Reforestation: the easiest way to combat climate change

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Deforestation causes 12-18 percent of the world’s carbon emission, almost equal to all the CO2 emissions from the global transport sector. Our forests are home to 80% of all terrestrial biodiversity. However, we are losing our forests at an incredibly high rate. Each year more than 13 million hectares (32 million acres) of forests are lost, an area roughly the size of England.

Recognizing the importance of our forests and finding ways to decrease deforestation has been at the forefront of climate change negotiations for the last few years. Among negotiators, government leaders and observers, it is clearly recognized that combating climate change without slowing deforestation is a lost cause.

The link between forests and climate change adaptation and mitigation was again underlined on the sidelines of the United Nations climate talks in Mexico while celebrating Forest Day 4.

Forest Day began in 2007 as a result of a casual conversation between two scientists in Oxford, England. In Cancun this year, in its fourth celebration, over 1,500 leaders and experts attended the event to discuss the most pressing issues affecting our forests and to explore ways to accelerate the integration of forests into climate protection and adaptation schemes from local to global levels.

At the gathering, climate and forestry experts stressed that slowing the rate deforestation is the cheapest and one of the most effective ways to combat climate change. Participants also urged climate change negotiators to find a common ground on a REDD+ agreement.

REDD+ is a global mechanism for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, as well as the conservation and sustainable management of forests, and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks. Observers at the UN climate conference in Cancun highlighted that one of the best ways to show progress in climate change negotiations is through an agreement on REDD+.

Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, voiced DESA’s commitment to REDD+ and stated: “The UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, which I head, stands ready to help developing countries improve their capacity to use REDD+ financing, implement REDD+ actions and to mainstream climate change into national development strategies.”

According to the participants some of the most immediate challenges in implementing REDD+ at the sub-national level are equitable distribution of net REDD+ revenues to forest-dependent communities, property rights, employment for rural communities, monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of emission reduction.

The urgency to take immediate action was the overarching message of many of the speakers at Forest Day 4.

Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, President of Mexico, said: “Here and now, it’s time for all of us to push and push hard for full incorporation of REDD+ into a long-term international climate change agreement.”

Frances Seymour, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), also emphasized that continuing with the negotiation process without seriously considering forests can be detrimental. “Whether the objective is global climate protection, local adaptation, biodiversity conservation, or rural development, there is an increasing sense that the risks of no action on forests are far greater than the risks of moving ahead. It’s time to act,” she said.

Overall, Forest Day 4 highlighted the urgency of ensuring the survival of the world’s forests, the biodiversity they embrace, and the hundreds of millions of people who depend on them. The event served as a bridge between the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity and the 2011 International Year of Forests.

Mr. Sha Zukang concluded his statement by inviting all to actively participate in the 2011 International Year of Forest. He added: “The Year will raise public awareness about the intrinsic value of forests, and we hope it will prompt governments to redouble their conservation and management efforts.”

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