Is this the toughest part of addressing climate change?
Integrating land use, forestry and conservation into a comprehensive climate change mitigation and adaptation program has remained a struggle over the past 30 years.
I was a forest researcher working in the Federal Government of Canada in 1992 when it was announced that Maurice Strong, Chair of Ontario Hydro, the largest electric utility in North America, had agreed to purchase over 30,000 acres of rainforest in Costa Rica to offset some of the company’s environmental damage from its greenhouse gas emissions. Maurice Strong was equally a visionary and an enigma—a Canadian oil and gas executive who became the Secretary General of the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. However, the media and government immediately ridiculed Strong’s deal as a waste of taxpayers’ money. Despite Strong’s reputation and charisma, he couldn’t pull it off, and one of the world’s first forestry carbon transactions was dead on arrival.
Over the past 30 years 420 million hectares of forest has been converted, mostly to agriculture.
Integrating land use, forestry and conservation into a comprehensive climate change mitigation and adaptation program has remained a struggle over the past 30 years. There is ongoing scepticism from various commentators about whether structures, such as carbon markets, to provide funding to conserve natural ecosystems, implement sustainable forestry and agriculture and restore degraded land are a legitimate part of the net zero transition being adopted widely by government and business.
However, the scale of emissions from deforestation and unsustainable land use, as well as the scale of the opportunity to reverse these emissions, makes it inevitable that we must find solutions.
In this short paper, I will argue for redoubling effort to resolve outstanding issues, to integrate land use and forestry into climate policy at the international and national levels, and to create policy frameworks that enable capital to flow into outcomes that benefit the climate, biodiversity, and sustainable development. I will also suggest that there may be new approaches beyond just using carbon offsets to provide financial support for the land use transition.