Recent studies find that the prevention of irreversible climate catastrophes require the world’s population to commit to transformative change within the next decade. On 12–14 May, the Global Landscapes Forum Kyoto (GLF Kyoto) event entitled “Climate, Landscapes and Lifestyles: It is Not Too Late” focused on making this commitment a reality.
“What you read in the news is that we have about twenty years to change our acts before something irreversible happens,” said Robert Nasi, director general of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), in “Act II” of the 24-hour event.
Mayor of Kyoto Daisaku Kadokawa also announced that the city of Kyoto announced that it will have zero emissions by 2050.
“It is from Kyoto that we make an appeal to the world that we will pursue all necessary measures and advance concrete actions toward ‘net zero’ carbon dioxide emissions around 2050 in order to keep the global average temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius on the basis of the IPCC 1.5-degree special report,” stated Mayor Kadokawa in his keynote speech.
Sandwiched between a creative montage of climate change video content (Act I) and discussion forums livestreamed from cities on five continents (Act III), the middle portion comprised a series of plenaries held in Kyoto alongside the 49th session of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), where scientists were working out final details of emission targets to achieve the 1.5 degree Celsius limit for global warming, as defined in the Paris Agreement on climate change.
During the Act, nearly 200 delegates from policy, science, NGOs and youth gathered in the Kyoto International Conference Center to put forth efforts and projects ongoing around the world that are working, affirming that we can change – and are changing – the course that the climate is on to one that is safer for the future.
Gerhard Dieterle, Executive Director of the Yokohama-based, Japanese government-backed International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), said that forestry is an important part of the global climate change agenda. Promoting sustainable forestry investments through tax incentives, holding supply chains accountable, and empowering producers and consumers to promote sustainable supply chains are all ways to leverage forests as a powerful force against global warming.
But, in order to do this, “We need to look beyond the forest,” he added, noting that in order for forests to aid sustainable development, developing countries must have access to information, technology and financial resources for their forests. “If you have access to finance and verified production, production [will become] more profitable, and the finances will come more easily.”
Emmanuela Shinta, a young Indigenous activist from the Dayak group and founder of the Ranu Welum Foundation, opened a plenary on REDD+ – a U.N. program on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation – on a personal note. In a moving story, she shared how her native landscape in the Indonesian Borneo went from being a biodiversity hotspot and life-giving sanctuary for her ancestors to being dubbed one of the world’s most polluted places in recent years.
“It was caused by huge forest and peat fires that destroyed more than 800,000 hectares of my homeland,” said Shinta. She recalled a visit to a peatfire location where fires burned as deep as five meters below ground level, producing “thick haze that could make you collapse in less than three minutes,” or equal to smoking 681 cigarettes in one day. Due to the 2015 forest fires in Kalimantan, Sumatra and Papua, Indonesia produced more carbon emissions than the entire U.S. economy in the same period.
Just across the border in Malaysian Borneo, pathways to sustainable development aren’t so cut-and-dry, showed Malaysian senator and The Borneo Project advisory council member Adrian Lasimbang. Malaysia’s attempts to wean itself from its dependency on fossil fuels has mainly manifested in policies advocating for protected forests and mega hydro energy.
“In Borneo, hundreds are dams have been planned in the name of climate change mitigation, and yet we know that large dams in fact produce high emissions,” he said. “Indigenous communities become victims of ‘climate change mitigation’ when large dams are constructed,” says Lasimbang, citing Sarawak’s Bakun Dam as having displaced almost 10,000 people from 15 indigenous communities.
To counter this, he works to help Indigenous Bornean communities design micro-hydro electrification systems. “Micro-hydro systems benefit communities directly, as it only takes a little bit of training and empowerment to engage them, and it promotes the protection of their watersheds and forests,” he adds.
Constance Okollet, chairwoman of the Osukuru United Women’s Network (OWN), delivered a closing speech with a message that everyone can act to contribute to reversing climate change. Born in 2007 in a community of rural Ugandan farmers, OWN is a response to climate-related “bad things that never happened before,” she said, such as murders, poverty, floods, droughts and windstorms that destroyed homes.
Before creating OWN, Okollet and her women co-founders were uninformed about climate change but felt its impacts as they worked longer days in the field for little yield, averaging four hours of sleep per night due to the workload and watching as their community’s hungry children were often forced to drop out from school due to circumstances that could have been prevented.
“We thought it was God,” she recalled. “But even if it was God, we can still do something to bring change. When the world is barren, we can start by planting trees. Trees will bring the rain, increase the availability of water and refill the swamps. We can create clean energy, fix our houses and install pit latrines that do not leak in the rain.”
OWN has since been negotiating with the local government to spend village aid on providing seeds and capacity-building trainings rather than food.
“Give us the tools to build our future and fight poverty. If you give us money, it will not be enough to fix our broken houses. But give us knowledge, and we will be empowered,” she said.
Echoing Okollet’s story in his closing remarks, Nasi reiterated the possibility of climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation through the reassessment of development and intensive agriculture models.
“It is not too late to reverse climate change, but the clock is ticking,” says Nasi. “Maybe the world is ready. And if we’re not, we will be pushed by our young people. Change must bring good things to everybody, with nobody left behind. We hope we can count on you in terms of spreading the word and improving on issues relating to climate change, biodiversity loss, and human well-being.
“This may be the end of a conference, but not the end of good things.”