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Sustainable Forest Landscapes Initiative

These mature trees near the experimental forest give a hint at what some of the trees will look like as the trees mature. (SERC)

“We need to find ways to foster increased agricultural production while continuing to protect standing forests and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Forests are the earth’s lungs, and as such, are critically important to our well-being. They capture and store the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, and produce oxygen. They regulate global and regional climate-systems, and release moisture into the atmosphere, which then returns to earth in the form of rain. For local populations, they are a vital source for food, fuel, medicines, and income-generating forest products such as rubber and nuts.

So if a forest is cut down, the negative effect is far-reaching in its degradation of our common habitat. When trees are logged, the trees themselves and the denuded landscapes release their stored carbon dioxide. In fact, deforestation and land-use changes produce nearly one third of global greenhouse-gas emissions.

Approximately 80 percent of deforestation world-wide is linked to agriculture, but increasing agricultural production is also to key to poverty reduction and prosperity. So how do we solve one existential problem without causing another? That, of course is the great dilemma in the fight against climate change.

“Over a billion people worldwide work in agriculture, and agricultural markets provide a major source of income for farmers and communities,” said U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern. “We need to find ways to foster increased agricultural production while continuing to protect standing forests and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Speaking in Warsaw, where over 9,000 United Nations delegates met to draft the foundations of a new global treaty to combat climate change, Special Envoy Stern said that the Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes, a new public-private partnership funded by Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States “will help ambitious developing countries move forward toward their climate goals by providing them with resources to implement smarter, more productive forest preservation strategies, and create alternative options.”

The idea is to improve both livelihoods and local environments through programs, tailored to various countries and geographical areas, that will protect forests while enhancing agricultural productivity. This might include better land use planning, practices that allow more crops to be produced sustainably on the same land, and better forest management.

Each year, we lose some 13 million square hectares of forests globally, an area about the size of Costa Rica or Greece. This accelerates climate change. Only a paradigm shift toward sustainable, environment-friendly forest and land management will slow down the degradation of our environment. It is no longer possible to continue with business as usual.