Deforestation, Ecological restoration

Bonn Challenge & Monoculture: A Global Scandal

What you don’t know you cannot refute…….
Did you know that under the Bonn Challenge, a global effort was launched in 2011 by Germany and IUCN and later endorsed by the 2014 UN Climate Summit that aimed to restore 350 Mil hectares (150 Mil ha by 2020) of degraded or deforested lands across varied biomes by 2030? Wow! Not too sure of how forests impact climate change? Read on….

Forests & climate change mitigation

Unequivocal evidence suggests that achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement will only be possible by unlocking the mitigation potential of forests. The IPCC suggested that the world’s forests, woodlands and woody savannahs could store around one-quarter of the atmospheric carbon necessary to limit global warming to 1.5?°C above pre-industrial levels. This translated to 24 million hectares of forest every year from now until 2030.

A recent study by Griscom et al. stated that fully unlocking the mitigation potential of forests (combatting deforestation, restoration of degraded forests and better forest management), would have a significant effect prompting Inger Andersen, Director General, IUCN to comment that “Nature-based solutions such as protecting and restoring forests can contribute over one-third of the total climate change mitigation required by 2030 ……”

Opportunity to scandal

The Bonn Challenge was hailed as a great opportunity and countries soon started making commitments which now stand at about 170 Mil Hectares (as against 150 Mil target by 2020) with a potential of sequestering 15.66 GtCO2 and generating economic activity worth over 48 Bil. USD. We were well on our way to limit global warming ……..

While policy makers were being lauded for their efforts, the findings of a comprehensive study at the University College London and University of Edinburgh, covering over 43 countries that had pledged to restore degraded lands to natural forests, had a very different tale to tell. The finding were nothing short of a global scandal – while the world was relying to a large extent on forest restoration to combat global warming, the plans were totally flawed and would certainly not meet the 1.5° C climate targets.

The study looked at the pledges made by 43 countries and found that nearly 45% of all commitments involved vast monoculture plantations as a profitable enterprise and 21% was for agroforestry as practised by subsistence farmers. Hence, two thirds of area committed to global reforestation as a means to fight climate change was actually targeted for cash crops……

Lead author, Professor of Global Change Science, Simon Lewis (UCL Geography) said, “To most people forest restoration means bringing back natural forests, but policy makers are calling vast monocultures ‘forest restoration’. And worse, the advertised climate benefits are absent.”

Plantations hold little more carbon than the land cleared to plant them. Using long-term carbon sequestration rates for natural forest, plantations and agroforestry, the researchers showed that restoring natural forests over 350 million hectares of land removes 42 billion tonnes of carbon by 2100, whereas using current pledges for plantations (45%), natural forests (34%) and agroforestry (21%) applied to the whole area reduce this to 16 billion tonnes of carbon by 2100, assuming that all new natural forests are protected. And if commercial monocultures were planted across 100% of the area just 1 billion tonnes of carbon is sequestered.

It is true that many plantations meet the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s definition of a forest: greater than 0.5 hectares in area, trees at least 5 metres high and more than 10% canopy cover4. Yet the key components of climate-change mitigation and biodiversity protection are missing.

Clearly, policymakers and their advisors were exploiting broad definitions and confused terminology to mislead the public. How could anyone get away with misinterpreting ‘forest restoration’ to include planting a monoculture of Eucalyptus trees for regular harvest and profits?

Leave a Reply