Forests: A natural solution to climate change, crucial for a sustainable future

Celebrating 10 years of partnership through the UN-REDD Programme

October 3, 2018

Throughout history, times of crisis have yielded extraordinary innovation and social cooperation. Not only has this been essential for conquering many seemingly insurmountable challenges, but it has also shown one of the greatest strengths of human nature: we can best face and overcome crises through joint, creative action.

Anthropogenic climate change constitutes one such historical crisis. The UN-REDD Programme, a joint undertaking of FAO, UNDP and UN Environment to fight deforestation and forest degradation, was developed to advance the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and to foster innovative and collaborative approaches to address the existential challenge of climate change.

Founded 10 years ago with the sustained and substantial support of Denmark, Japan, Luxembourg, Norway, Spain, Switzerland and the European Union, UN-REDD was the first joint global UN programme on climate change; it has been a pioneer of innovative policy and financing approaches to valuing and protecting forests and their social and ecosystem services.

The Programme now encompasses 64 partner countries, and it has become a flagship UN partnership for the Paris Agreement and for delivering on the Sustainable Development Agenda. Today, it is a global knowledge hub for solutions to deforestation and forest degradation and a major world partner in the implementation of nature-based solutions to climate change.

The Programme has accompanied its partner countries in improving governance and advancing national policy and institutional systems to safeguard forests and mitigate climate change. Ecuador, for example, with support from the Programme, became the second country after Brazil to meet all the requirements for the REDD+ mechanism (known as the Warsaw Framework for REDD+). Since 2012, Ecuador has reported reductions of over 28 million tonnes of CO2 emissions; in 2017 it became the first country to receive Green Climate Fund investment to co-finance its national REDD+ Action Plan.  

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the multifaceted support of the UN-REDD Programme has served the country to put forests at the core of its national development, enacting policy reforms, developing innovative and cross-sectoral investment plans and programmes, increasing technical capacity for efficient data collection, analysis and reporting, and supporting the establishment of a national fund that is a pioneer in national climate finance instruments, thus facilitating the engagement of different national stakeholders, international partners and donors.

The UN-REDD Programme has also helped countries take giant steps forward in modernizing their forest monitoring using new technologies, satellite data and open-source software. Measuring forest change is now easier, more cost-effective, faster and more transparent than ever before.

Indonesia has also been at the forefront of REDD+ since its inception. With high-level political will, great efforts have been made to reduce its high deforestation rate, supported by new cutting-edge technology and the use of satellite data for forest and peatland monitoring. Recent increased transparency in reporting in the 2018 State of Indonesia’s Forests publication is showing encouraging signs of a reduction in deforestation in the past 2 years.

Commitment to the human rights-based approach, social inclusion and stakeholder engagement are central to the Programme’s policy and technical support. In Colombia, the UN-REDD Programme enabled social inclusion nation-wide in forest and climate processes, including the engagement of indigenous, Afro-descendent and local communities. A grassroots vision on REDD+ was developed and then integrated in the national policy arena.

These examples show that dedicated support for governance and policy reforms, multi-stakeholder cooperation, technological innovation and institutional capacity building can unleash the potential of forests as the pre-eminent nature-based solution to climate change. This is crucial for the implementation of the Paris Agreement and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Forests are a major, requisite front of action in the global fight against catastrophic climate change – thanks to their unparalleled capacity to absorb and store carbon. Forests capture carbon dioxide at a rate equivalent to about one-third the amount released annually by burning fossil fuels. Stopping deforestation and restoring damaged forests, therefore, could provide up to 30 percent of the climate solution.

Nevertheless, deforestation remains shockingly high and intractable without major policy and institutional reforms and corresponding governance and financing support in most countries. In fact, agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) represents 24 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from deforestation and agricultural emissions.

2020 will mark a pivotal moment in humanity’s quest for a sustainable future, when greenhouse gas emissions need to start declining if we are to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change. Increased ambitions for the role of forests in climate change mitigation and adaptation and the UN’s innovative and collaborative power must be at the core of this future.

Awareness of the need for forest action has never been greater, nor has the ability to deliver transformative change. We are seeing positive momentum and opportunity to take action on forests worldwide – driven by governments, civil-society organizations and businesses. We need to continue reforming policies and building partnerships if we are to vastly increase investments in forest conservation, restoration and sustainable use.

The UN-REDD Programme is a proven model for the joint creative action we need in order to overcome the climate crisis. Now it is time to scale it up.

About the authors

Erik Solheim has been Executive Director of UN Environment since 2016. With an extensive career focusing on environment and development, prior to his appointment, Solheim served as chair of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Between 2007 and 2012, he was Norway’s Minister of the Environment and International Development, and from 2005 to 2007, Minister of International Development. He is the author of three books. Follow him on Twitter: @ErikSolheim 

Achim Steiner became Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme in June 2017. He also serves as Vice-Chair of the UN Sustainable Development Group, which unites 40 entities of the UN system that work to support sustainable development. Over nearly three decades, Achim Steiner has been a global leader on sustainable development and international cooperation. He has served across the United Nations system, including as head of the UN Environment (2006-2016), and Director-General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi. Follow him on Twitter: @ASteiner  

José Graziano da Silva has been Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations since January 2012. He has worked on food security, rural development, and agriculture issues for over 30 years, notably as the architect of Brazil’s Zero Hunger (Fome Zero) programme. At the helm of FAO, Graziano da Silva has sharpened the Organization’s strategic focus and is strengthening its field presence. He is also working to instill a best value-for-money culture. At the international level, he is working to build consensus on food security-related issues. Follow him on Twitter: @grazianodasilva