Imagine a forest that covered half of your entire country. A biodiverse forest which supports thousands of species from giant anteaters to armadillos to jaguars. A forest that is home to diverse peoples and cultures -- and one of world’s last uncontacted tribes.
That forest is in fact a reality in Paraguay, a South American country of seven million people, landlocked between Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia. It is home to much of the Gran Chaco forest that is considered the second largest forested landscape in South America -- second only to the Amazon rainforest. And like other countries which are home to the great forests of South America, Paraguay too battled raging wildfires in 2019.
But Paraguay’s portion of the Chaco forest is battling an even more existential challenge. This unique ecosystem, characterised by scrub forests, grassy plains, lagoons, marshes and jungles, is under threat from agricultural expansion, driven by cattle and soy production.The region has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world. As NASA satellites have highlighted between 1987 and 2012, the forests in Paraguay lost nearly 44,000 square kilometres through conversion to farmland or grazing land. That’s an area roughly the size of Honduras.
Paraguay needed to move towards a more sustainable model of land use. And although the country accounts for just 0.1 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it keenly recognises the role of forests as a key nature-based solution to climate change. It is thus engaging in a variety of efforts to reduce deforestation and forest degradation across the country, including in the Chaco forest region.
In particular, Paraguay engaged in REDD+, a voluntary process under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which encourages developing countries to contribute to climate change mitigation efforts by reducing GHGs from deforestation and forest degradation. The process also increases the removal of GHGs from the earth’s atmosphere through the conservation, management, and expansion of forests. Crucially, REDD+ provides an effective mitigation strategy to raise the nature-based ambition of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) -- or a country’s “pledge” towards the Paris Agreement.
Since 2011, partners from across the UN System have collaborated closely to support Paraguay’s national REDD+ process through a range of tailor-made initiatives. They include the UN-REDD Programme (2011-2016) where the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) provided support to Paraguay to submit its first Forest Reference Emission Level of deforestation (FREL). This collaboration also resulted in a new a National Forest Monitoring System for the country which allows for the reporting of forest carbon -- reliable data on forest area and changes to forest area.
And since 2016, as a result of support from the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility delivered in Paraguay by UNDP, the country has advanced a number of elements of the UNFCCC Warsaw Framework for REDD+. These institutional prerequisites make a country’s emission reductions in the forest sector eligible for results-based payments.
UN agencies are now jointly collaborating to advise Paraguay on accessing and managing result-based payments from a range of public and private sources.
The first example of this collaboration is Paraguay’s proposal to be presented at the Green Climate Fund (GCF) pilot programme for REDD+ result-based payments. UNEP will play the role of Accredited Entity for this US $72 million proposal and implementation will be undertaken by the three UN-REDD partner agencies: UNDP, FAO and UNEP. UNDP will build upon the support provided for the development of Paraguay’s National Strategy on Forest for Sustainable Growth and will assist in the implementation of the strategy’s policies and measures. FAO will support improvement of the country’s national forest monitoring system. It will also assist in the application of rigorous methodologies to assess, quantify, monitor, report and verify emission reductions at the national level. UNEP will support the implementation of incentives to reduce deforestation and forest degradation. It will also help to enhance social and environmental safeguards; and engage in communications and awareness-raising efforts.
Working together for nearly a decade, UN agencies have demonstrated the power of working as one to open the door for Paraguay to access significant international resources to implement its National Strategy on Forests for Sustainable Growth and achieve the mitigation goals set out in the country’s NDC.
The results of these wide-ranging partnerships are producing dividends. In 2019, Paraguay reported 26.7 MtCO2 of emission reductions – or a reduction of nearly 50 per cent for the forest sector.
While there are still many challenges around sustainable land use in Paraguay, the UN System will continue to offer tailored support to the country when it comes to forest management – a crucial nature-based solution to climate change, which can also propel forward a range of related Sustainable Development Goals.