Adaptation leader: Bruno Locatelli on the importance of climate adaptation finance for forests

The triple win: how forest landscapes can contribute to adaptation, mitigation and food security.
Protecting forests for mitigation may have negative consequences for local communities if they lose access to land and forests for their livelihoods.

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This interview was originally published by Acclimatise

Bruno Locatelli, environmental scientist at CIRAD and CIFOR, who speaks of the emerging understanding of the importance of climate change adaptation for forest ecosystems. Locatelli explains that the relationship between climate adaptation and forests is unusual as work is needed both to adapt forest ecosystems to climate change while at the same time recognising that forests themselves provide climate resilience benefits to the communities that rely on them. Here he calls for more funding for climate adaptation projects, and warns that without careful planning, forest projects aimed at cutting carbon emissions may adversely make communities less resilient to climate impacts. 

There is a well-established link between the role of forests and climate change mitigation, but what role do forests have to play in terms of adapting to climate change?

Indeed, forests have for long been recognised for their role in global climate change mitigation, through their capacity to capture and sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Deforestation has been identified as a major source of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and proposed mitigation measures have included avoided deforestation. However, forests provide multiple ecosystem services beyond carbon sequestration and many of them are relevant to adaptation, but the link between forests and adaptation has received less attention than the link between forests and mitigation.

One reason for that might be that adaptation is more complex to understand than mitigation because it encompasses multiple dimensions and is much more difficult to define and measure than mitigation (which can be quantified in terms of CO2 equivalent).

The linkages between forests and adaptation are twofold. Firstly, as climate change will affect forests, adaptation measures are needed for forests to reduce negative impacts and maintain ecosystem functions (“adaptation for forests”, see examples here). Secondly, forest ecosystems contribute to adaptation by providing ecosystem services that reduce the vulnerability of local communities and the broader society to climate change (“forests for people‘s adaptation”).

I can point to five main cases in which forests and trees can play a role in people’s adaptation:

(1) When facing climatic threats, local communities can use forest and tree products as safety nets (for consumption or sale when, for example, agricultural production is affected) or for diversifying their livelihoods;

(2) Trees in agricultural fields (for example in agroforestry or silvopastoril systems) contribute to water, soil, and microclimate regulation, which increases the resilience of crop and animal production to climate variations;

(3) Forests regulate water and protect soils in watersheds, which can reduce the impacts of climate variations on people downstream (e.g., drought, floods, and landslides);

(4) Coastal forests  such as mangroves protect human activities in coastal areas from climate-related threats, for example storms and waves, which are likely to be more devastating with climate change and sea level rise;

(5) Urban forests and trees regulate temperature and water, which help cities to face climate variations such as heavy rain and heat waves.

These “adaptation services” provided by forests and trees are starting to be recognised in by decision makers. For example, a number of national adaptation programmes of actions (NAPAs) consider them.

One of the important topics that is to be addressed at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change climate conference in Warsaw is adaptation financing. What role do forest-related finance mechanisms have to play in this area?

So far, climate change finance, as well as climate change negotiations and policies, have separated adaptation and mitigation. But interesting developments are being observed, for example with the Green Climate Fund, which will consider both adaptation and mitigation with a balance between them: “The Fund will strive to maximize the impact of its funding for adaptation and mitigation, and seek a balance between the two”. 

In addition, the Fund proposes to move from separating to integrating adaptation and mitigation: “Initially, the Fund will have windows for adaptation and mitigation. An integrated approach to funding mitigation and adaptation will be used to allow for cross-cutting projects and programmes.” Forests and agriculture are two sectors where clear synergies between adaptation and mitigation can be found but also trade-offs, which should be identified and avoided. Given the current imbalance of funding in favour of mitigation, there is a huge opportunity to try to use forest-related mitigation finance (such as REDD+) to achieve both mitigation and adaptation. But this will require more knowledge about why and how to implement this integrated approach.

Forestry projects are often supported by climate change mitigation-themed funds, through schemes such as REDD+ and the Clean Development Mechanism. At the same time, forests have an important adaptation co-benefits in terms of the building the climate resilience of vulnerable ecosystems and communities. Do you think that a fixation on carbon-cutting can undermine other objectives such as international development and climate change adaptation?  What are the trades-offs?

