Archive Understanding Deforestation, and Why REDD+ Matters in Climate Action

Understanding Deforestation, and Why REDD+ Matters in Climate Action

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By E.K.Bensah Jr

There is now what some might consider compelling evidence of the planet warming up.  Evidence recently released by scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has shown that climate change is occurring at a faster rate than the world could ever have imagined.

Statistics from Ghana’s inventory of forestry stock indicate that Ghana has lost no less than 98percent of its forest cover since 1994 – despite the inevitable warming of the planet. It is believed that if sufficient attention is not given to redress this imbalance of loss of forest cover, the country will be all the worse for it. This is because lack of forest cover allows direct exposure of sunlight and the sun’s rays to dry up the already-polluted and fast-dwindling water –bodies.

Research from the Forestry Commission indicates that developing countries are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change as their livelihoods are highly-dependent on climate-sensitive sectors, such as agriculture. Given that Ghanaian peasant farmers practice rain-fed agriculture, depending on weather patterns for their farming, and tend to include slash-and-burn methods that prove to be unsustainable and harmful to the Earth’s atmosphere, this significantly-contributes to global warming. Consequently, Ghana has witnessed higher temperatures than normal, as well as inconsistent rainfall patterns.

One way in which Ghana has been trying to deal with this has been through the use of the so-called REDD+ mechanism, which is being coordinated by the National REDD+ Secretariat of the Forestry Commission.

History of REDD+

Suffice-to-say, if there has ever been any indication the world has been fighting climate change, the advocacy on REDD+ must be it.

According to the UN, 0.58 per cent of tropical forests were being lost annually at the beginning of the decade. Ten years later, the proportion being lost had almost doubled to one percent, which was a total loss of 17 million hectares a year, with the main culprit thought to be the expansion of agriculture in developing countries.

Research indicates that the world is losing somewhere between 12 and 15 million hectares of forest a year, which is equivalent to 36 football fields a minute, and according to Conservation International, nearly half of the world’s natural forests have now been lost. Truth of the matter is that deforestation is estimated to account for 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, as well as an important driver of climate change. According to Conservation International, almost one in four people depend on forests for their livelihoods, while around USD300bn of forest products, such as timber, bamboo, and fruits, are traded every year.

The literature shows that these are not new issues, and that they were a hot topic of discussion at the 1992 Rio Conference, which famously ended with 108 governments adopting three agreements: a comprehensive programme of action for all areas of sustainable development the world has come to know as Agenda 21. In fact, in understanding the history around deforestation, we need to understand how the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development established a series of principles defining the rights and responsibilities of states; as well as the Forest Principles to underpin the sustainable management of forests worldwide. Although these agreements were non-binding, they provided fertile ground for future programmes by outlining proposals for preventing deforestation, as well as pledges for all countries to seek to make an effort for a greener world through reforestation and forest conservation, while also recognizing that countries have a right to develop forests sustainably according to their needs.

Why REDD+ matters

First introduced at COP11 in Montreal in 2005 by a group of countries led by Papua New Guinea calling themselves the Coalition of Rainforest Nations, they suggested rewarding governments, companies, or forest owners in developing countries for keeping forests standing – rather than logging them.

This, however, did not last, with REDD being under-prioritised until two years later at the Bali Summit, where delegates would discuss developing an incentive mechanism for “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation; and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries.” This is the clause that enabled REDD to transform into REDD+.

REDD+ proponents argued that REDD+ could not only assist in mitigating climate change, but also support livelihoods, maintain ecosystem services that underpin the economy, and preserve wildlife and biodiversity. The Bali agreement had been instrumental in giving REDD+ credibility to such an extent that it helped launch a range of programmes at that time, including the UN’s REDD initiative, which since its establishment in 2008, has secured almost USD200m in funding.

It would be the 2009 Copenhagen Summit that would make REDD+ a more concrete and viable alternative by proposing a national forest monitoring system and encouraging countries to develop national strategies. In 2010 in Cancun, further safeguards were added with the objective of ensuring national REDD+ implementation did not negatively-affect local populations or the environment.

Finally, 2013’s Warsaw Summit represented a significant step forward for REDD+ with no fewer than seven decisions that finalized new rules on how to manage and finance forest protection projects and ensure they achieve the promised reductions in emissions.

Although REDD+ has gained ground in Ghana, through the work of the Forestry Commission, it has not met with universal approval worldwide yet. Conservationists are also fearful that forest communities could be persuaded to sign away their rights to land by rogue carbon traders who fail to adequately-protect the forest and ensure carbon emission reductions are delivered.

Recent developments offer encouraging signs that the fight against climate change, using REDD+, is making waves. On the international front, September played witness to the New York Declaration where hundreds of governments, businesses, NGOs, and indigenous people’s groups jointly pledged to halve the loss of forests by the end of the decade and halt it entirely 10 years after that. In the event this target is achieved, it could avoid between 4.5 and 8.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year, which is equivalent to removing one billion cars from the roads.

Here in Ghana, the Forestry Commission has established a National REDD+ Secretariat at the Climate Change Unit(CCU) as the mode for the coordination of REDD+ activities. The unit has been staffed by professionals employed by the Commisison, with the Head of the Secretariat also serving as the Coordinator of Ghana’s REDD+ programme. This, alone, is insufficient, as awareness-creation on REDD+ is critical to making mileage on the advocacy of REDD+. It is universally-recognised as a pivotal element of the readiness process. The recent roadshow that the Commission embarked on immediately after its media launch on 19 September is an example of how committed they are in sensitizing the public, and communities on combating climate change.

Themed “Reducing Forest Loss and Climate Change Impacts through REDD+; our Collective Responsibility”, the roadshow has sought to galvanize public support for actions and measures targeted at addressing the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in Ghana. Activities that were lined up included visits to the Community Resources Management Areas (CREMA); schools outreach; floats; radio and TV discussions; documentaries and publication of articles in the print media.

The road has been long, but it certainly has been a significant step in ensuring Ghanaians begin to appreciate and understand the fact that climate change will not go away, and so every effort must be made – no matter how small – to start combating it, with awareness on REDD+ being a very important component.

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