A recent IPCC report lays bare the ways in which deforestation, forest degradation and land use changes are linked, and how balancing the need for increased food production against the loss of forest can play a significant role in dealing with climate change.
Carbon Tanzania’s work leads to a reduction in carbon emissions by designing and implementing conservation projects that encourage local communities to manage their land and natural resources in a sustainable and economically smart way. Therefore the recent report by the International Panel for Climate Change, published on the 9thAugust, resonates strongly with us.
Widely disseminated in the global media by outlets such as The Guardian and The Economist, the report addresses the challenge of reducing the emissions that are caused by deforestation and land use change in general while still finding ways to feed earth’s ever-growing population. As this report from Climate Home News makes clear, the need to reforest lands and generate biofuels as alternatives to fossil fuels is in conflict with the need to make land available for food production, both for humans and the animals they rear to eat – they refer to this as the “food-forests-food trilemma”. The scientific nuts and bolts required to resolve this trilemma are dealt with in this article from WWF, which highlights some of the complex relationships between land based emissions and the potential for nature-based solutions to reduce these.
To put some of these issues in perspective, here are 7 ways that Carbon Tanzania’s innovative approach to forest conservation addresses this seemingly tricky trilemma, as summarised in a WRI blog about the report.
1.The role of reducing deforestation in addressing climate change
About 23% of global human-caused greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, forestry and other land uses. Land use change, such as clearing forest to make way for farms, drives these emissions, while in Tanzania the figure is nearer to 80%. Our own experience of working in rural communities reflects this very closely, which is why we concentrate our efforts on supporting communities to enforce land use plans that clearly define where agriculture can be practiced and ensure that areas of natural forests are protected. The IPCC report concludes with “high confidence” that the mitigation potential of reduced deforestation is closer to the gross emissions from the land sector overall, about one-third of total global emissions. According to the report, “reducing deforestation and forest degradation rates represents one of the most effective and robust options for climate change mitigation, with large mitigation benefits globally.”
2. Forest conservation is compatible with sustainable development
The report notes that preserving and restoring forests and peatlands and other options that do not require land use change provide almost exclusively positive impacts on sustainable development, such as reducing poverty and hunger and enhancing health, clean water and sanitation.
3. The limitations of tree planting
A lot of emphasis has been placed on tree planting as way to increase carbon storage and to reduce emissions. But the report cautions that “whileincreasing tree cover results in more carbon storage, reforestation and afforestation initiatives could increase competition for land and have adverse consequences for Sustainable Development Goals”.
4. The local benefits of forest conservation
The report finds that forests consistently diminish heat extremes in the areas they are found. Recent heat waves in Europe have made the headlines, and increased forest cover may ameliorate this trend in the future, but the real losers when deforestation is not curbed are communities in the tropics where increased heat throughout the year is even more debilitating for areas where adaptation is too expensive. The communities in our project areas benefit directly from the protection and management of their forests, so this finding of the report is particularly resonant.
5. Forests affect the climate in more ways than just storing carbon
The report is also very detailed on the many ways that forests contribute to stabilising the atmospheric conditions, from seeding clouds to reducing windspeeds. A great synopsis of this science is contained in this excellent infographic.
6. Not all deforestation is equal
A somewhat counterintuitive finding of the report is the confirmation that deforestation does not always lead to warming. In boreal latitudes tree cover actually increases temperatures because forests absorb sunlight and warm the earth where open ground covered in snow would reflect sunlight and leads to cooling. Tropical forests, in contrast, play a critical role in regulating temperatures and their loss leads to increases in temperatures both locally and globally.
7. Forests are affected themselves by climate change
While the report tells us what we have known for a long time, namely that healthy forests help to stabilise the climate, climate changes affect forests directly. The report notes that “the most significant impact of climate change on forests could be increased vulnerability to fire due to longer fire seasons and drought, compounded when combined with deforestation and forest degradation.” This is a classic example of a damaging positive feedback loop in the earth system, and is cause for great concern. This process may lead to the Amazon forest itself quickly tipping from its current state of a tropical rainforest into a wooded savannah in a matter of years.
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