Forests: The Unsung Heroes

In an emergency, first responders deploy immediately, mindful that every minute counts. Emergencies require immediate, swift and decisive action. We are now facing an emergency on a global scale. The climate crisis necessitates that we deploy our first responders, forests, to help buy the additional time required and be a critical stopgap measure while the world transitions to and adopts long-term decarbonization strategies.

Forests, as the fastest, most economically viable and immediate means of reducing carbon emissions and increasing carbon sinks, can lessen the most dangerous impacts of climate change and contribute to the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius. Forests yield significant benefits and contribute directly to achieving the 2030 Agenda by advancing multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) simultaneously, including poverty eradication (SDG 1), food security (SDG 2), clean water (SDG 6), responsible consumptions and production (SDG 12), climate action (SDG 13), life below water (SDG 14) and life on land (SDG 15).

By halting and reversing tropical deforestation, forests could deliver a large part of the nature-based solutions – approximately 30 per cent of the total emission reductions needed to avoid dangerous climate change. While the current emissions gap – the difference between the reductions in greenhouse gases that are needed and the reductions that countries have pledged to make – is significant, forests have a major role to play in closing that gap. According to the UNFCCC’s Lima REDD+ Information Hub, 6.3 gigatons (billion tons) of REDD+ emission reductions have been reported over the last six years.

We know how to reduce emissions from forests. Both China and the UN-REDD Programme have shown it can be done and with great sustainable development benefits, protecting the interests of the most poor and vulnerable communities.

The role of forests in contributing to climate change adaptation and mitigation will be featured at the upcoming Climate Action Summit, in the nature-based solutions workstream. This workstream is being co-led by China and New Zealand, and a call for contributions has generated the submission of a large number of ongoing initiatives and best practices happening globally in the area of forests, finance, governance, capacity building.

China has been at the forefront in terms of illustrating how forests can help tackle carbon emissions. The Government of China highly appreciates the important role that forests play in addressing climate change, and has developed positive policies and measures to implement the construction of major ecological projects, extensively carry out national tree-planting campaigns, and make solid progress in sectoral and society-wide afforestation. Furthermore, the coverage of planted forests in China has grown from 22 million hectares in the early years of the Reform and Opening-up to 79.54 million hectares, currently ranking the first in the world.

Forty years after the implementation of the Three-North Shelterbelt Forest Project, 30.1 million hectares of forests have been planted, and forest coverage rate in the project area has increased from 5.05 per cent in 1977 to 13.57 per cent now. Since the Grain for Green Project was launched in 1999, 29.8 million hectares of forest have been planted, and the forest coverage rate in the area has increased by 3.6 per cent on average.

In the context of the continuous decline of global forest resources, China has become the country with the largest growth of forest resources in the world in the last 20 years, as its forest area and forest stock volume have continuously achieved "double growth", and has made significant contributions to the mitigation and adaptation of global climate change.

The UN-REDD Programme, a partnership with FAO, UNDP and UNEP, has worked with 65 developing countries, the private sector and civil society since 2008 to reduce carbon emissions from forests while advancing sustainable development. Building on the power of collaboration, the Programme has supported countries develop plans to reduce deforestation and related emissions. As a result, measures to protect forests and reduce emissions have been integrated into national development plans, climate strategies and laws. For example, in Mexico, the UN-REDD Programme provided technical knowledge and supported participatory processes to coalesce a collective, cross-stakeholder understanding on the legal ownership of forest carbon. As a result of the consensus reached, the Government will promote adjustments to the forestry law, while developing short-term options to facilitate the fair distribution of benefits for the preliminary carbon projects. The technical inputs and lessons learned from this process were shared with the region via South-South knowledge exchanges supported by the UN-REDD knowledge platform.

Critical to ensuring that the role of forests in tackling climate change is valued is through securing that successes and good practices are replicated across countries. This will require renewed vigour, increased investment and commitment to South-South cooperation as well as the technical and financial support from developed countries. It will be critical for developed countries to help attract, mobilize and scale up investments to ensure adequacy and predictability of climate finance in developing countries as well as ensuring technical cooperation and partnerships that are consistent with and allow for a pathway towards low-emission, climate-resilient development.

As the first global UN joint programme on climate change, the UN-REDD Programme has supported countries in developing multi-stakeholder partnerships and increasing South-South cooperation to reduce emissions from deforestation. Building on 10 years as the largest pooled UN climate change partnership, the UN-REDD Programme will continue to assist developing countries as they work towards achieving systemic and sustainable change at scale towards the Paris Agreement goals.

Elevating the role of forests and enhancing stronger South-South cooperation and increasing financial and technical supports from developed countries will provide a vital lifeline to our planet.


Mario Boccucci

Head of UN-REDD Programme Secretariat

Zhang Guobin

Deputy Division Director, Office for Climate Change, Department of Ecological Conservation and Restoration, National Forestry and Grassland Administration of China

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