by Heads of Agencies

Forests: A natural solution to climate change, crucial for a sustainable future

Special commemorative message from the Heads of FAO, UNDP and UN Environment on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the UN-REDD Programme

Throughout history, times of crisis have yielded extraordinary innovation and social cooperation. Not only has this been essential for conquering many seemingly insurmountable challenges, but it has also demonstrated one of the greatest strengths of human nature: that we can best face and overcome crises through joint, creative action.

Anthropogenic climate change constitutes one such historical crisis. The United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD), a joint undertaking of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) to fight deforestation and forest degradation, was developed to advance the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and to foster innovative and collaborative approaches to address the existential challenge of climate change.

Founded 10 years ago with the ongoing and substantial support of Denmark, Japan, Luxembourg, Norway, Spain, Switzerland and the European Union, UN-REDD was the first joint global United Nations programme on climate change. It has been a pioneer of innovative policy and financing approaches to valuing and protecting forests and their social and ecosystem services.

The programme now encompasses 64 partner countries and has become a flagship United Nations partnership for the Paris Agreement, and for delivering on the Sustainable Development Agenda. Today, it is a global knowledge hub for solutions to deforestation and forest degradation, and a major world partner in the implementation of nature-based solutions to climate change.

The programme has helped partner countries improve governance and advance national policy and institutional systems to safeguard forests and mitigate climate change. Ecuador, for example, with support from the programme, became the second country after Brazil to meet all the requirements for the REDD+ mechanism (known as the Warsaw Framework for REDD+). Since 2012, Ecuador has reported reductions of over 28 million tons of CO2 emissions; in 2017 it became the first country to receive Green Climate Fund investment to co-finance its National REDD+ Action Plan.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the multi-faceted support of the UN-REDD Programme has enabled the country to put forests at the core of its national development, through enacting policy reforms, developing innovative and cross-sectoral investment plans and programmes, increasing technical capacity for efficient data collection, analysis and reporting, and supporting the establishment of a pioneering national fund for national climate finance instruments, thus facilitating the engagement of different national stakeholders, international partners and donors.

The UN-REDD Programme has also helped countries make significant progress in modernizing their forest monitoring using new technologies, satellite data and open-source software. Measuring forest change is now easier, more cost-effective, faster and more transparent than ever before.

Indonesia has also been at the forefront of REDD+ since its inception. With high-level political will, great efforts have been made to reduce its high deforestation rate, supported by new cutting-edge technology and the use of satellite data for forest and peatland monitoring. Increased transparency in reporting in the State of Indonesia’s Forests 2018 publication shows encouraging signs of a reduction in deforestation in the past two years.

Commitments to the human rightsbased approach, social inclusion and stakeholder engagement are central to the programme’s policy and technical support. In Colombia, the UN-REDD Programme enabled nationwide social inclusion for forest and climate processes, including the engagement of indigenous, Afrodescendent and local communities. A grass-roots vision on REDD+ was developed and then integrated into the national policy arena.

These examples show that dedicated support for governance and policy reforms, multi-stakeholder cooperation, technological innovation and institutional capacity-building can unlock forests’ potential as the pre-eminent nature- based solution to climate change. This is crucial for the implementation of the Paris Agreement and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Forests are a major, requisite front of action in the global fight against catastrophic climate change thanks to their unparalleled capacity to absorb and store carbon. Forests capture carbon dioxide at a rate equivalent to about one third the amount released annually by burning fossil fuels. Stopping deforestation and restoring damaged forests could therefore provide up to 30 per cent of the solution for climate change.

Nevertheless, deforestation remains shockingly high and intractable in most countries without major policy and institutional reforms and corresponding governance and financial support. In fact, agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) represents 24 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from deforestation and agricultural emissions.

The year 2020 will mark a pivotal moment in humanity’s quest for a sustainable future, when greenhouse gas emissions need to start declining if we are to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change. Key to securing this future are increased ambitions for the role of forests in climate change mitigation and adaptation and the United Nations’ innovative and collaborative power.

The UN-REDD Programme is a proven model for the joint creative action required to overcome the climate crisis. Now it is time to scale it up.

This report is made possible through support from Denmark, Japan, Luxembourg, Norway, Spain, Switzerland and the European Union.