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Under the historic Paris Agreement of 2015, nearly 200 countries committed to limiting global warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees °C above pre-industrial levels. The agreement also included a long-term goal to increase countries’ ability to adapt to adverse impacts of climate change. Moreover, the parties agreed that richer countries would provide climate finance to help poorer countries with achieving their climate targets.
Each country that signed the Paris Agreement is expected to set its own climate targets in so-called National Determined Contributions (NDCs). Governments are expected to revise their NDCs every five years, reflecting their highest possible ambitions, and outlining the ways they intend to achieve them. The first round of revisions is currently ongoing, while the next round should take place in 2025.
In the view of Tropenbos International (TBI), the revision process provides an opportunity for countries to improve their NDCs by incorporating forest and tree-based strategies to achieve national mitigation, adaptation and sustainable development objectives. In 2019, TBI therefore established a cross-country thematic programme focussing on the NDCs. The programme is coordinated by Bas Louman, who is based at the TBI Netherlands office. Here, he talks with Koen Kusters about the programme.
NDCs are the way for countries to implement the Paris Agreement, and they are therefore central to the success of international climate commitments. I think NDCs are especially important, because they promote coherence between various government policies that influence climate objectives.
Better management of forests and trees can help countries to achieve their climate targets. It is a relatively cheap option when you compare it to technology-based investments. So, it makes perfect sense for countries in the forested tropics as well as in dry regions to incorporate forest and tree-based strategies in their NDCs. Moreover, forest and tree-based approaches are unique in the sense that they can effectively combine mitigation and adaptation objectives.
Forest and trees — and the soils they stand on — are reservoirs of carbon. Removing trees means that large amounts of carbon are released, while growing trees means that carbon is absorbed. I think this mitigation function of trees is well known and widely acknowledged. However, forests and trees are also important for adaptation. They regulate water circles, and thus influence the water supply in areas that are prone to droughts and floods due to climate change. Forests and trees also provide multiple food products that people can turn to, in times of stress. Finally, if well managed, trees in agricultural areas are important for the micro-climate, making crops less vulnerable to changes in the global climate.
Most NDCs mention the importance and potential of forests and trees, but then they leave it at that. They do not provide a framework that helps different ministries and sectors to coordinate policies and strategies that make use of the full potential of forests and trees to contribute to both mitigation and adaptation. Moreover, forests and trees are often mentioned only in relation to mitigation, not in relation to adaptation or sustainable development.
First, we want to showcase how landscape approaches can make a difference, and stress the key role of indigenous people and local communities, with special attention to women and youth. Second, we want to help national governments with developing their revised NDCs, so they better incorporate forest- and tree-based strategies, and better take into account the needs of local stakeholders. This takes different forms in different countries, depending on the national context. Third, we aim to develop methods that landscape stakeholders can use to measure progress in terms of mitigation, adaptation and sustainable development. These methods can be used by national governments to report to the international community, while they should also contribute to learning at the landscape level.
We have found that NDC revisions are often led by a small group of people, with little interaction with other stakeholders. We also see that the agricultural and forestry sectors are not able to exert much influence on NDC revision processes, especially when you compare it to the influence of more powerful stakeholders, such as those from the energy and transportation sectors. Next to that, most countries have a separate adaptation plan or policy, which is led by another group of people. Coordination between those in charge of adaptation plans or policies and those in charge of NDC revisions is often lacking.
By 2025, our own landscape-level programmes in the countries where we are active should align with the revised NDCs of those countries, and vice versa. Eventually it is our ambition that national governments in these countries explicitly incorporate landscape approaches as an integral part of their strategies and policies that should lead to compliance with their NDCs. Governments need to go beyond the slogans; it is not enough to merely acknowledge the importance of trees and forests in their NDCs. We believe that they can present more ambitious NDCs in 2025, providing practical strategies for ways to improve landscape management, and making full use of responsible business and finance opportunities. These strategies should unleash the potential for adaptation and mitigation synergies, by incorporating more trees and forests within these landscapes, while explicitly recognizing the role of indigenous people, local communities, women and youth.