There are clear trade-offs. For example, protecting forests for mitigation may have negative consequences for local communities if they lose access to land and forests for their livelihoods, which may hinder their capacity to adapt to climate variations. Some forest plantations may have negative impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem resilience or may reduce water availability to population downstream, which may increase their vulnerability to drought. But, fortunately, there are also good examples of synergies: REDD+ projects can contribute to increasing social and ecological resilience. A focus on only carbon is risky and synergies and trade-offs should be analyzed and addressed from different point of view: livelihoods, governance, and ecosystem services.

In terms of ecosystem services, we showed, in a study in Costa Rica that, even though carbon, biodiversity and hydrological services are positively correlated in space, biodiversity hotspots have the highest co-benefits for other services, while carbon hotspots have the lowest. This finding calls for cautiousness in relation to expectations that forest-based mitigation initiatives such as REDD+ can automatically maximise co-benefits for adaptation-relevant services such as biodiversity and local ecosystem services.

CIFOR is running a number of side events at the UN Climate Change Conference in Warsaw, one of which is called ‘Linking Adaptation and Mitigation to Address Multiple Risks”. Could you explain what this event is about?

This side-event will take place at CoP19 in Warsaw on Thursday, 14 November from 11:30 to 13:00. CIFOR and partners will present new research findings and examples from the field on how synergies and trade-offs between adaptation and mitigation are addressed in land-related projects, policies and funding. This topic will also be addressed during the Global Landscape Forum on “Shaping the climate and development agenda for forests and agriculture: A vision beyond 2015” in Warsaw on 16-17 November 2013.

Forestry is one of the areas where the interrelationship between climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation is at its most apparent. In what ways can we ensure that a holistic approach is taken?

We can think of actions at multiple levels to ensure that a holistic approach is taken. At the local level, some project developers are aware of the benefits of integrating adaptation and mitigation and promote this integration in their project design. For example they perceive that a REDD project can be more sustainable and more legitimate to local people if it includes adaptation measures. However, we need more evidence on the benefits and barriers of this integration. We also need to communicate on synergies and trade-offs and provide guidance for assessing them.

At the national and international levels, REDD+ safeguards, national rules for approving projects and project certification standards (such as the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standards,) can provide a framework for this holistic approach. International climate change funding is also crucial: a recent study conducted by Acclimatise and CIFOR(forthcoming) has shown that fund managers have an interest in promoting the integration of adaptation and mitigation in forests and agriculture, although adaptation and mitigation funding streams have been separated so far. Among the managers we interviewed, 91% thought that the integration of adaptation and mitigation would gain importance and one of them said that “it will be difficult, if not impossible, to undertake REDD+ projects successfully without incorporating adaptation”.

CIFOR has highlighted that around three quarters of deforestation is to recover more land for agriculture. In light of this combined pressure of declining yields as result of climate impacts on agriculture and rising demand for food to feed a growing population, what are the implications on land use around forest ecosystems? 

In a context of climate change, landscape approaches to development and natural resource management are crucial. Trade-offs between conservation and development have fueled a lot of research and policy discussion, for example with the debate on land sparing (i.e. maximizing agricultural production in some areas and conserving natural ecosystems elsewhere) versus land sharing (i.e. integrating conservation and production in heterogeneous landscapes). Deciding which approach is appropriate depends on the social and biophysical context but what is certain is that we need more integrated approaches to landscape management because of the strong interaction between landscape elements: forests contribute to agricultural production and food security, for example through water regulation or pollination services, whereas agricultural resilience is needed for ensuring forest conservation. Climate-smart landscapes can contribute to adaptation, mitigation and food security, but this triple win may not be easy to find. At least trade-offs should be recognised and minimised.


Bruno Locatelli is an environmental scientist with CIRAD and CIFOR. He has a long-standing interest in forests and climate change conducting research on carbon quantification and policy instruments for forests and mitigation. After working in Costa Rica with CIRAD and CATIE examining projects under finance schemes such as the Clean Development Mechanism and Payment for Ecosystem Services, his researched moved from mitigation to adaptation. In 2005 he led the research group on forests and adaptation to climate change at CIFOR Headquarters in Indonesia from 2008 to 2013. He is now based in Peru. 


Mitigation and adaptation measures are on the agenda at U.N. climate talks in Warsaw. Potential benefits of combining adaptation and mitigation strategies will also be discussed at the Global Landscapes Forum from November 16 to 17, which will coincide with the U.N. climate summit.

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