Deforestation is accelerating across Africa, killing wildlife and weakening the ability of the continent’s ecosystems to withstand climate change, especially in the area of food security.
This was the summary presented by forest experts in Durban for the United Nations annual climate change conference which concluded last week. Along with the warning came further calls for increased funding for the UN Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) programme – an initiative that funds forest conservation.
The importance of forests
The role of forests in climate change resilience was discussed at the conference by groups such as CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research). Frances Seymour, CIFOR director general said, “It is urgent to safeguard Africa’s forests, not only because they slow climate change, but also because they act as a final barrier to creeping desertification, underpin sustainable agricultural production, and support the livelihoods of tens of millions of rural poor”.
Delegates were also reminded of the threats that climate change poses, particularly to developing nations. South Africa’s Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Tina Joemat-Pettersson warned delegates, “Climate change threatens to undermine many of the development objectives of countries in Africa and in the rest of the developing world, in particular in the areas of water, energy, health, agriculture and forestry.”
Deforestation, climate change and REDD+
Against this backdrop, the delegates discussed the role of REDD+ in tackling deforestation and climate change. This system seeks to create financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions and invest in low-carbon technologies to sustainable development.
Nations at last year’s UN Climate Change Conference in Cancún, Mexico, agreed to take on REDD+. However, Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General stressed there is much work to be done to fully implement the programme:
“I am encouraged to see that forest countries are acting to reduce deforestation, and that donor countries are pledging to support these activities,” Mr. Ban said at the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa. “Yet, forests continue to disappear at an alarming rate. We must do more, and with a greater sense of urgency.”
This is a view shared by Bob Scholes of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa, agreed, warning, “The next major wave of deforestation is already here and it is happening in Africa.”
Scholes described the typical pattern of deforestation in Africa – loggers come into a forest, they chop the large trees and take out the valuable timber, then charcoal manufacturers remove a large proportion of the remaining trees. Then low-input, low-output agriculture arrives, which, after a few cycles, leaves the land degraded and of little value.
Ban Ki-Moon also emphasized private sector partnerships “are essential for implementing the REDD+ agenda” and that these partnerships need to bolster local communities and smallholder farmers as well as respect the rights of indigenous people and empower women, adding that it is innovative and creative solutions that will “reduce poverty and help communities to adapt to climate change” and help create a “deforestation-free” market.
Whilst REDD+ has the potential to effectively incentivise forest protection in African countries it is still a long way from being fully realised. In the meantime, the damage caused by deforestation continues apace across the continent.
The role of ITF and our in-country partners in tackling this deforestation is more relevant today than ever. By promoting the value of trees through community forestry programmes we can help build resilience to climate change and break the cycle between deforestation and poverty. You can get involved in this vital work today by making a donation, signing up to our e-bulletin or even doing a bit of christmas shopping on the ITF e-shop.