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How climate policy can protect forests

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.

How climate policy can lead to sustainable farming

Silvopastoral farming in Colombia. Photo by Neil Palmer of CIAT.

Eco-efficient agriculture: a CIPAV silvo-pastoral system at Reserva Natural El Hatico near Palmira, Colombia. Photo by Neil Palmer of CIAT (International Center for Tropical Agriculture).

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.


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:

Key messages

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.

Links to other co-benefits pages