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Agriculture, Forestry Key to Mitigating Climate Change

  • Kim Lewis

Forestry experts say it is time for a new approach in mitigating the causes of climate change. And while the 2012 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar, brought no decisions regarding the important role agriculture and forestry play in reducing carbon emissions, some awareness was brought to the table regarding forests, and how forest conservation should be integrated into future climate talks.

While historically both agriculture and forestry have kept a low profile at climate change talks, the 2012 climate convention in Doha saw some attention being paid to the important role forests play in landscaping, biodiversity and food security.

Peter Holmgren, director general of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), is already looking ahead to the planned 2015 climate agreement. In his view of the Doha talks, it is time to rethink approaches in agriculture and forestry so that the two green sectors play a more prominent role in future climate talks.

“When it comes to forestry, the attention has been high for the last five years. I think this was the first time we saw a little bit of a decline in the agreement on forestry. Agriculture was absent from the talks all together, as it appears,” stated Holmgren.

He said he observed that while no decisive action was taken regarding conservation of forestry and agriculture at the talks, he is optimistic that the two sectors will play a bigger role in climate change talks in the future, “I think it reflects mainly that the focus of the negotiations was to keep the negotiations alive, and that to some extent was successful. But as a result of that, the focus on the substance of agriculture and forestry was not there.”

Holmgren acknowledges that in order to put forest conservation in the forefront, the international community must recognize the vital role forests play in combating climate change.

“Everybody recognizes that forests and forestry provides many benefits to rural populations all over the world. The livelihoods are supported by many different products and services from the forests. And if we can include also climate change actions into those livelihoods benefits, then we are doing well.”

Deforestation, the turning of forests into non-forest land use, continues to severely impact the livelihoods of those who depend on forests for survival. While deforestation uses the converted land for urban growth, wastelands, logging, and agriculture, it contributes to a significant reduction of biodiversity, as well as climate change, Holmgren noted,

“Deforestation is effectively the expansion of agriculture. So what needs to happen is to work together between the agriculture and forestry sectors to find solutions at the landscape level," he said.

Scientists say this means that both agriculture and forests must be examined together in terms of the vital role both play in providing sustainable development and food security for billions of people.

“It’s important to include all aspects of forestry into the research, because there are so many different benefits that we have from forests. Biodiversity represents a lot of these benefits because it serves local people in products from the forests. It also makes sure that we conserve biodiversity for future generations,” explained Holmgren.

Scientists agree that the research should also include biodiversity and socio-economic research, not just the monitoring of forests. In doing this, Holmgren said it is important to make sure the research is done at the local level.

“Some forestry issues need to be addressed at the national or even global level, such as the climate change action. But most of the action needs to happen at the local level, because that’s where the stakeholders are,” he said.

The stakeholders are the small-holder farmers and rural population that depend on services and products from forests. Holmgren explained that these stakeholders must be included in future climate talks.

“I would like to see a concerted effort to join forces between the forestry and agriculture sectors, because I can see that moving towards the climate agreement in 2015, this could be a way to put those issues on the table for the negotiations," he said.

Holmgren emphasized that action must also be taken in order to bring the point home, at the negotiating table, of the importance of including agriculture and forestry in the climate talks. One such example is Forest Day.

“We already have a platform in the negotiation complex that’s called Forest Day. We are now planning to join forces with the Agriculture Day and create what we call a Landscape Day, and that will be an extremely important forum to discuss these issues,” he said.

Holmgren explained these types of activities are important because they involve the stakeholders.

"The key for me is that the local stakeholders are aware of their options and, their opportunities for the future," he said. "So we need more research to provide those options – management opportunities so that the local stakeholders can manage the natural resources. At the end of the day it is the billions of farmers and local stakeholders that will determine if we go in the right direction when it comes to forestry and agriculture.”

Holmgren added that the key to green growth in Africa and other areas of the world is to focus on agriculture and forestry because they are a very large portion of the economy.
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