a little-known force for adapting to climate change

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In early August 2021, scientist Houria Djoudi observed forest fires in her country of origin, Algeria, turning the forests and landscapes of her childhood to ashes. The trees that supported the local population caught fire over 100,000 acres, taking with them livestock, farms, homes and lives.

Meanwhile, the findings of a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) grabbed the headlines, answering all questions about why these fires were worse than ever before with his main conclusion: that humans have already warmed the planet by 1.1 degrees. Celsius.

“With every cedar or old oak tree that burns, it’s your identity, it’s your culture, your history that burns,” Djoudi, senior scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research, recalled during a session at the Global Landscapes Forum. alongside the COP26 in Glasgow. .

The session, “Harnessing the power of forests and trees for climate resilience,” highlighted that while climate change is to continue to be mitigated, the rates of temperature rise and climate disasters are such as adaptation to new environmental realities must become more important and faster. . And from protecting the health of the land to providing firewood, homes and income, trees are some of the best adaptation tools we have.

“Much of the change is irreversible. It’s done, and it’s cooked, and we’re feeling it already, ”said Amy Duchelle, Senior Forestry Officer and FAO Climate Change and Resilience Team Leader, who moderated the session. “In the IPCC’s best-case scenarios, we will exceed 1.5 (degrees Celsius of global warming), but this can be reduced with significant reductions in fossil fuel emissions and the protection and restoration of natural carbon sinks.”

“Without trees, we are not going to survive in this region. It’s just like that, ”Djoudi said.

The forgotten room

Forests arguably received more attention at COP26 than at any other United Nations climate change summit before. The two-week event began with more than 120 world leaders signing a pact to end deforestation by 2030, reaching more than 140 leaders as the summit closed. Stopping deforestation would reduce emissions by 11%.

More broadly, nature as a whole was at the heart of the summit negotiations, in large part thanks to the rise of the concept of ‘nature-based solutions’ to climate change – and forests have so far been the main focus. favorite of these proposed solutions.

Forests have taken such a high place in climate change programs, said Mette Wilkie, who heads the forestry division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in part to because of the leading REDD + mechanism, a United Nations program implemented in more than 60 countries. help reduce emissions through various means of forest management.

As such, forests and trees have enhanced their role as powerful climate change mitigators, but their power to help adaptation is still largely overlooked – in programs, policies and the weight given to climate change. adaptation in general. When looking at country-level country-determined contributions to the Paris Agreement on climate change, “adaptation and resilience tend to be overlooked,” she said.

Move the money where it needs to go

Satellite photos of the fires in Algeria taken three days after their start. European Space Agency

Among the most important climate ‘gaps’ – the gap between climate commitments and actions, between current and zero emissions, between targeted and predicted temperature increase – is the gap in actual and needed funding. , which is particularly gaping for adaptation finance.

A recent report from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) said that appropriate adaptation measures require $ 250 to 500 billion a year until 2050 – and that only affects developing countries. (For reference, developed countries still, after 12 years, have failed to deliver on their pledge to give developing countries US $ 100 billion in general climate finance.)

It is only natural that Mahamat Assouyouti, Senior Climate Change Specialist at the Adaptation Fund, says that the 50% increase in international public funding for adaptation over the past three years is just ” little hope ”, because it still represents less than 10% of climate finance. total funding, as reported by the 2021 UNEP Adaptation Gap Report. And, this minimum amount of adaptation finance often focuses on immediate needs determined at the national level rather than the long-term needs identified by local communities and vulnerable countries.

“Unless we close the adaptation finance gap, developing countries will still have issues like how to tackle food security, how to ensure that livelihoods are not threatened by climate impacts”, said Assouyouti.

One of the main drivers of deforestation, especially in developing countries with carbon-rich tropical forests, is poverty, said Wilkie, who emphasizes more the need for long-term financing rather than a short-term funding through temporary projects. Ninety percent of all wood cut in Africa is for fuel, she said, which extends beyond rural populations to urban populations, who lack other alternatives.

Planting fast-growing trees for fuel and restoring deforested areas with sustainable agriculture are some of the ways in which basic human needs can be met through adaptation measures. “We need to stop talking about planting trees to talk about growth them, ”she said.

Power of knowledge

A local plantation project in Kalimantan, Indonesia.  Mokhamad Edliadi, CIFOR
A local plantation project in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Mokhamad Edliadi, CIFOR

In 2017, massive landslides in Freetown, Sierra Leone, triggered by heavy rains on deforested hills left more than 1,100 dead or missing, making it the worst natural disaster on record in the country. It was in every way a tragedy, but it forced local communities to face the reality of their landscape and make changes to build their resilience to increasingly intense weather conditions.

Five years after the landslides, Freetonians continue to learn the benefits of protecting their remaining forests and restoring forest cover and biodiversity, in a way that also improves their livelihoods, for example by using agroforestry to reduce erosion and improve soil fertility on their farms. “It’s not just the trees themselves,” said Michael Balinga, who heads a USAID program team fighting wildlife trafficking in West Africa. “This is an argument in favor of tree-based funding approaches. “

Sumarni Laman, a young indigenous Dayak from Indonesia who heads the Heartlands Project to raise awareness about deforestation, also recalled witness experiences of natural disasters, when forest fires swept through her province of Kalimantan in 2015 and again in 2019, as well as the worst floods in 40 years between 2020 and 2021.

But changes in its landscape are no longer limited to the natural world, she said, but also occur in everyday life, as more young people move to cities to study and find jobs and lose the environmental knowledge passed down, often orally, by their families and ancestors. “This is the start of the problem,” she said. “There is now a gap between the older and younger generations. It is crucial that we build a bridge to close this gap. Indigenous knowledge and wisdom are essential.

Indeed, one of the most positive outcomes of COP26 was a commitment of $ 1.7 billion to indigenous and local communities, which Wilkie described as “invaluable agents against climate change”.

According to Djoudi, however, “the knowledge we had in the past was enough to keep us in a certain balance with the ecosystem”, but now that is not enough. She encouraged the creation of databases and knowledge hubs, so that regions facing the same challenges of climate change in different parts of the world can share their adaptation methods in real time.

“We are in a state of emergency because our forests are burning every year,” she said. “We need to speed up learning processes and knowledge sharing and combine scientific and local knowledge.

The next step in Djoudi’s original landscape is to restore what was lost in the fires, by replanting trees and reforesting the burnt landscapes. “This region is an ancient cultural landscape where people and communities have a long tradition of stewardship of the land,” she said.

“We need to ensure that restoration efforts build on this local knowledge to prioritize locally adapted practices that help not only mitigate and adapt to climate change, but also biodiversity, well-being human and create opportunities for young people. “

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