“We have about twenty years to change our acts before something irreversible happens,” said Robert Nasi, director general of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), in the opening plenary of the Global Landscapes Forum Kyoto (GLF Kyoto) event last week. The discussions continue next month at GLF Bonn.
In the last few months, we’ve seen renewed energy and action around mitigating climate change and protecting our planet’s remaining biodiversity. And that energy is needed – now. The research is clear that the prevention of irreversible climate catastrophes requires the world’s population to commit to transformative change within the next decade.
On 12–14 May, the GLF Kyoto event – entitled “Climate, Landscapes and Lifestyles: It is Not Too Late” – focused on making this commitment a reality, in an experimental 24-hour experience spanning multiple time zones and locations across the globe.
Divided into three ‘acts,’ the event comprised: a video montage; a series of plenaries held alongside the 49th session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Kyoto; and a sequence of discussion forums live-streamed from five continents. More than a hundred presenters spoke, and over 13,500 people tuned in live to the event.
If you missed it, don’t worry. Join us in Bonn on June 22-23. Bonn will tackle similar issues that were addressed in Kyoto in three “acts”:
Act I: Visions of change
Act I comprised an eight-hour screening of climate change videos, special addresses and art. It showcased a range of in-situ solutions to climate issues – many of them forest-based. We saw how in Ghana, fast-growing bamboo is being used to restore landscapes quickly. Meanwhile, in the Caribbean, youth are working to maximize coastal ecosystems like coral and mangroves to act as buffers to extreme weather events and make the area “the first climate-change-resilient region in the world,” said Justin Springer of IUCN. And across the globe, reNature Foundation is working to spread the gospel of agroforestry and its ability to regenerate degraded landscapes with species that turn profits.In a Q+A session at the close of the Act, CIFOR principal scientist Terry Sunderland made a bid for learning about sustainable landscape management from those who may just know it best: smallholder farmers and indigenous peoples. “Hunters and farmers understand the intrinsic value of their landscapes, and they manage them in a holistic manner,” he said. “We need to turn the landscape approach on its head and think about where it is already being practiced on the ground.”
Act II: Kyoto, revisited
The second act comprised a series of plenaries held in Kyoto alongside the 49th session of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), where scientists were working out final details of emission targets to achieve the 1.5 degree Celsius limit for global warming as defined in the Paris Agreement on climate change. Nearly 200 delegates from a range of disciplines gathered in the Kyoto International Conference Center to share challenges and solutions to climate issues from a landscape perspective.
Commercial forestry featured as one avenue for mitigating global warming. Gerhard Dieterle, Executive Director of the Yokohama-based International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), emphasized that tax incentives and supply-chain accountability can help to leverage sustainable forestry as a powerful force. However, he cautioned that to make this happen, “we need to look beyond the forest,” and help developing countries to access the information, technology and financial resources required to make decisions that align with global sustainability goals.
Protecting existing forests was also an important theme. Malaysian senator and The Borneo Project advisory council member Adrian Lasimbang shared how some ‘sustainable development’ pathways can negatively impact existing forests and communities if they’re imposed insensitively and from afar. He explained how Malaysia’s attempts to wean itself from its dependency on fossil fuels has mainly manifested in policies advocating for large-scale hydropower plants. “In Borneo, hundreds of dams have been planned in the name of climate change mitigation, and yet we know that large dams produce high emissions,” he said – and they can also have devastating impacts on local ecosystems and indigenous people’s livelihoods. That’s why Lasimbang works to help Indigenous Bornean communities design micro-hydro electrification systems. “Micro-hydro systems benefit communities directly, as it only takes a little bit of training and empowerment to engage them, and it promotes the protection of their watersheds and forests,” he said.
Ecosystem restoration was another salient topic in Kyoto. Constance Okollet, the chairwoman of the Osukuru United Women’s Network (OWN), delivered a closing speech with a message that everyone can act to contribute to reversing climate change. Founded in 2007 in a community of rural Ugandan farmers, OWN represents a response to climate-related issues such as poverty, floods, droughts and storms. Restoration is a major focus of its work: “When the world is barren, we can start by planting trees,” said Okollet. “Trees will bring the rain, increase the availability of water and refill the swamps.” OWN has since been negotiating with the local government to spend village aid on providing seeds and capacity-building, rather than food. “Give us the tools to build our future and fight poverty. If you give us money, it will not be enough to fix our broken houses,” she said. “But give us knowledge, and we will be empowered.”
Act 3: Restoration is non-negotiable
Landscape restoration is extremely expensive, very challenging, context-specific – and absolutely essential to ensuring livelihoods, fighting climate change and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. That was the conclusion from multiple panel discussions in Bogor, Nairobi, Wageningen, Vancouver and Rio during Act III of GLF Kyoto.
Decision-makers will open their wallets wide to support this work only if they’re encouraged by success stories, Joyce Msuya, UN Environment acting executive director, told participants at the discussion in Nairobi, focused on the new U.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. “We need to push for greater financing,” she said. “Only 3 percent of public climate finance investments are currently channeled into agriculture, forestry, land-use and natural resource management. This is way too little, given the daunting challenges we have.”
Making a “business case” for restoration investment is crucially important, and it can require convincing government and community leaders of the value they’ll get from committing resources, added Tony Simons, director general of World Agroforestry. Msuya cited IUCN estimates that restoring 350 million hectares of degraded land by 2030 will produce USD 9 trillion worth of ecosystem benefits. “Restoring nature is as much a tool of economic empowerment as any other strategy economists will place before us.”
GLF Bonn, Global Landscapes Forum’s annual event, is just around the corner. Find out more here.