Trouble ahead if forests and adaptation are not considered in the post Rio+20 era

The potential role of forests in climate change adaptation is yet to be properly explored.

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Cameroonian villagers depend on forest products, particularly in times of crisis. Ollivier Girard/CIFOR.

Cameroonian villagers depend on forest products, particularly in times of crisis. Ollivier Girard/CIFOR.

YAOUNDE, Cameroon (16 January, 2013)_Forests have occupied a role in the first 20 years of the Rio era (1992-2012) through three main conventions: the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). In the CBD, forest protection has been regularly highlighted, a trend that is likely to continue in the next decade. The place of forests in the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, including Aichi Biodiversity Targets (“Living in harmony with nature”) is an illustration of its recognition.

In the UNCCD, forests, including dry forests, are also considered a priority. To help mainstream the importance of forests in the UNFCCC, “forest days” have been organized since Bali 2007 with the leadership of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF). The recent Sixth Annual Forest Day at COP 18 in Doha, Qatar, marked the successful completion of this awareness campaign and will be the last Forest Day. Next year the discussion will focus on Landscape Day and bring together the dynamics of Agricultural Day as well as others.

In response to climate change, two main groups of actions are currently in use: mitigation and adaptation. REDD+ (mitigation) has risen significantly on the agenda amongst countries such as Norway and US states such as California and are willing to play more significant roles in protecting tropical forests through REDD+. In the Congo Basin and West Africa, USAID and the Central African Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE) have also been re-orienting their activities to focus on REDD+.

Climate change is thus redrawing the cooperation agenda. For forests, this is orienting policy towards conservation and management efforts that will reduce the emission of the Green House Gases. Despite these efforts, climate change/variation is already affecting the present and therefore adaptation strategies for natural resource management as well as for communities should be considered. The linkage between forests and adaptation to climate change is still missing. The impact of climate change on tropical forests and the potential role of forests to adaptation have not yet been properly explored, with efforts still at their early stages.

During a recent science policy dialogue, stakeholders in Central Africa highlighted the link between forests and water, food security, energy and heath in the context of climate change. Although forests and adaptation have been an issue primarily in temperate countries, it is increasingly becoming a concern for tropical areas. In the tropics, the dependency on forests is high and it will be difficult to develop a good adaptation plan if forest resources are ignored.

It would be illusive to think that we will use forests for mitigation without taking into consideration the management of the negative effects of climate change on forest stands and on communities. As we enter the era of Rio+20, the impact of climate change on forests and the potential of forests for adaptation need to be given more consideration. Forests need to be at the center of adaptation planning. This also aligns with Ecosystem Base Adaptation (EBA), which is increasingly recognised as a way to complement infrastructural investments to face climate change. However, for this to work, the topic of “forests and adaptation” should be paid the same attention as REDD+, Forest Biodiversity, etc.

There is a need to adapt, and if forests are not considered, we may be exploring a life that is not in harmony with nature.

This article first appeared in Berkeley Alumni newsletter. Read it here

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