06.04.2016

Forest protection is climate protection

Forest

Morning sun over the shore thicket of a stream in the rainforest of Serra do Mar in Brazil. Photo: Werner Rudhardt

The heads of state and government of major forest countries and partner countries addressed the topic of forest protection in detail during the UN climate change conference in Paris in December 2015. In a joint statement, countries such as Brazil, Norway, the UK and Germany recognised the essential role forests play for the health of the planet, sustainable development and combating climate change.

Forests contribute to protecting the earth in many different ways. By storing carbon in their biomass, they prevent the release of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Forests are also key to global water treatment and management as they regulate water flows and filter water. Their role in preventing soil erosion is also important as they stabilise the soil by making it harder for wind and water to wash off soil material. Forests are therefore important as protection against flooding and landslides. In addition, forest ecosystems such as tropical rainforests are home to an immense diversity of animal species and medicinal plants and crops used by people for food and for healing. These functions make forests vital to all forms of life on earth.

However, the expansion of farming and livestock activities, mining and illegal logging operations and the construction of roads and settlements are severely decimating the earth's forests. Halting the destruction of forests is therefore a crucial element of international climate policy. The 'New York Declaration on Forests', which was adopted at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York in September 2014, is regarded as an important political milestone in this effort. In the Declaration more than 130 governments, enterprises, civil society organisations and representatives of indigenous peoples committed themselves to reduce worldwide natural forest loss in half by 2020 and end it by 2030. In addition, at least 350 million hectares of forest is to be restored by 2030.

The German Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMUB) is supporting global forest protection efforts through the International Climate Initiative (IKI). It has already supported 99 projects in nearly 70 partner countries with the sum of EUR 332 million in the years 2008 to 2016. The IKI primarily helps partner countries to put into practice the international mechanism for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+). In addition to forest protection measures it supports sustainable forest management projects designed to both store carbon and improve the economic situation of the people living in the affected areas. The IKI also fosters innovative approaches to the sustainable use of agricultural and forest resources and, consequently, the reduction of deforestation, for instance through the establishment of 'deforestation-free supply chains'.

Brazil, a country with vast rainforest cover, plays an important role in these efforts. The IKI is therefore helping to improve biodiversity protection and the restoration of original forests in project areas in the interior of the state of Rio de Janeiro, the south of the state of Bahia and the coastal region between the states of São Paulo and Paraná. Specifically, it is supporting the preparation of a community plan for the protection and reforestation of the Atlantic Coastal Forest (Mata Atlântica) for Porto Seguro, a management plan for the Canaéia-Iguape-Peruibe conservation area and land use plans in the municipality of Duque de Caxias. The 'Anuário Mata Atlântica 2014', a yearbook that analyses compliance with the Aichi biodiversity targets in the region, has been published jointly with the Mata Atlântica Biosphere Reserve authority.

In addition to the preparation of management plans, the IKI supports training measures and environmental education programmes. In order to protect the montane cloud forest in the east African country of Rwanda, more than 10,000 farmers have been trained on sustainable agriculture and agroforestry. The project partners have set up an agroforestry belt to protect the buffer zones of the Forêt de Nyungwe cloud forest. It protects the soil against erosion and its high biomass production eliminates the need for extracting timber from the forest. A total of 6,500 hectares has been reforested and new nurseries have been set up. An environmental education programme has also been introduced in the schools to raise awareness about forest protection.

A pilot project is running in Guatemala with a focus on sustainable community development that integrates forest protection. Patrols are conducting improved surveillance of the primary forest in the Sierra del Lacandón National Park in order to curb deforestation. The local population is actively participating in protecting the forest. The project provides the people with financial support, materials such as seedlings and technical advice. Various communities, authorities and experts are collaborating, helping to spread knowledge and experience in farming and managing natural resources and encourage partnerships.