“Forests provide great opportunities for adapting to climate change”

Jan McAlpine

In 2007, the UN Forum on Forests adopted the landmark Non-Legally Binding Instrument on All Types of Forests. Amongst other things, the instrument is intended to strengthen political commitment and action at all levels to implement effective sustainable management of all types of forests and to achieve the shared global objectives on forests. Here the Forum’s director identifies some of the critical governance issues that arise in the promotion of sustainable development in the world’s forests.

Global: Plans to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation (i.e. REDD+) have been carefully crafted. Do you see these schemes becoming adopted more widely around the world under a new international climate regime?

Jan McAlpine: Emissions from deforestation and degradation only represent REDD. The “+” part refers more broadly to other economic and social issues that we need to address to tackle forest issues effectively.

Focusing on carbon alone will not be successful – forests are much more than just carbon. We need to have a strategy to address the whole suite of issues, environmental, economic and social, comprehensively in order to have these schemes adopted more widely around the world.

Forests provide great opportunities for adapting to climate change by increasing the resilience of people and ecosystems. Forests are also a major mitigation option over the next 30 to 40 years and can play a key role in the necessary transition towards a low-carbon economy. However, due to the wide range of goods and services provided by the forest sector, mitigation and adaptation options need to be understood and taken advantage of in the context of promoting sustainable development. For forests to effectively contribute to climate change solutions, countries and the international community will need to address several critical governance issues affecting forests and forest-dependent communities such as land use rights and tenure, access to forests, land use planning, benefit sharing, institutional and cross-sectoral coordination, and law enforcement.

What are the main priorities in capacity-building and technological advance for the conservation of forests – in both developed and developing countries?

Some of the main priorities in capacity-building for sustainable forest management (and not just conservation) that have been identified in UNFF discussions include: the need to address the lack of data on forest resources and strengthen capacity for data collection; to facilitate capacity-building among indigenous peoples and local communities in developing countries, through training, education networks and associations; to practise sustainable forest management and maintain the multiple values of forests; and to identify barriers to access to financing, in particular for developing countries and countries with economies in transition. Limited financial and technical capacity, lack of data, and difficulties in disseminating information to rural communities on sustainable forest management practices are often highlighted as major challenges related to realising the full potential of forests.

How best can the in-country capacity of developing countries be enhanced to ensure better forest management in general?

The issue of capacity development affects both developing and developed countries and needs to be addressed on two fronts: (i) sustainable forest financing mechanisms are required at domestic and international levels; (ii) comprehensive policy instruments and strategies are needed to address forest issues that are intertwined with a broad range of sectors. For example, forests issues are strongly interconnected with agriculture, water, energy, transportation and tourism. When formulating forest policies and national development strategies, it’s critical to have a comprehensive, integrated cross-institutional, cross-sectoral approach. They need to be considered with a wide variety of ministries such as agriculture, water, energy, transportation, tourism, mining, economic development and social issues.

At a time that forest plantations are increasing rapidly, what do you see as the most important priorities to ensure adequate supervision and safeguards against degradation?

There are multiple factors leading to global forest degradation, and plantations are simply one aspect of a complex interdependent system. In this regard the need for a ‘landscape approach’ is gaining recognition, which aims to manage our natural resources in a holistic manner, taking into account the entire landscape, from forests, to water supply and agriculture. Such an approach enables governments, the private sector, and NGOs to see how plantations can fit into the entire landscape and work together collaboratively. This comprehensive approach is needed to see the whole picture in the entire ecosystem. The Forest Day 6 event of the recent Collaborative Partnership on Forests at UNFCCC COP18 had a theme of “Living Landscapes”, referring to this vital interconnection between forests and agriculture and their impacts on people. On the issue of plantations, it is important to know whether plantations are replacing natural standing forests or are being carried out on degraded land.

About the author:

Jan McAlpine is Director at UN Forum on Forests


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