Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook

Climate-smart forestry

Production and Resources

Creating an enabling environment and removing barriers for adoption of climate-smart forestry

B3-4.1 Synergies and trade-offs 

Because of inertia in the climatic and socio-economic systems that determine the extent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, a certain amount of climate change is inevitable. Climate change is going to have an impact regardless of mitigation strategies. Nevertheless, the sooner mitigation activities begin, the less pronounced the likely impacts will be. Adaptation measures are needed to protect livelihoods and food security, especially in the developing countries that are expected to be most vulnerable to climate change.

A major challenge for climate policy is to find the most efficient mix of mitigation and adaptation measures for limiting the impacts of climate change. Many mutually reinforcing measures exist to achieve both mitigation and adaptation. If these measures are put in place, they can help ensure the efficient allocation of resources designated for climate responses and at the same time foster sustainable development (Ravindranath, 2007). Many of the potential synergies between efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change and efforts to adapt to these impacts are found in the relationships that exist between the forest sector and the agriculture sectors. These synergies are particularly important to rural livelihoods in developing countries.

Mitigation efforts will be most effective and sustainable if they integrate adaptation measures for both communities and ecosystems. This would bring about 'climate-proof' mitigation. Forests need to adapt to climate change to maintain ecosystem functionality. A functioning forest ecosystem provides ecosystem services that reduce the vulnerability of local communities to climate change. By reducing pressure to clear forests and conserving biodiversity hotspots, mitigation actions have huge potential for facilitating forest adaptation. Mitigation actions can also help build the adaptive capacities of local people by increasing the supply of ecosystem services on which they rely. This can help diversify incomes, develop economic activities and infrastructure, increase social services and strengthen local institutions.

Forest adaptation measures can ensure the continuation or an increase of ecosystem services and augment carbon stocks, which contribute to climate change mitigation. For example, the restoration of mangroves in coastal areas will build the adaptive capacities of local communities by protecting coastal areas and diversifying incomes and livelihoods. Restoring mangroves will also contribute to mitigation by increasing the amount of carbon stored in the agricultural ecosystem. Other measures, such as sustainable forest management, agroforestry and community-based forestry, can support mitigation by increasing carbon stocks in biomass and soil. Adaptation alone is insufficient to deal with the impacts of climate change. Mitigation is required to reduce the magnitude of its impacts. A well-developed and sustainable adaptation plan that includes mitigation measures can benefit from climate and carbon funding and capacity building through international instruments such as REDD+. 

One of the many dilemmas that countries face when confronting climate change is how to meet the political and moral imperative of responding to urgent immediate needs while also investing sufficient resources to meet future needs as the effects of climate change become more severe. Although governments will certainly face trade-offs, they should not lose sight of the opportunities that exist to capture synergies among the various approaches that can help meet both short-term and long-term objectives.

Improving forest management can tap into many of these synergies. In the short term, forests can help buffer communities and societies from climatic events, such as droughts, storms, floods and landslides. For example, forests can provide coastal areas with physical protection from storms, and forest-based ecosystem services can help regulate hydrological flows when rainfall patterns change. Forest-based foods and other products that can be consumed or sold for income and provide a safety net when agricultural livelihoods are affected by drought. The ability of forests to supply goods and ecosystem services is compromised when they are degraded or converted to other uses. Degradation also reduces the resilience of forests to climate change. For example, forests subject to fragmentation or unsustainable logging practices are more vulnerable to fire than intact forests. Investing in sustainable forest management would be a synergistic climate response that prepares communities both for droughts in the immediate future and for a projected long-term shift in rainfall patterns.

Forest-based approaches to climate change adaptation, such as those described in chapter B3-2.2.  can complement or be a substitute for the construction of hard infrastructure. They also provide more flexibility in the implementation of adaptation strategies. In light of the many benefits currently provided by forests, this way of proceeding can be categorized as a 'no regrets' approach to climate change adaptation. In particular, investment in sustainable forest management as an adaptation strategy yields a 'double dividend' that also delivers mitigation benefits.

