LONDON (AlertNet) - Efforts to cut carbon emissions by curbing deforestation may fail unless they avoid negative impacts on biodiversity and local people, a network of forest scientists said on Friday.
The world's shrinking forests need to be valued as more than just carbon sinks for mitigating climate change, says a report from the International Union of Forest Research Organisations (IUFRO).
Biodiversity is key in determining a forest's ability to absorb greenhouse gases, it adds. And accounting for those who live in or near forests when implementing programmes under the U.N.-backed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation scheme (REDD+) makes achieving carbon and biodiversity goals more likely.
"We need to consider all of the priorities for a particular landscape, such as food production, clean water, economic development, conservation and cultural and social values, to understand the different pressures facing forested areas," Christoph Wildburger, coordinator of the IUFRO panel that produced the assessment, said in a statement.
"It may not be possible to reconcile all of these concerns. But over the long term, REDD+ programs will not succeed, even at conserving carbon, unless there is a recognition of the trade-offs involved and an understanding of the relationships between biodiversity, carbon, forest management and people," he added.
Deforestation and forest degradation account for nearly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, through agricultural expansion, conversion to pastureland, infrastructure development, destructive logging, fires and so on, according to the United Nations.
Forest loss is the second largest source of carbon dioxide emissions generated by humans, the IUFRO report says. It is also a major cause of global biodiversity decline and could further reduce the ability of forests to provide the services that nature supplies to humans, including carbon sequestration.
Thanks to large-scale forest planting efforts, natural forest expansion and slowing rates of deforestation, the net global loss in forest area slowed from 8.3 million hectares per year in 1990-2000 to 5.2 million hectares per year in 2000-2010, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
The report says that further reducing the rates of global forest loss and degradation should yield substantial gains in mitigating climate change and conserving biodiversity. It may also bring significant social and economic benefits - but only if the right conditions are in place.
"The degree to which these goals are achieved through a mechanism such as REDD+ will depend on whether and how REDD+ is translated into specific policies and practices that also contribute to biodiversity conservation and people's wellbeing," the report cautions.
NO ‘ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL’ SOLUTION
Globally, it notes that some two billion hectares of land - an area larger than South America - are potentially available for forest restoration. But this must be planned with care.
Restoring deforested and degraded forest land with a variety of native tree species can be expected to result in far greater biodiversity than extensive monocultures, which could have the opposite effect, the report says.
REDD+ activities could harm both biodiversity and people if they involve converting forests of high biodiversity value to other types of forest, planting trees in non-forest ecosystems such as grasslands and savannahs, displacing rural communities and increasing social inequities, the report warns.
It contains some examples of where forest protection and restoration efforts have worked well and others where they haven't.
In Madagascar, a WWF project in the moist forest landscape of Fandriana-Marolambo worked with local people to collect and manage seedlings to restore forest. In 2007, they planted only introduced species but by 2010, of the 328,400 seedlings planted, over 80 percent were local. The communities improved their knowledge and crop diversity, carbon sequestration was increased and biodiversity is set to benefit from growth in natural, indigenous forest cover.
But in Nepal's Chitwan National Park, efforts to establish tree plantations in severely degraded areas and promote natural regeneration in less degraded habitats led to a rise in conflict between humans and tigers as the animals roamed into the buffer zone. This initiative was positive for biodiversity and carbon, but had significant costs for local communities.
The report recommends that each REDD+ project must be designed to fit the characteristics of local forests and their surrounding environment.
"There is no one-size-fits-all solution to forest loss and degradation. Impacts of REDD+ interventions are likely to vary significantly across different forest types and landscape conditions. These impacts may occur outside the area of management or in the future, and they can also evolve over time," said John Parrotta, an IUFRO scientist and chair of the panel that produced the report.
If actions to boost the role of forests in mitigating climate change are to be effective and long-lasting, they also need to address the underlying causes of deforestation and forest degradation, including rising demand for agricultural land, timber and other forest products, uncoordinated policies and weak governance, the report adds.
"Understanding Relationships between Biodiversity, Carbon, Forests and People: The Key to Achieving REDD+ Objectives" will be presented at Forest Day 6 on Dec. 2 during the U.N. climate change conference in Doha, Qatar.