Two and a half millennia ago, Plato announced that “Human behavior flows from three things: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” Unfortunately, our human and corporate behavior on climate change is not even close to where it needs to be. But if the great philosopher was right (and he usually was), 2013 may have been a game changer.
The big news from 2013 came from gains in knowledge. New tools and research are opening our understanding much wider than before. But will we act on this? Knowledge can spur action, but this path is not guaranteed.
Negotiators during the 2013 COP 19 in Warsaw, Poland made big advances on a program called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), which helps countries preserve forests and climate-altering carbon stored inside. As the world moves toward establishing a new international climate action agreement in 2015, the progress on REDD+ deserves a closer look.
Indonesia has the world’s third-largest rainforest, which is a haven for biodiversity and an economic lifeline for many rural communities. However, Indonesian forests are in rapid decline and the country regularly tops deforestation hotspots lists. The key to protecting Indonesia’s forests remains reforming its massive forestry and agriculture sectors. By giving these industries the tools to produce commodities such as palm oil and wood pulp sustainably, Indonesia can increase agricultural production without contributing to deforestation.
Indonesia's industry and government leaders have announced goals to expand palm oil production while avoiding forest loss and social conflict. Achieving those goals depends on establishing new plantations on suitable, non-forested land and respecting local rights. Land
In May 2010, the Indonesian president declared a new national strategy to develop oil palm plantations on degraded land instead of on forests or peatlands.
Oil palm expansion is a cause of deforestation in Indonesia. Utilizing degraded land—areas that were cleared of forests and now contain low stocks of carbon and biodiversity—is a strategy that could break the link between oil palm and deforestation.
Due in part to WRI, this strategy received significant political and financial boosts in 2009 and 2010. In December 2009, the Indonesian government and its National Development Planning Agency (BAPPENAS) first announced policy recommendations to support this strategy. In January 2010, the U.K committed £50 million and Norway followed in May by committing $1 billion to tackle Indonesian deforestation. These commitments will fund a two-year suspension of new concessions in natural forests, development of a degraded land database, and incentives to establish oil palm plantations on degraded lands.
Through Project POTICO, WRI helped catapult this strategy onto the agenda. WRI, and local partner Sekala articulated the degraded land strategy, built an economic business case, developed a methodology for identifying acceptable degraded lands, mapped degraded lands, and initiated an on-the-ground pilot. BAPPENAS incorporated the degraded lands strategy, economics, and a profile of POTICO into its official recommendations. We engaged decision-makers to build support for the strategy.
When Project POTICO was launched in 2009, utilizing degraded lands neither was on the political agenda nor had international financial support. Now it has both.
On May 20, 2011, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono issued a two-year moratorium on new permits for use of natural forest and peatland on 74 million hectares of land - about three times the size of Great Britain. The bold initiative is the pillar of a $1 billion Indonesia-Norway partnership agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and degradation (often referred to as REDD+).
Indonesia is the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter, due mainly to deforestation. The country has major timber and paper industries and is a leading producer of palm oil, aiming to double production of the commodity by 2020. The moratorium will allow time for Indonesia’s government to review and improve national processes for issuing new permits for forest concessions.
Its operation will be monitored via a map to be published by the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and a REDD+ Task Force. This will be reviewed every six months and open for public comment, including by civil society groups and the media. This openness and transparency is vital for the partnership’s credibility and accountability.
For seven years, WRI and its Indonesian partners have worked to strengthen the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry’s capacity to document the country’s extensive forest resources and concessions. WRI’s work in support of Indonesia’s new national strategy for palm oil production on degraded land has included mapping, economic and legal analysis, and a pilot project designed to divert planned oil palm concessions away from virgin forests onto nearby degraded land. This strategy provided a powerful argument for the government to use with industry in pushing for the moratorium. WRI’s forestry and climate experts also worked with the Indonesian and Norwegian governments to make data and maps related the moratorium publicly available.
In recent centuries, half the world’s forests have been completely cleared or degraded. Yet this loss is also a great opportunity: More than 2 billion hectares of deforested and degraded land worldwide may have restoration potential.
Recognizing this prospect, in late 2011, the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration (GPFLR) announced the first worldwide call for the restoration of deforested and degraded lands, with a target of restoring 150 million hectares by 2020. WRI is a member of the GPFLR and played a key role in building support for this target – the Bonn Challenge – by working with partners to quantify the restoration potential of the world’s forest landscapes. This work enabled a measurable restoration target to be set.
Restoring Forests, Improving Human Well-being
Forests provide hundreds of millions of people with food, fuel, fiber, and livelihoods. They also store carbon, conserve biodiversity, prevent soil erosion, improve water supply, and promote climate resilience. While international efforts to maintain forest benefits have largely focused on preventing deforestation, momentum is growing for complementary efforts to restore deforested and degraded areas.
In September 2011, a Ministerial Roundtable took place in Bonn, Germany, hosted by the German Government and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on behalf of the GPFLR. This event—in which ministers, private sector CEOs, and high-level representatives of international and non-governmental organizations participated—launched the Bonn Challenge.
The GPFLR is encouraging and assisting countries and companies to restore health and productivity to deforested and degraded landscapes, not just by planting trees, but through creating a mosaic of land uses that benefit both people and nature. A restored landscape can include sustainable agriculture, protected reserves, ecological corridors, agro-forestry systems, and riverside plantings that counter erosion.
In its first year, the challenge inspired pledges by the United States, the Mata Atlântica Restoration Pact of Brazil, and Rwanda to restore a combined 18 million hectares of land. When the goal of 150 million hectares (370 million acres) is reached, an area the size of Mongolia will be underway toward restoration.
Making a Difference: WRI’s Role
WRI played a leading role in the development of the first-ever detailed, global map of forest landscape restoration opportunities, working together with South Dakota State University and IUCN on behalf of the GPFLR. This assessment located more than 2 billion hectares of land with restoration potential worldwide. This map paved the way for the Bonn Challenge by answering three important questions that countries were asking:
“Where might restoration opportunities be located?” (thereby making restoration spatially explicit);
“Who could do restoration?” (thereby showing that most countries can play a role in and benefit from the Bonn Challenge); and
“How much restoration might be possible?” (thereby providing the quantitative basis for the 150 million hectare target).
WRI’s contribution was made possible by financial support from the governments of Germany, United Kingdom, and United States, and from the Program on Forests (PROFOR) and IUCN.