Climate-Smart Forestry: Strategies, Benefits and Challenges

Agroforestry

Lambert Aliginia

Agricultural and Environmental sustainability certification specialist

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Climate-Smart Forestry: Strategies for Carbon Sequestration and Sustainable Management

Introduction

Forests are crucial to Earth’s ecosystem, offering ecological, economic, and social benefits. Climate change poses a global challenge, impacting forested ecosystems. Forests are now recognized asNatural Climate Solutions(NCS) orNature-Based Solutions(NBS). NCS approaches allow us to address climate change by reducing emissions from forest loss or by capturing atmospheric greenhouse gases through photosynthesis and sequestration. Previous NCS assessments have explored different land cover and management strategies, assessing their potential impact in sequestering millions of metric tons of CO2 equivalent and evaluating implementation costs. International and national assessments highlight currently or potentially forested lands as critical opportunities for nature-based climate change mitigation.

Policymakers at different levels, from national governments to local authorities, are developing and implementing forest and climate policies that have wide-ranging implications for society and the environment. Forests play a crucial role in international climate discussions, as seen in agreements like the Warsaw Agreement, the Paris Agreement, and the COP26 Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration. These initiatives aim to combat deforestation, promote market mechanisms, and invest in Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD).

While Africa’s Forest is crucial for biodiversity conservation, local communities’ resilience, and climate change mitigation, it is under increasing pressure due to deforestation, land conversion, and other human activities. However, recent studies reveal that mountainous forests in Africa hold concentrated carbon, rivaling even the Amazon rainforest. Countries like Gabon, where nearly 90% of the land is covered by forests, contribute significantly to global carbon sequestration. Initiatives like REDD+ projects and sustainable forest management are essential for protecting Africa’s forests and achieving climate goals. This article explores the impacts of climate change on African forests, strategies for carbon sequestration, and challenges faced in implementing climate-smart forestry.

Land (300,000 acres) in Narok County, Kenya, collectively owned by 7,200 individual smallholder farmers.

1. Global climate agenda and NDCs.

  • The Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015 during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21), is a landmark international treaty aimed at limiting global warming. Its central goal is to keep global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
  • Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are individual country commitments under the Paris Agreement. Each country outlines its specific climate action plans, including targets for reducing emissions, adapting to climate impacts, and enhancing resilience. NDCs are submitted periodically (usually every five years) and reflect a country’s unique circumstances, capacities, and priorities.

2. Climate-smart forestry (CSF).

Climate-smart forestry refers to forest management practices that balance ecological, social, and economic goals while addressing climate change challenges. It is crucial in adaptation and resilience strategies, including altering tree species composition, optimizing planting designs, and mitigating risks from pests, diseases, and wildfires exacerbated by climate change.

Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) emphasizes development within the natural regeneration capacity of resources (biomass, species, genetic diversity). SFM promotes carbon sequestration and substitution (replacing fossil fuels with forest products). In Europe, sustainable forestry focuses on regeneration and improvement. Forests contribute significantly to climate change action, recognized in Nationally Determined Contributions under the UNFCCC.Climate-Smart Forestryemerged during the UN Forum on Forests, involving multifaceted forest development, management, and conservation. Understanding climate change impacts on valuable ecosystem services provided by forests is essential.

Diagram of a climate-smart forest strategies and impact.

Climate Smart-Forestry Sequestration Strategies Include:

  1. Afforestation and Reforestation: Planting new trees (afforestation) and restoring previously deforested areas (reforestation) help sequester carbon by capturing atmospheric CO2 through photosynthesis. Agroforestry practices like alley cropping, silvopastoral, and windbreaks contribute to sequestration. Nonetheless, one of the most impactful nature-based solutions is integrating trees with crops or livestock systems to enhance carbon storage. In Ethiopia, traditional agroforestry practices combining trees, bamboo, crops, and livestock have sustained communities and livelihoods. The live hedge system (LHS), integrating bamboo and native trees, enhances carbon sequestration. Despite its effectiveness, the LHS encounters challenges related to cattle farming. Implementing climate-smart forestry interventions, like bamboo planting, can enhance ecosystem resilience and alleviate poverty. Urgent quantification and implementation of these systems are crucial for combating desertification and conserving biodiversity in the face of climate change.
  2. Improved Forest Management: Sustainable logging practices, selective harvesting, and minimizing forest degradation help maintain carbon stocks. Retaining older trees and protecting high-carbon ecosystems are crucial. Forest protection efforts, such as the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) concept, face challenges related to indigenous rights. An alternative approach involves incentivizing sustainable forest management. In Nigeria, effective climate-smart forest practices are essential for cost-efficient carbon sequestration. The Carbon Sequestration Service (CSS) facilitates connections to global carbon markets, supporting sustainable forestry.
  3. Soil Carbon Enhancement: Practices such as no-till agriculture, cover cropping, and organic matter addition and biochar soil conditioners improve soil carbon content. Healthy soils store significant carbon. Regenerative agriculture has become a major alleviating climate mitigation practice that has been adopted by subsistence farmers under carbon certification projects in Africa, thereby increasing soil carbon sequestrations.
  4. Forest Conservation: Protecting existing forests prevents carbon release from deforestation. Conservation efforts in high-carbon ecosystems like peatlands and mangroves are vital. Forest reserves hold a lot of rare native fauna and flora species which enrich biodiversity, enhance ecosystem interactions, and serve as carbon pools.
  5. Forest Landscape Restoration: Restoring degraded landscapes by planting native tree species and improving soil health contributes to carbon sequestration. One of the largest Jatropha carbon projects in the world has been established on degraded soil in the transitional zone of Sub-Saharan Africa. These jatropha shrubs sequester approximately 18,000 tCO2e, reclaim the degraded soil in fertile lands, improve community livelihoods, and enhance biodiversity conservation.
  6. Community engagement: Under the scope of Climate-Smart Forestry (CSF) interventions, community engagement is emphasized as a driver for upscaling and enhancing the overall performance of CSF activities. Forests, along with sustainable land management practices, have the potential to offset 33% of global fossil fuel emissions, contributing to greenhouse gas reduction. The communities represent a major stakeholder in the CSF project implementations; their understanding of the project benefits and effects on their survival is paramount during the FPIC processes.

4.  Challenges faced in implementing climate-smart forestry.

  • Loose Definition and Inconsistent Application: The concept of sustainable forest management (SFM) lacks a widely accepted definition, leading to inconsistent application in different contexts. SFM aims to balance the ecological, social, and economic aspects of forest use. However, interpretations vary depending on local conditions, cultural perspectives, and policy frameworks. For example, in some regions, SFM emphasizes timber production, while in others, SFM prioritizes biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services.
  • Integration with Sustainable Forest Management (SFM): SFM integrates many different aspects, including forest biodiversity, health, and socioeconomic functions. It aims to ensure that forests provide goods (such as timber) and services (such as carbon sequestration) while maintaining ecological integrity. The United Nations recognizes SFM as a dynamic concept that benefits current and future generations. Successful integration requires the participation of stakeholders, consideration of the legal framework, and balancing economic benefits with environmental protection.
  • Forest-Climate Interactions: Forests play an important role in regulating climate. They influence local and global climate conditions by regulating surface energy balance, water fluxes, and carbon exchange. Forest-climate interactions occur through feedback loops, in which forest degradation disrupts these processes. For example, deforestation releases stored carbon, which in turn affects global climate patterns. Conversely, afforestation helps mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon and regulating temperature and precipitation.
  • Practical Implementation on the Ground: SFM implementation involves actions on the ground. Frontline healthcare professionals can draw parallels here. As well as engaging stakeholders, mapping processes, and solving problems, forest managers must collaborate with local communities, identify sustainable practices, and solve problems. For example, the iterative application of strategies such as stakeholder engagement, process mapping, and problem-solving can improve the implementation of forest-related programs, such as auditing.
  • Risk Assessment and Trade-Offs: Risk assessment is very important in SFM. Decision makers consider trade-offs between benefits (e.g., timber production) and negative consequences (e.g., habitat loss). Strategic choice involves risk tolerance and aversion. Quantifying risk using tools like cost-benefit analysis helps prioritize security investments. The acceptable level of residual risk is determined considering the uncertainty. Effective risk management ensures alignment with organizational objectives and communication with stakeholders.
  • Engaging Stakeholders and Communities: Successful SFM requires the cooperation of many stakeholders, local communities, indigenous groups, policymakers, and industry. Their participation will promote common understanding, build trust, and ensure sustainable operations. For example, the involvement of indigenous knowledge in forest management improves biodiversity conservation and ecosystem resilience. Community participation also facilitates monitoring and adaptive management.
  • Monitoring and Verification: Regular monitoring ensures the effectiveness of SFM. Measurements track forest health, biodiversity, and socioeconomic impacts. Verification mechanisms confirm compliance with management plans. Satellite imagery, field surveys, and participatory approaches contribute to effective monitoring. For example, monitoring reforestation progress or assessing carbon sequestration rates will verify SFM results.

