If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not properly, then how?

In previous posts I have talked about one of many negative effects of forced displacement, the lack of access to sustainable energy. However, given that the two major causes of forced displacement are wars and climate disasters, we need to focus on tackling the root causes of the problem as well as on mitigating the effects. As individuals we might feel that we have very little, if any, influence on the existence of wars. However, we all can act against Climate Change, which is expected to be the main cause of mass migration in the near future due to phenomena such as floods, droughts, hurricanes, wildfires, the rise in sea level, or water and food scarcity.

There is clear evidence that CO2 emissions are a major cause of global warming as CO2 traps heat in the atmosphere. According to the Committee on Climate Change [1], global CO2 emissions from human activity have increased by over 400% since 1950. The Emissions Gap Report produced by the UN Environment Agency in 2018 revealed that in 2017 total annual emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG), including from land-use change, had reached a record of 53.5 GtCO2e (53,500,000,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent). The report also states that in 2030 GHG emissions will need to be approximately 55% lower than in 2017 in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C (and 25% lower to limit it to 2°C). In other words, CO2 emissions need to be reduced by approximately 29 billion tonnes in a very short period time. This is urgent!

Today I would like to talk about reforestation as a way of capturing and storing CO2. Due to the fact that they absorb more carbon from the air through photosynthesis and wood production than they release through respiration and decay, forests are considered to be carbon sinks [2]. In my view, reforestation represents a preventive measure which can help us to combat climate change and, by implication, to reduce the number of climate disasters. Furthermore, tropical forests are climate coolers as the trees release large amounts of water, which takes the form of clouds. In fact, an academic study in 2017 estimated that, with the appropriate funding mechanisms and political will, natural climate solutions such as reforestation could provide over one-third of the climate mitigation needed by 2030 to limit global warming to below 2 °C [3].

The latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes urgent recommendations for reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, also identifies reforestation and ecosystem restoration as particularly effective methods. However, while the inclusion of land-use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) in the GHG accounts of industrialised nations is governed by the Kyoto Protocol, there is not yet an internationally agreed legally binding framework for non-industrialised countries even though the UN programme for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) has been developing policies for twenty years now [4].

Successful reforestation projects require effective partnerships and collaborations as well as up-front funding, land, and technical expertise (in forest management, carbon accounting, monitoring and trading) [5]. For example, four days ago National Geographic published an article which pointed out that ill-conceived reforestation policies can be worse than no reforestation at all [6]. In some cases, an ill-conceived reforestation policy (wrong species, wrong distribution, wrong location or poor maintenance) can lead to wildfires which not only release large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere but also put human lives, villages and infrastructure at risk. 

In many cases, to make them financially viable, reforestation projects are designed as aggressive linear plantations of a single tree species which grows particularly fast. According to experts from the World Resources Institute (WRI), the solutions to the policy problem and the financial problem are linked. They state that national governments should subsidize reforestation at similar levels to other programmes aimed at reducing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, e.g. renewable energy programmes. This would enable land managers to manage forests more sustainably.

Looking forward to knowing your thoughts!



[1] Committee on Climate Change. (n.d.). What is causing climate change? Retrieved April 29, 2019, from Committee on Climate Change website: https://www.theccc.org.uk/tackling-climate-change/the-science-of-climate-change/climate-variations-natural-and-human-factors/

[2] Pan, Y., Birdsey, R. A., Fang, J., Houghton, R., Kauppi, P. E., Kurz, W. A., … Hayes, D. (2011). A Large and Persistent Carbon Sink in the World’s Forests. Science, 333(6045), 988–993. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1201609

[3] Griscom, B. W., Adams, J., Ellis, P. W., Houghton, R. A., Lomax, G., Miteva, D. A., … Fargione, J. (2017). Natural climate solutions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(44), 11645–11650. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1710465114

[4] Holloway, V., & Giandomenico, E. (2009). The History of REDD Policy (p. 72). Retrieved from Carbon Planet Limited website: https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/publications/cdm_afforestation_bro_web.pdf

[5] Planting trees through the Clean Development Mechanism: A critical assessment | ephemera. (n.d.). Retrieved April 29, 2019, from http://www.ephemerajournal.org/contribution/planting-trees-through-clean-development-mechanism-critical-assessment.

[6] Tree-planting programs can do more harm than good. (2019, April 26). Retrieved April 29, 2019, from Environment website: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/04/how-to-regrow-forest-right-way-minimize-fire-water-use/

One thought on “If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not properly, then how?

  1. It was interesting to find out that reforestation may be conducted in a way that is fatal and should be controlled more than I previously thought. This topic, however, along with ocean conservation has been occupying my mind for some time, as I struggle to imagine how these important actions can be actually funded. The main problem here is that reforestation and other types of conservation are not immediately profitable, what is more, this is more of an investment into the long-term wellbeing of the planet rather than a business case. Therefore, governments should play a crucial role in securing funding for reforestation, although this would mean that taxpayers would carry some of this burden. I also think that regulation may actually impose on the carbon intensive sectors a mandatory share in reforestation activities, just like carbon offsetting.

    Speaking of partnerships, I recently came along an organisation called Global Landscapes Forum (https://www.globallandscapesforum.org/) funded by the German Government. This non-profit organisation provides platforms for learning and networking on sustainable landscapes, including reforestation. The idea is that this organisation on the one hand helps reforestation initiatives acquire entrepreneural skills such as preparing a business case and attracting finance. On the other hand, this organisation brings together investors, banks, foundations and corporates to facilitate multi-stakeholder networking and ultimately partnerships that will come up with funding solutions for reforestation.

    I think there are two ways to go: regulation and partnerships. Both can be effective, but given the urgency that you outlined in your post, I think that these 2 things must happen simultaneously.

    Liked by 1 person

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