The REDD+ initiative as a Nature-based Solution can facilitate powerful climate change mitigation

Over the past four decades, forests have played an integral role in not only combating climate change but also in adapting to it. Forests absorb about one-quarter of the carbon emitted by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and also provide diverse ecosystem services that contribute to human well-being and reducing social vulnerability. Despite our dependence on forests, humans are still widely allowing deforestation and forest degradation. Deforestation  occurs due to forest destruction for accommodating non-forest uses such as agriculture and road construction. Forests face degradation when forest ecosystems lose their capacity to provide important goods and services to people and nature. These result in a higher concentration of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) in our atmosphere and a consequent increase in global climate change.

Forest degradation in developing countries accounts for 25% of total emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Annually 2.2 billion hectares of forest degradation  causes 2.1 billion tons of carbon emission with 53% of it being derived from timber harvest, 30% from wood fuel harvest and 17% from forest fire (Pearson et al, 2017). 

Tropical deforestation accounts for about 20% of anthropogenic carbon emissions equivalent to  annual burning of fossil fuels burned in the USA, and higher than emission by the world’s transportation sector (Gullison, 2007). Deforestation and forest degradation is also a common phenomenon in Bangladesh where 17% of the landmass is designated as forest but the actual tree-cover is estimated at around 10% (Reza and Hasan, 2019). The forests are mainly decreasing due to illegal logging, higher population growth, poverty, demand for fuel wood, fodder and timber, shortage of cultivable land, industrialization, development interventions, and natural disasters. 

“Tropical deforestation accounts for about 20% of anthropogenic carbon emissions equivalent to  annual burning of fossil fuels burned in the USA, and higher than emission by the world’s transportation sector”

Deforestation and forest degradation declines the soil fertility, reduces the amount of fresh water sources and emits carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So, it is crucial to take necessary actions to reduce the negative impacts due to deforestation and forest degradation. In this context, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) launched an initiative called ‘Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation’ (REDD) at the 11th sessions of the Conference of Parties in 2005 to guide activities in the forest sector that reduces emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. 

Eventually, the addition of the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries modified the initiative to REDD+, which is commonly referred to the Warsaw Framework for REDD+ (WFR). It was adopted at COP 19 in Warsaw, December 2013 with its rulebook finalized in 2015.  

It is also recognized in Article 5 of the Paris Agreement where parties are encouraged to implement REDD+ activities. as The REDD+ framework is specially designed for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through the build-up of biomass, and making forest lands a sink of greenhouse gases. To sum up, REDD+ activities include carbon emission reduction from deforestation and degradation, conserve forests, sustainably manage forests and enhance forest carbon stocks. If deforestation is stopped and degraded forests are restored, they can accelerate carbon reduction in the atmosphere. So, forests are a pre-eminent Nature-based Solutions (Nbs)  to the climate emergency. 

If a country takes a carbon reduction initiative under the REDD+ framework, it needs to have the following elements – Forest Reference Emission Level (FREL), National Forest Monitoring Systems (NFMS), national strategies/action plans, and Safeguards Information System (SIS). 

Wetland reforestation at Bangladesh’s south-eastern wetland

The FREL serves as a baseline for measuring the success of the program in reducing and removing greenhouse gas emissions in CO2-equivalents (CO2e) amount per year. Secondly, NFMS manages the program information and its reporting which requires following the guidance of IPCC and covers emissions and removals of greenhouse gases resulting from Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry activities (LULUCF). 

Thirdly, National Action Plans focus on drivers of deforestation and forest degradation such as illegal felling, fuel wood collection, agricultural expansion, encroachment and poor governance.  Finally, SIS indicates a list of safeguards such as respect for knowledge and rights of indigenous people, relevant stakeholders-participation, and consistency in natural forest conservation and biological diversity that countries need to address, promote and support in order to guarantee the correct and lasting results from the REDD+ mechanism.

Replanting in degraded, deforested, and newly accreted lands or regeneration of forests through proper maintenance, helps  carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It assists in not only climate mitigation but also in promoting climate adaptation and boosting climate resilience and coastline-protection from storm-surges and sea-level rise through  restoration of wetlands and mangroves. 

Additionally, emission reductions by stopping deforestation is a low-cost solution with it costing less than $100 a year to reduce a ton of carbon dioxide emissions. In this context, reforestation, sustainable forest management, improved plantations, and alternatives to wood fuel  are some potential Nature based Solutions (NbS) for climate change mitigation at forests under the REDD+ initiative. In fact, 42 percent of the total emissions reductions could be achieved from reforestation  by reducing pasture lands, and reforesting all grazing land in forested eco-regions (Minnemeyer et al, 2017).

“The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) launched an initiative called ‘Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation’ (REDD) at the 11th sessions of the Conference of Parties in 2005 to guide activities in the forest sector that reduces emissions from deforestation and forest degradation”

Nearly 251.8 million megagrams of carbon are stored in the three forest ecosystems of Bangladesh. (Mukul et al, 2014). To address this, Bangladesh started preparing a mechanism to reduce deforestation and forest degradation for maintaining its carbon stock under UNFCCC since 2011 and officially launched the UN-REDD national program in 2016. The national program established a National Forest Monitoring Systems (NFMS) for Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) to register reduction of GHG emission or enhancement of carbon stock over time, a Forest Reference Emission level (FREL), and a national REDD+ strategy.  

In spite of all these actions, the real challenge against successful REDD+ program implementation in Bangladesh lies in finding out the nature and degree of forest dependence of the local peoples living in the forests and determining the tradeoffs between forest use and REDD+. 

Adding to it are failure to build a strong forest governance structure and institutional linkages, lack of bottom-up approaches and limited participation of relevant stakeholders – particularly women in addition to local and indigenous communities. Bangladesh needs to implement strategies addressing these shortcomings and prioritize plantation and collaborative conservation impacts for forest-based climate change mitigation as REDD+ program policies. 

Joy Bhowmik is working in the Center for Sustainable Development as a Lecturer-cum-Research Associate. His research interest lies in Disaster Risk Reduction, Climate Change Adaptation and Sustainable Development. Can be reached at [email protected]

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