With 12 years to limit warming, it’s time to sprint, not run

Locals bike to fetch water in Burkina Faso. Ollivier Girard, CIFOR
9 December 2018

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We are in the ‘age of adaptation’ to climate change, said Conservation International’s president Jennifer Morris at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) side event at COP 24 in Katowice, Poland on 9 December. Yet, we are seeing a rise in projects and mindsets focused on ‘short-termism’ rather than long-term value to the planet’s future. We need better models, she said, that provide long-lasting benefits to ecosystems and people.

Underpinning the half-day event that focused on climate action in different aspects of landscapes – biodiversity, indigenous peoples, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD+), and forest landscape restoration – was the need to reprioritize the value of landscapes, and in turn the value of investment in them. Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) director general Robert Nasi pointed out that three times as much revenue globally is spent on weapons production than restoration efforts. Even with the 12-year deadline set in the IPCC special report to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we are currently running to stay in place, he said, referencing Alice in Wonderland. If we want to get out of this rabbit hole and go somewhere, we must run twice as fast.

Climate change conversations do not give enough attention to biodiversity said speakers in the first panel discussion. We won’t solve the climate crisis because the biodiversity crisis will come first, said Virginia Young from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Task Force on Protected Areas, and yet conversations on protecting and increasing biodiversity in landscapes happen in different spheres and conventions than those addressing climate.

The best opportunity to integrate the two could be to incorporate them into efforts to aid the land rights, tenure and livelihoods of nature’s primary protectors: indigenous peoples. Research has found that indigenous and community lands across 64 countries store 293 gigatons of carbon, yet in the tropics, at least one-third of forests and the carbon they hold are at risk because of insecure land rights. Kate Dooley, a researcher at Melbourne University, said that protecting the carbon residing in collectively-held landscapes dwarfs the carbon potential of sector-based  transformation.

At COP 24, quick progress on the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, which launched at COP 23, has been applauded as an enormous highlight, including that a facilitated working group for the platform will be formed in the coming year and produce a two-year work plan.

The Platform focuses on three key areas: knowledge of indigenous peoples, their capacity for engagement, and their role in climate change policies and actions. “When you are born indigenous, you are inevitably born into politics and born into climate,” said Annie Te One, a lecturer at the Victoria University of Wellington, who called for indigenous rights to be further included in international policy. Stanley Kimaren ole Riamit of the Indigenous Peoples’ Climate Change Portal (ILEPA) supported this, but also said it is more important to see changes in national policy, as country-level governance has a more direct effect on communities than global commitments. He focused on the Platform’s knowledge pillar, saying that it must account for the gendered differences between the knowledge of men and women, as well as document knowledge that is primarily passed down aurally.

Documenting land ownership of indigenous peoples is also in urgent need of attention. Of 9.6 million hectares of indigenous peoples territories mapped in Indonesia, 1.9 million hectares were found to be ‘clean’ of overlapping with concessions and ‘clear’ in regulations. But, the government has only formally recognized 25,000 hectares of this area. “The gap is still too high,” said Mina Setra of the Alliance of the Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (AMAN).

This gap leads to the increasing dangers for indigenous peoples defending their land rights, especially in mining areas, said Charlotte Streck, co-founder and director Climate Focus, which publishes annual assessments on the 10 different goals of the New York Declaration of Forests. This year saw the publishing of the report on Goal 10, concerning governance and rights, finding that progress on rights is increasing, but slowly and from a very low baseline; there remains an enormous need to register rights and make those rights secure. “The most important [step] is to give rights, and strong rights, to indigenous communities,” Streck said, and particularly to women, who have to fight harder to defend their land rights than men.

“The good thing is that despite the fact that indigenous peoples are subjected to criminalization and impunity, they continue to fight,” said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, emphasizing that rights can be used as a framework for climate actions going forward.

In Ecuador, the rights of nature itself are given equal attention. Ecuador is the first country to guarantee nature’s rights in its constitution in the same manner as human rights, and Stephanie Avalos, a political advisor, said that this has led to the success of environmental efforts: “REDD+ became not just a project or a program, but a policy.”

Restoration is often pigeonholed as reforestation, but Alan Kroeger from Climate Focus argued that productivity, ecosystem services and multiple land uses should also be included in the term. For example, a West African program to ‘green’ the cocoa industry “revolves around forest remaining and forest being restored,” while also contributing to agroforestry, increasing ambitions from the private sector, and helping transform global supply chains, through incorporating the commodity into national commitments and REDD+ projects.

After a decade of REDD+, a new book comprehensively assesses its progress so far, its authors finding that the impacts of the program that have been modest and that big and bold initiatives are needed, especially to “shift the trillions” of finance to help reduce emissions. “After 10 years, what have we learned? Not as much as we hoped,” said Arild Angelsen, professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and CIFOR senior associate who led the writing of the book. CIFOR researcher Stibniati Atmadja, who focused on the program’s finance, said that there is an enormous gap in the data reported on developing countries’ contributions to REDD+ projects, putting in many resources in kind that then go undocumented. This needs to change, in order to understand the landscape of climate finance and the relationship between countries and donors. “The negotiation table is not equal,” she said.

Speakers at the closing of the Forum again stressed the importance of the IPCC special report’s warning and the actions that must be taken not only in landscapes but also in hearts and minds. “We all have to dig deep and figure out what more we could be doing,” said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace.

Mette Wilkie, chief of the Policy and Resources Division at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, echoed Nasi: “We not only need to run faster, but also in a new direction.”



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