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Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the world today. Until recently, discussions have focused on emissions from the industrial and energy sectors. However, awareness of the role of deforestation and land degradation in the climate change equation is increasing.
To date, US, China and Indonesia are ranked as the three greatest carbon emitting nations. Pollution from the industrial and energy sectors is responsible for emissions from the top two countries. Surprisingly, though, Indonesia ’s emissions are generated primarily by forest fires and deforestation. Unfortunately, Indonesia ’s situation is not unique, as deforestation and land degradation generate a significant percentage – approximately twenty percent – of total global greenhouse gas emissions.
Forested lands and grasslands are rapidly disappearing around the world for a variety of causes, including agricultural clearing, catastrophic fires, poor land management and destructive logging practices. This phenomenon is occurring despite the vital importance of forests for storing carbon, conserving biodiversity, and providing clean water, food, medicine, fuel and income to more than two billion people, including an estimated 350 million indigenous and tribal peoples. The trend is not encouraging: worldwide, deforestation and land degradation are expected to rise. Increases in global food prices will drive even further conversion of forested lands to agriculture. And, in the big picture, these changes will correspond to a parallel increase in the rate of greenhouse gas emissions.
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Forestry Presents Opportunities for Positive Change
Encouragingly, there are tremendous opportunities to mitigate climate change and reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, and adapt to a changing climate. By slowing deforestation rates, curbing land degradation, increasing carbon storage, and using forests as an alternative and sustainable energy source, greenhouse gas emissions can be mitigated and reduced.
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US Forest Service International Engagement on Climate Change
With more than 100 years of experience managing national forests and grasslands, the US Forest Service has valuable experience to contribute to the issue of climate change in the global context. The Agency has a mandate to balance the resource utilization needs of the American people with sustaining the nation’s forest and grassland resources for water, biodiversity, aesthetics, recreational experiences and other uses. The Agency manages a wide variety of land designations, each with its own strict management guidelines. Among these is wilderness—which is subject to the most stringent protection in the world. In this complex management environment, the US Forest Service and industrializing countries share similar pressures to conserve natural resources without impeding economic growth and opportunities. The Agency is well positioned to relate to the challenges other nations face with regard to land management and climate change.
Reducing Deforestation and Land Degradation
Through its International Programs, the US Forest Service is currently collaborating with other governments, non governmental organizations and the private sector on climate change and avoided deforestation through policy engagement and technical cooperation.
International policy discussions on climate change have recently become more focused on the role of forests and grasslands in greenhouse gas production. Support for schemes to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation are gaining momentum. The US Forest Service works closely with the US Department of State and other US government agencies in the international policy arena to:
- Contribute technical expertise to climate change negotiations and work under the Framework Convention on Climate Change. US scientists, including US Forest Service researchers, participate in the International Panel on Climate Change, an advisory body to the Convention.
- Participate in forest management and policy discussions. The US Forest Service is a founding member of the Megaflorastais group, a network of forest agency leaders from the twelve largest forested countries dedicated to advancing international dialogue and exchange on forest governance and public forest agency reforms. The group’s focus is on climate change.
- Provide technical expertise on energy and cellulosic biofuel technology.
The US Forest Service International Programs works with governments, non governmental organizations and communities to develop capacity, strengthen institutions, and develop economic alternatives to unsustainable harvesting and management practices. Programs to reduce deforestation and land degradation include:
- Mexico has approximately 50 million hectares of forest which is rapidly decreasing due to land clearing and cultivation of food crops. The Government of Mexico is determined to stop deforestation in areas that are critical to watershed-related environmental services. Their efforts include:
- identifying the most important forests,
- fostering the development of local markets for environmental services,
- paying landowners to preserve forests, thus preventing its transformation into other uses. These payments have created an innovative system: consumers of the water downstream of the forest pay the forested communities to keep their forests intact.
For more than ten years, the US Forest Service has collaborated with the Government of Mexico to provide forest management training and has fostered many opportunities to share the Mexican case study with international groups. The result has often been to inspire innovative incentives that serve multiple purposes: halting deforestation, improving both watershed health and that of local livelihoods.
- Liberia contains over 40% of the remaining closed canopy rainforest in West Africa, a sizeable carbon sink. The Forest Service works with the Government of Liberia to reorganize its forest service and forestry sector in the post-conflict era. The US Forest Service helped develop a chain of custody system for tracking timber and a financial management accountability system to reform the forestry sector—leading to the lifting of UN sanctions on Liberian timber. In order to sustain the highly successful post-conflict reforms and to ensure that Liberia’s carbon sink is well managed, the US Forest Service will continue its partnerships in Liberia to support the creation of trans-boundary parks and limited-use forest zones, the establishment of a regional database to assess the contribution of West African forests to global carbon offset efforts, and to create models for regional climate change adaptation.
- The US Forest Service is a partner in the Congo Basin Forest Partnership Initiative, a long-term US Agency for International Development initiative addressing issues of deforestation and biodiversity loss in the Congo Basin forest zone. The initiative works to increase local, national, and regional natural resource management capacity, improve our own knowledge of an otherwise poorly-understood region. The emphasis is on good science, information sharing, and a regional perspective in partner activities. The US Forest Service provides training opportunities for host country governments and NGOs to create and implement effective land use plans—for large landscapes and the protected areas, community forests and extraction zones within these landscapes—to promote ecologic, social and economic sustainability and benefits for the region.
- Like the US, Russia contains temperate and boreal forests. The forests share similar species, similar forest health problems, and some common threats. Since the mid-nineties, the US Forest Service has worked with Russian partners, including the State Forestry Service of Russia to: 1) promote sustainable forestry practices, 2) address forest health issues and invasive species, and 3) expand successful programs into other areas in Russia. The US Forest Service partnership with the Russian Federal Forest Service focuses on combating illegal logging and forest fires.
- In Indonesia, the US Forest Service has a new partnership with the Indonesian Ministry of Forests aimed at improving forest governance by strengthening ties between field operations and headquarters in order to manage and conserve forests on a landscape-scale. The Forest Service has been working with Indonesia for years on forest fires to improve systems for fire response and control.
- In Jordan, the Forest Service provides technical support to Bedouin communities on community grassland rehabilitation projects. The focus is on rehabilitating extremely degraded rangelands—unique because it is designed to work without using fences to exclude grazing animals. One site has successfully regenerated native plants not recorded in Jordan for over sixty years. The project emphasized the revival of traditional Bedouin grazing practices and ancient water harvesting practices. In so doing, the land has revitalized micro-climates, soil health, water infiltration, native seed regeneration and aesthetic value. Local Bedouin are changing land use practices and are earning new revenue streams; innovations key to adapting to future climate conditions.
- The US Forest Service supports local partners in Brazil to teach forest technicians, managers and supervisors how to apply forest management principles and reduced-impact logging methods in the Brazilian Amazon. Communities and smallholders are realizing that reduced impact harvesting practices are more cost effective than conventional operations and have greater ecological benefits, including maintaining more carbon in forests after harvest.
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