Protecting and sustainably managing forests requires responses at the all levels, from the community level to the global level. In implementing these responses, there is a risk of creating 'winners' and 'losers'. Local people may be required to implement measures that provide them with little or no benefit even though these measures, by averting emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, contribute to reducing the global risk of catastrophic climate change.

In an effort to distribute more equitably the costs and benefits of forest-based mitigation measures, finance is being mobilized through REDD+. This financing has the potential to support forest protection and sustainable management and compensate communities for any losses of income they might incur. Depending on how the benefits of REDD+ are shared at the national and local levels, forest protection and sustainable management could help finance rural development or make certain stakeholders worse off. There is an important trade-off between the short-term risk that REDD+ initiatives might disadvantage vulnerable forest-based communities and the potentially large mitigation benefits that REDD+ might yield to the global community.

Globally, REDD+ funds are likely to be targeted at forests that have high conservation value and large stocks of carbon. Other sources of finance will be needed to address adaptation challenges in the areas most affected by climate variability, such as the dry forests of sub-Saharan Africa. To minimize zero-sum trade-offs, governments should build adaptation synergies into the design of forest interventions funded by REDD+ and reserve scarce adaptation funds for targeting action in forests with low stocks of carbon.

The poor governance and weak institutions that characterize forest management in many countries present a challenge. To fully realize the adaptation and mitigation benefits of sustainable forest management, governments will need to confront those vested interests who seek to maintain the status quo. They will also need to make significant investments in institutional infrastructure, which is often lacking at the national and local levels. This infrastructure is needed to link forest communities with higher levels of government, facilitate intersectoral collaboration and provide citizens with a meaningful voice in the design of mitigation and adaptation strategies. These investments involve few short-term and long-term trade-offs because many of the same governance and institutional capacities needed to meet immediate development needs and reduce disaster risks are the same as those needed to prepare for climate change.

Making trade-offs between current needs and future welfare, allocating costs and benefits across stakeholder groups, and managing risks all require inherently political decisions. In this regard, governments should invest energy and resources in the following crucial 'no regrets' activities: 

  • informing their citizens of the mitigation and adaptation choices to be made; 
  • putting in place democratic processes to enable the meaningful participation of citizens in making those choices; and 
  • promoting engagement in efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

B3-4.2 Policy approaches

National forest programmes (NFPs) are comprehensive forest policy frameworks for implementing sustainable forest management at the national level. They comprise the following three elements:

  1. forest policies and forest-related policies;
  2. forest-related legislation; and
  3. institutional frameworks, including organizational structures and mechanisms for coordination and participation.

NFPs were established to enable countries to integrate various forest-related policy processes and initiatives under one umbrella and approach, and to strengthen cross-sectoral consistency among various forest-related policies. NFPs can provide an effective framework for efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change in areas that are related to forests and linked to other land uses. By integrating climate change mitigation and adaptation goals with NFPs, climate change objectives can be balanced with other forest management objectives, and synergies can be created with other forest-related processes, such as forest law enforcement, governance and trade initiatives.

To ensure they are up to date and reflect emerging issues and opportunities, NFPs need to be dynamic and iterative, with interconnected phases of data collection and analysis, planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation. The principles underpinning NFPs are summarized below.

  1. National sovereignty and country leadership. A nation has the right to manage its forest resources in accordance with its perceived needs and interests.
  2. Consistency within and beyond the forest sector. NFPs must consider the economic, social and environmental dimensions of forests, and be consistent with national economic development planning, poverty reduction strategies, macroeconomic policy frameworks and other relevant strategies.
  3. Partnership and participation. It is import to involve all forest stakeholders in decision-making and policy implementation. This includes all people who depend on, or benefit from, the use of forest resources and those who decide on, control or regulate access to these resources. Partnerships and participation can operate at a range of levels, from the national level to the local level.

These principles and the NFP approach support the efforts of countries to institute good forest governance through accountability, effectiveness, efficiency, fairness, equity, participation and transparency.

Integrating climate change into NFPs requires adapting forest-relevant policies and revising related laws; adapting existing organizations; adjusting coordination and participation mechanisms; and ensuring coherence, consistency and coordination with national climate change policies and strategies.