Ethiopia is a mountainous and climatically precarious country with high risk of flooding and droughts. The mountains receive more rainfall than the surrounding dry and low-lying regions and provide a critical source for rain-fed agriculture and water supply for the surrounding area. Forest resources can reduce vulnerability to climatic risks, enhance environmental protection and provide a more productive land use system for both the highlands and the Horn at large.
The integrity of Ethiopia’s environment and its original natural endowments are dwindling due to historically poor agricultural practices by largely agrarian populations that have thrived in the highlands for thousands of years. The recent population explosion has resulted in widespread deforestation and degradation. At present, the Ethiopian Highlands are devoid of natural vegetation and once lush forest resources have disappeared.
Forests used to provide fuelwood and construction wood for the agrarian communities. However, as most areas do not have any remaining forests, people in the highlands are experiencing a deficiency in energy and wood resources. Historic land degradation has locked the population in the mountains in a vicious cycle of poverty. Declining natural vegetation has also resulted in streams going dry, declining water resources, and desertification.
Thus, deforestation, accelerated soil erosion and land degradation are now serious problems in Ethiopia. The country’s economy is largely dependent on weather-sensitive agriculture, and as such, is highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. Floods, drought, desertification, drying of streams and soil erosion are all connected to forest exploitation. In order to maintain the country’s remaining natural forest and biodiversity, Ethiopia understands it must recognize the importance of the forest sector for its economic, social and ecological benefits and for the country’s long-term development goals.
Forestry is one of the four pillars in Ethiopia’s Climate Resilient Green Economy Strategy, which aims to reduce national emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and to shift the development paradigm from a carbon intensive to a low carbon pathway. The strategy has identified several low carbon emitting initiatives across key economic sectors (forestry, energy, livestock, agriculture, transport and industry) that can advance Ethiopia towards a climate resilient, middle-income economy by 2025. The largest share of its emissions reduction effort is to be achieved through activities within the forest sector. To implement forestry activities with significant abatement emission potential, REDD+ has been introduced as a major investment instrument and is one of the four fast-track programs for realizing targets set in the CRGE strategy. Ethiopia’s REDD+ Program is further embedded in the National Forest Sector Development Program (NFSDP).
The National REDD+ Strategy focuses on maintaining and conserving existing natural forests, while making large-scale interventions in forest rehabilitation in degraded highlands and supporting the livelihoods of local communities in improved forest management, agriculture, energy and business. REDD+ is anticipated to contribute to the achievement of CRGE and NFSDP targets through improved management of existing natural forests and the expansion of forest cover through afforestation/reforestation (A/R).
The proper management of the Ethiopian Highlands, with forestry as a key intervention, is an urgent and intergenerational issue. In this country, forestry plays a key role in creating productive land use systems, enhancing water resources and other ecosystem services and protecting the region from the impacts of climate change. If unchecked deforestation continues, there exists a risk that rural development will be impaired, livelihoods of forest dependent communities will decline, and valuable ecological services such as water, wildlife and biodiversity will be lost.
It is to Ethiopia's benefit to invest in forest conservation and restoration that goes beyond emission reductions. Much of the terrestrial carbon stock in Ethiopia occurs in areas that have the potential to maintain and enhance co-benefits, such as biodiversity, livelihood security, jobs, soil retention and water provision. Integrated development in the Ethiopian Highlands, with a focus on creating adequate perennial vegetation and forest development in its land use system, will increase environmental protection of the mountains, while generating several ecosystem services that will support the economic development and sustain prosperity.