To get to net zero emissions, we need healthy landscapes

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A project restoring degraded hillsides in China. Li Wenyong/World Bank

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tells us that to rein in climate change and keep global warming under 2°C, we will have to start reducing emissions now and get to near net zero emissions within this century.

That won’t happen without healthy forests and soil storing carbon, and it won’t happen without climate-smart land-use practices that can keep carbon in the ground.

Together, agriculture, forestry and other land use changes account for about a quarter of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The sector can be a powerful source of emissions, but it is also a powerful carbon sink that can absorb carbon dioxide, providing a pathway to negative emissions. The IPCC authors estimate that with both supply-side and demand-side mitigation efforts – including reducing deforestation, protecting natural forests, restoring and planting forests, improving rice-growing techniques and other climate-smart agriculture methods, changing diets, and reducing the immense amount of global food waste – we can effectively reduce a large percentage of emissions from the sector and increase carbon storage to move the needle toward net zero.

This weekend at the UN climate talks in Lima, experts in agriculture, forests, and land-use planning are meeting to discuss climate-smart solutions across the landscapes.

It’s the second year of the Landscapes Forum, combining what were once separate agriculture and forest days at the climate talks. We are making progress, but the wider climate negotiations are still falling short on the overall landscapes agenda. The climate talks need to fully recognize the strong potential contributions to mitigation and adaptation of landscape-based approaches, including climate-smart agriculture and forest practices.

Sustainable forests and sustainable land management have so far been dealt with in a fragmented way, rarely coming together for a complete picture. The approach is inefficient when the pace of climate change demands fast, concerted action.

At the World Bank Group, our strength has been the ability to offer multiple levers of support for landscape transformation by strengthening policy environments and institutions, investing in development action, and providing economic incentives for low-carbon development benefits.

To meet the growing need, we’re working on  integrating our approaches to forest financing so we can provide one seamless line of support for countries getting ready for and implementing their forest programs as part of an integrated approach to landscapes.

In Mexico for example, the World Bank Group, with the Forest Investment Program of the Climate Investment Funds and PROFOR, is jointly financing a $350 million program that brings together the policies of the forest agency and the rural development and agriculture agencies, so they don’t compete and clash. The joint program is also strengthening the capacity of rural communities to develop regional land-use plans and strategies that integrate REDD+ with sustainable economic activities. Complementing these investments is the prospect of results-based payments from the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility once deforestation has been successfully reduced.

We’ve known for a long time that slowing deforestation and planting forests can slow CO2 emissions and nature’s CO2 storage capacity can help us get to net zero emissions, and that investment in climate-smart land-use can increase that storage while also increasing productivity and strengthening resilience to climate change.  Now we all need to act on it. 

Photo: Restoring degraded hillside land in China. Li Wenyong/World Bank


Rachel Kyte

Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change

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