- How climate policy can protect forests
- How climate policy can lead to sustainable farming
- Key messages
Over 150,000 km2 of forests are cleared each year, mainly in tropical regions, and another 150,000 km2 are degraded through logging.1
Deforestation currently accounts for about 11% of total greenhouse gas emissions.2 When forests are cleared, much of the carbon in the trees and soil is released to the air, and the annual carbon sink - the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed each year as the trees grow - is lost. Climate policy therefore provides a strong additional motivation for protecting existing forests, reforesting cleared areas and planting new forests.
One way of doing this is by paying land owners to keep existing forests standing. This is called 'Reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation', or REDD. A variation called REDD+ also includes sustainable forest management and planting new forests. Many pilot projects are underway, mainly funded under the UN-REDD programme or by the World Bank Forest Carbon Partnership Facility. However, an international climate agreement would need to be in place before large-scale funding could start to flow
Early REDD projects attracted criticism because they led to land being taken from local people, or because they funded commercial plantations on deforested land. Much work has therefore focused on designing strict safeguards to prevent undesirable social and environmental impacts.
Farming produces about 12% of total global greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from methane produced from livestock and nitrous oxide from fertilisers and manure.3 However, there are a number of ways in which these emissions can be reduced, while also providing other benefits. Some examples are listed below.
- The amount of carbon stored in soils can be increased by adding organic matter (compost, manure or cover crops) to the soil, and by minimising ploughing. This also improves soil structure, fertility and water retention.
- Trees planted on farms increase the carbon stored in the vegetation and soil, and provide a host of other benefits including shade, shelter and food for livestock, wildlife habitat, reduced soil erosion, improved water retention and an alternative source of income (from sustainably harvested timber, firewood or fruit) for the farmer.
- Minimising the use of artificial fertilisers, for example through targeted application in the planting holes instead of field-wide spraying, will cut emissions of nitrous oxide - a greenhouse gas with more than 300 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide - as well as cutting water and air pollution and saving money for farmers.
- Collecting manure and slurry in anaerobic digesters not only cuts emissions of methane and nitrous oxide, but produces cheap biogas for the farmer and reduces odour and water pollution.
Although well-designed climate policy can produce significant benefits for forests and farming, there are also some potentially serious conflicts which require careful management. These are:
- As mentioned above, forest carbon payment schemes must be implemented with strict safeguards to ensure that the rights of local people are respected, and that maximum biodiversity benefits are achieved.
- Biofuel cultivation is capable of producing relatively low carbon fuels, but first-generation biofuels from food crops such as corn, soy and sugar can push up food prices and increase the pressure on scarce agricultural land, forcing an expansion into forests and other wilderness areas. This can be avoided by encouraging second-generation biofuel production from waste or sustainably harvested woody crops, and banning biofuel production from areas of high biodiversity, especially on peat land where the carbon emissions associated with planting biofuels are very high.
- Less intensive farming - for example replacing
artificial fertilisers with compost and manure - has
many environmental benefits but can also lead to
slightly lower yields when compared to intensive
farming in developed countries (though not
necessarily in tropical countries, where yields can
be higher with less intensive farming techniques).
Lower yields could increase the pressure for
expansion of farmland onto forested areas, thus
increasing carbon emissions, and could affect food
security. However, there is significant scope for
improving yields through research into optimising
organic farming techniques.
Efforts to tackle climate change can provide extra motivation and funding for preservation of carbon-rich ecosystems such as forests and wetlands, helping to provide vital ecosystem services such as flood protection, soil stabilisation, water supply and biodiversity. However, individual policies such as payments for forest carbon cannot tackle this problem, because all land use is interlinked. Protecting particular forests can simply shift the threat onto other forests or other ecosystems. Protecting all natural ecosystems would limit the land available for food production, causing problems with food security, or leading to an intensified drive to increase crop yields through the use of agrochemicals, which can increase pollution and damage biodiversity. Instead, an integrated and balanced approach will be necessary. One approach is outlined below.
- Expand protected areas to conserve the most valued forests and other ecosystems, such as tropical peat forests, mangroves, wetlands, natural grasslands and habitats for endangered species.
- Put an economic value on forest carbon through payment schemes such as REDD, but with stringent safeguards.
- Address other drivers of deforestation. Curb rising demand for paper, timber, oil, minerals and farmland by avoiding waste of food and other resources and increasing recycling of paper and timber. Increase crop and timber yields sustainably where possible, and reduce meat consumption in developed countries. Cut perverse subsidies for energy, forestry, agriculture or biofuels, such as subsidies for cattle ranching or plantations that encourage clearance of natural forests.
- Clarify ownership of forests and improve governance thus safeguarding the access rights of indigenous communities and tackling illegal logging, fraud and corruption.
- Support certification schemes to help consumers identify sustainable timber, paper and food.
Links to other co-benefits pages
- Cleaner air: reduced pollution from fossil fuels
- Safer and more secure energy supplies
- Less waste:a resource-efficient economy
- Stronger economy: long-term stability and prosperity
- Health and well-being: benefits of a low-carbon lifestyle
- Summary table
- Comparison of policy options
- A tale of two strategies
- Policy recommendations