Conclusion.

Climate-smart forestry (CSF) integrates adaptation and mitigation strategies to manage the impacts of climate change. We recognize forests as natural climate solutions (NCS) that go beyond their traditional role. However, there is no uniform definition of CSF, leading to various interpretations. Carbon sequestration is a key component of the CSF, but focusing solely on carbon can ignore non-carbon forest interactions and operational issues. There are gaps and risks in the implementation of CSFs, and clearer guidance for integrating CSFs into existing sustainable forest management (SFM) practices is essential. A more comprehensive CSF definition and evidence-based approach may improve efficacy. In summary, climate-smart forestry requires holistic thinking, stakeholder engagement, and adaptation to changing realities. By integrating CSF principles and SFM, we can meet the needs of society while contributing to a healthier planet.

References.

  1. Griscom BW, Adams J, Ellis PW, Houghton RA, Lomax G, Miteva D A, et al. Natural climate solutions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2017; 114(44), 11645–11650.
  2. Drever CR, Cook-Patton SC, Akhter F, Badiou PH, Chmura GL, Davidson SJ, et al. Natural climate solutions for Canada. Science Advances. 2021; 7(23).
  3. Fargione JE, Bassett S, Boucher T, Bridgham SD, Conant RT, Cook-Patton SC, et al. Natural climate solutions for the United States. Science Advances. 2018; 4(11).
  4. United Nations Framework on Climate Change. What is REDD+. [updated 2022; cited 2021] Available from: https://unfccc.int/topics/land-use/workstreams/redd/what-is-redd.
  5. Nielsen TD. From REDD+ forests to green landscapes, analyzing the emerging integrated landscape approach discourse in the UNFCCC. Forest Policy and Economics.
  6. Popkin G. How much can forest fight climate change, Nature, 2019; 565(7737), 280–283.
  7. Land (300,000 acres) in Narok County, Kenya, collectively owned by 7,200 individual smallholder farmers. nature4justice.earth/carbon-investors-a-development-paradigm-optimizes-success.
  8. Climate-Smart Forestry: Promise and risks for forests, society, and climate Lauren Cooper, David MacFarlane, Published: June 7, 2023, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pclm.0000212.
  9. Sustainable forest management, FAO, Food and Agriculture Organization https://www.fao.org/sustainable-forests-management/en.
  10. Forest-climate-interactions-and-the-climate-consequences-of-forest-cover-change/magazine, frontiersin.org.
  11. Implementation Strategies for Frontline Healthcare Professionals: People, Process Mapping, and Problem Solving https://link.springer.com/article.
  12. Risk management Uncertainty, tradeoffs, and decision-making https://risk-engineering.org/risk-management.
  13. Diagram of climate-smart forest strategies and impact. https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.dnr.wa.gov%2Fclimate-smart-forestry.

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