US-based researchers have said the world must conserve its tropical forests and the people who live in them to buy time to switch away from climate-damaging fossil fuels.They said the world’s tropical forests are a key part of slowing climate change, while ensuring indigenous peoples land rights is essential to protecting them.
Global Witness, a campaign group, puts the number of land and environment activists killed since the end of 2009 at around 650. It says most of them died while fighting to protect remote land from development which had been approved by governments.
Speaking in New York as world leaders gathered there to sign the Paris Agreement on climate change, the administrator of the UN Development Programme, Helen Clark, said: “If we want to protect the world’s forests, we must safeguard the rights of the indigenous peoples and forest communities who have sustainably managed their forests for generations.
“Clarifying local land rights and tenure security will be a crucial determinant of success for the new global frameworks on climate change and sustainable development.”
She was speaking at an event organised jointly by the UNDP and the Ford Foundation to mark the signing of the Agreement, according to a report received here from Climate News Network.
Another speaker, Frances Seymour, of the Center for Global Development (CGD), said protecting the tropical forests of South America, Asia and Africa was one of the most cost-effective climate solutions available today: “Stopping deforestation and allowing damaged forests to grow back could mitigate up to 30 percent of current global emissions.”
A new analysis by the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) spells out what the forests do for the climate. If the world fails to protect them, it says, it will have to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use by 2035 in order to limit warming to 2ºC, the goal identified as vital for avoiding the worst impacts of climate change (though the Paris Agreement is aiming for a 1.5°C limit).
Properly managed, the analysis says, the forests could provide 10-15 more years to end fossil fuel use while keeping global warming under 2°C. It uses the 2015 Global Forest Resources Assessment produced by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization in reaching its conclusions.
“It is clear it will be impossible to limit global warming to 2ºC at this point if we try to do it entirely by reducing fossil fuel use,” said Dr Phillip Duffy, WHRC’s executive director.
The Woods Hole analysis suggests that to keep global warming under 2°C, while retaining the current level of land-based carbon emissions, fossil fuel use would have to be eliminated by 2035.
But stopping tropical deforestation and expanding forest area by 500 million hectares could extend the deadline for reaching zero carbon emissions to 2049.
The WHRC analysis says there is significant evidence that forest peoples, if given land rights, are the best managers of tropical forests in retaining old growth and storing carbon.