Look under the canopy: There are people, not fences

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ImageThis week I was at the UN Forum on Forests  meeting in New York where the International Year of the Forests was formally launched.

The Year of the Forests starts with a cautiously optimistic message: FAO’s report on the State of the World’s Forests  released at the forum says that the forest loss across the world has slowed down over the last decade.  Now the pattern of deforestation varies and is country-specific rather than being negative across the board. China, Vietnam and Costa Rica among others are countries where the forest cover is actually going up. 

More importantly, I see an opening in how the problems of deforestation and forest degradation are being addressed internationally. Like the logo of the International Year of Forests, people are seen at the heart of this effort now. This has not always been the norm. Take the case of REDD  (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) which was debated in Bali at the first Forest Day in 2007. At that time, reducing emissions meant simply putting up fences to conserve the last pristine forests in the Amazon, the Congo basin and in Indonesia.

Now our understanding of how to address deforestation has evolved.  Forests today are more strongly linked in people’s minds to questions of food security, improved livelihoods and the general resilience of the people. This is where REDD + comes in, with approaches that go beyond restrictive approaches and focus now more and more on approaches to enhance forest stocks and restore degraded landscapes. It is good news for people and forests that the role of forests in climate change mitigation is being understood in a much broader context.



10-year-old Felix Finkbeiner speaks at the United Nations Forum on Forests. Watch the full speech here. 

I’m looking forward to the Climate Summit in Durban at the end of this year where I’m hoping that the international community will succeed in adopting a framework for REDD +. I believe that there are enormous opportunities for climate change mitigation through sustainable management of forests, afforestation and reforestation but, in particular also through restoration of the more than 1 billion hectares of degraded forest landscapes. With such a diversified approach to climate change mitigation, the door is wide open for countries with lower forest covers or with dry-land forests which have so far been excluded from the discussion.

We will have taken a big step forward if we can avoids trade-offs between trees and people and pursue instead a " triple win " approach (ie climate change mitigation, adaptation, and improved livelihoods and income) without artificial separation between forests and agriculture. With such an approach, we can free resources for the conservation of the last remaining pristine natural forests which should be maintained as a global public good in their integrity.

As a development bank, our primary focus is on people and landscapes, where trees and forests intersect with agriculture and all the other land uses. The experience at the Bank has been a testimony to the soundness of this approach. There is ample evidence from many Bank projects, such as in Mexico, Albania and Laos that with the strong involvement of local communities, forest resources and whole landscapes can improve dramatically.

There are several instruments through which financing can be accessed for these efforts. We are the implementing organization, together with other multilateral development banks, of the US$ 600 million Forest Investment Program. The Bank also serves as the Trustee and the Secretariat of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), a global partnership that is helping 37 countries draft REDD+ readiness plans and will provide carbon payments to countries that meet certain targets.

The international financing architecture with its myriad instruments and mechanisms has become very complex and there is a risk for many developing countries that their existing institutional capacities will not be sufficient to access and work with this portfolio of options.  This complexity creates also a challenge for a financing organization like ours. Together with our partners like the FAO and the IUCN, we are currently financing the Growing Forest Partnerships Initiative  which aims at strengthening the “local forest voice” in national and international processes. This initiative has worked in places like Guatemala, Mozambique and Ghana to help indigenous peoples’ make their views heard on the future of forests.

It is an interesting, varied landscape but definitely, one in which people are at the heart of the solutions.


Gerhard Dieterle

Forests Advisor, Agriculture and Rural Development

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