Agriculture, forests, climate change: Intersecting ambitions

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Everything about Cancun’s COP16 is very different from Copenhagen’s COP15. To start with, last year we were in the cavernous Bella Center with throngs of people, while a massive series of snow storms were bearing down on Copenhagen. Well, here we are in Cancun on a seemingly endless hotel strip. A tourism paradise, with silver beaches, turquoise waters, and a gentle breeze welcoming all COP16 delegates and beckoning everyone to leave meetings and laptops behind and run for the waves… photo courtesy: CIFOR


But just like COP15 delegates braved the cold and the snow, COP16 delegates are displaying will power and determination and heading for the “Moon Palace”, which is where the negotiations, plenary sessions, and official meetings are taking place.


The Bank team has been participating in a number of side events while here in Cancun. Saturday was “Agriculture Day” with nearly 1,000 participants registered. This demonstrated the great interest in charting a path that will ensure that climate change priorities are not treated in absence from agricultural priorities. I was honored to give the keynote speech at the opening of the day’s deliberations and we were pleased to note that our core messages appeared to have significant resonance. 


In the speech, I stressed that agriculture is critical to the climate change agenda. We know that agriculture is part of the problem as a greenhouse gas emitter; as a sector that is highly vulnerable to climate change, a vulnerability that also can lead to reduced productivity, and as a sector that provides livelihoods to 70% of the world’s poor who largely depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.


But more importantly, agriculture is also a very important part of the solution. The “triple wins” (increasing productivity, more resilience and reducing carbon) endorsed in the October Agriculture and Climate Conference in the Hague will be given further spotlight this week at a high level event to be attended by Bob Zoellick, together with very senior government officials, to launch a Roadmap for Action on Agriculture, Food Security, and Climate Change.


Yesterday, Sunday, the COP was closed for business. But not so for the 1,800 participants who had registered for Forestry Day. This was the 4th COP Forestry day and, as Francis Seymour, DG of CIFOR, noted in her opening remarks, Forestry Day has grown from a small affair of some 200 participants to a broad display of interest and commitment to the forestry agenda. 


There was an air of expectation at the Cancun Center, as participants awaited the arrival of Mexico’s President Calderon. It was well worth the wait. The President opened the Forest Day with a passionate speech in which he called for urgent action on forest conservation, on REDD+, and on ensuring that benefits from climate related funding reaches the communities that depend on the forests for their livelihood. It was a great honor that President Calderon, in closing, paid special tribute to the World Bank for our support, highlighting especially the role of President Zoellick in helping with the climate change and energy efficiency agenda in Mexico.


The discussion at Forest Day focused on the many issues that are core to the negotiations in Cancun. How can the emerging REDD+ mechanisms be mainstreamed and what would good governance of these mechanisms look like? I had the good fortune to be on a panel that discussed adaptation and options for transforming landscapes to build climate change resilience. The session opened with an amazing film showing the Loess Plateau in China in 1995 and the same plateau after 14 years of rehabilitation. The images are stunning and speak a thousand words on what is possible. 


We need to bring the REDD agenda, the forest carbon agenda, and forest management together under the roof of sustainable forestry. For the World Bank, our primary focus is on people… and landscapes where people and trees intersect. So, as we tackle the REDD agenda, we need to ensure that REDD will not merely put up fences to conserve the last pristine forests and focus solely on carbon conservation ignoring the fundamental issues of sustainable forest management as well as interests of communities, most notably indigenous peoples, and of biodiversity. Finally, we need to ensure that REDD+ does not only focus on existing high forests where there is a huge to-do item to restore the 1 billion hectares of lost or degraded forests. Once restored, these lands could yield massive returns for fodder, fuel, and environmental services, as well as carbon storage.


The big take away from Forest Day is that, when it comes to forestry, the adaptation and mitigation agenda completely overlap and we cannot come at the forest with just one or the other. We must integrate the two. Allowing climate related financial instruments to drive the forestry agenda will take us down a blind alley. Rather, we must create a platform so that countries can capture the triple win to use forest and climate financing to support an integrated package for landscape management: (i) to increase food production and productivity, (ii) to help lift people out of poverty, while at the same time (iii) supporting the global environment by storing carbon and conserving biodiversity.


Leaving Forestry Day yesterday, I felt a real sense of possibility. The theme of Forest Day this year was “Time to Act”. I could not agree more.


Inger Andersen

Former Vice President, Middle East & North Africa

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