 Gt (Gigatonnes) of carbon emitted each year is from areas institutionally defined as forests and one-third comes from areas that are ‘outside forests’- areas that do not fall under the official definition of forest in Indonesia, -meaning that they are left out in current forest-based mitigation efforts under the REDD umbrella. This research also showed that if all institutional forests in the country were fully protected, then due to leakage potential, the ‘non-forest’ areas could support the country’s total emissions for only a period of 6.4 years before they are depleted. This is a clear indication that solutions cannot be left to forestry institutions alone.

Further to this, by focusing on forests alone, we miss out on other existing opportunities to curb emissions. ASB Policy Brief 17 titled Emissions Embodied in Trade and Land use in Tropical Forest Margins explains how trade contributes to emission reduction in some areas while contributing to an increase in other areas. In the brief, ASB scientists point out that increasing proportion of land use change responsible for emissions from deforestation, forest degradation and agriculture in developing countries is associated with commodities meant for export to countries that are beginning to increase their forest areas.  Using international trade data, the scientists show that 52% of the increased forest areas by forest transition countries represent the displaced land use to countries providing the imports over the past 5 years and recommend that calculation of national emissions could indicate emissions caused by products consumed and not just those produced within a country. In addition, consumer pressure is another opportunity where consumers can influence emissions by advocating for ‘greener commodities’.

At Forest Day 4 event in Cancún, ASB presented another important perspective to REDD+ and agricultural drivers of deforestation by showing that agricultural intensification does not necessarily reduce deforestation, as it has been previously hypothesized. This is because when demand for agricultural products is elastic or where economies are “open”, deforestation increases as returns to land increase. In the current environment of rising global food and energy prices, a more profitable agriculture in many cases speeds forest destruction.  In contrast, where demand is inelastic or where economies are “closed”, intensification can reduce deforestation. In Africa especially where extensification is still the dominant practice, agricultural intensification may be a necessary condition, but hardly sufficient enough. Hence we call for a shift from a “sparing” (intensification will spare land forests for conservation) to a “sharing” - “multi-functionality” landscape approach.

Building on REDD+ alongside mitigation through agriculture and other intermediary options such as agroforestry is bound to gain ground in 2011. Concretely linking forestry and agriculture through emerging country strategies remains a challenge and we hope to work with you to make this happen.

Have an exciting and successful 2011!


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