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  • Spatial Gradients of Ecosystem Health Indicators across a Human-Impacted Semiarid Savanna

Spatial Gradients of Ecosystem Health Indicators across a Human-Impacted Semiarid Savanna

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Drivers of soil organic carbon (SOC) dynamics involve a combination of edaphic, human, and climatic factors that influence and determine SOC distribution across the landscape. High-resolution maps of key indicators of ecosystem health can enable assessments of these drivers and aid in critical management decisions. This study used a systematic field-based approach coupled with statistical modeling and remote sensing to develop accurate, high-resolution maps of key indicators of ecosystem health across savanna ecosystems in South Africa. Two 100-km2 landscapes in Bushbuckridge Local Municipality were surveyed, and 320 composite topsoil samples were collected. Mid-infrared spectroscopy was used to predict soil properties, with good performance for all models and root mean squared error of prediction (RMSEP) values of 1.3, 0.2, 5, and 3.6 for SOC, pH, sand, and clay, respectively. Validation results for the mapping of soil erosion prevalence and herbaceous cover using RapidEye imagery at 5-m spatial resolution showed good model performance with area under the curve values of 0.80 and 0.86, respectively. The overall (out-of-bag) random forest model performance for mapping of soil properties, reported using R2, was 0.8, 0.77, and 0.82 for SOC, pH, and sand, respectively. Calibration model performance was good, with RMSEP values of 2.6 g kg?1 for SOC, 0.2 for pH, and 6% for sand content. Strong gradients of increasing SOC and pH corresponded with decreasing sand content between the study sites. Although both sites had low SOC overall, important driving factors of SOC dynamics included soil texture, soil erosion prevalence, and climate. These data will inform strategic land management decisions focused particularly on improving ecosystem conditions.

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  • Spatial and seasonal variation in soil respiration along a slope in a rubber plantation and a natural forest in Xishuangbanna, Southwest China

Spatial and seasonal variation in soil respiration along a slope in a rubber plantation and a natural forest in Xishuangbanna, Southwest China

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Soil respiration is a key component of the global carbon cycle, and even small changes in soil respiration rates could result in significant changes in atmospheric CO2 levels. The conversion of tropical forests to rubber plantations in SE Asia is increasingly common, and there is a need to understand the impacts of this land-use change on soil respiration in order to revise CO2 budget calculations. This study focused on the spatial variability of soil respiration along a slope in a natural tropical rainforest and a terraced rubber plantation in Xishuangbanna, Southwest (SW) China. In each land-use type, we inserted 105 collars for soil respiration measurements. Research was conducted over one year in Xishuangbanna during May, June, July and October 2015 (wet season) and January and March 2016 (dry season). The mean annual soil respiration rate was 30% higher in natural forest than in rubber plantation and mean fluxes in the wet and dry season were 15.1 and 9.5 Mg C ha-1 yr-1 in natural forest and 11.7 and 5.7 Mg C ha-1 yr-1 in rubber plantation. Using a linear mixed effects model to assess the effect of changes in soil temperature and moisture on soil respiration, we found that soil temperature was the main driver of variation in soil respiration, explaining 48% of its seasonal variation in rubber plantation and 30% in natural forest. After including soil moisture, the model explained 70% of the variation in soil respiration in natural forest and 76% in rubber plantation. In the natural forest slope position had a significant effect on soil respiration, and soil temperature and soil moisture gradients only partly explained this correlation. In contrast, soil respiration in rubber plantation was not affected by slope position, which may be due to the terrace structure that resulted in more homogeneous environmental conditions along the slope. Further research is needed to determine whether or not these findings hold true at a landscape level.

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  • A decade since the birth of REDD+, what does the program need to succeed?

A decade since the birth of REDD+, what does the program need to succeed?

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A REDD+ benefit sharing site is pictured in Jambi, Indonesia. Photo by I. Cooke Vieira/CIFOR
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A REDD+ benefit sharing site is pictured in Jambi, Indonesia. Photo by I. Cooke Vieira/CIFOR

It is almost 10 years since the birth of REDD+, the UN-backed program to incentivize forest restoration and conservation in developing countries, as part of a worldwide effort to reduce emissions and increase carbon stocks.

The program, also tailored to contribute to national sustainable development, has been heralded as a powerful part of the solution to both poverty and climate change.

But at a session entitled “REDD+ money for Green Results: What REDD+ Needs to Succeed,” hosted by Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) at the Global Landscapes Forum Investment Case Symposium in Washington, the debate ran fast and hot.

CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) research leader Christopher Martius, who is also CIFOR’s climate change team leader and panel moderator, set the stage for a discussion that would be both productive and critical as some delegates debated its efficacy and future potential.

Panelists acknowledged the extent of the challenges facing the voluntary climate change mitigation approach program, but also came forward with a range of useful propositions for helping achieve the emission reduction results so urgently needed.

Deforestation and forest degradation account for 11 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, more than the entire global transportation sector and second only to the energy sector, according to data from the UN-REDD Programme, which works with developing countries in an advisory role to help implement REDD+ technical support services tailored to national circumstances and needs.

Watch: REDD+ money for green results? What REDD+ finance needs to succeed


Gabriel Labbate, regional coordinator of the Latin American and the Caribbean region for the Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI) and the UN REDD program, estimated that around $400 million are dispersed for REDD+ per year, plus another $600 million in finance for other kinds of sustainable forest management.

“That looks like a decent number,” he said. “Until you take a look at what was on the other side of the fence”: the money that’s simultaneously going toward industries responsible for emitting carbon and causing deforestation. For example, in 2015 the oil industry alone was subsidized to the tune of about $5 trillion.

Asgeir Olafson, Global Topic Lead on Land Use and the Bioeconomy at Scandinavian consultancy firm COWI A/S, also picked up on the need to look at the bigger picture and all the actors involved in order to make a real difference: “REDD is only one stream of money, alongside a lot of other streams of money, going into deforestation areas,” he said.

Labbate argued further that carbon markets are not yet lucrative or established enough to incentivize changes in practice on a wider scale, and Kaspar Wansleben, managing director of the Forestry and Climate Change Fund (FCCF), agreed: “It’s not considered by investors to be serious, stable and predictable enough to give them the 15-year perspective that they need to make something like this work.”

Challenges aside, some impressive progress has already been made under REDD+, said Labbate. According to the Lima REDD+ Information Hub, a platform for countries to report avoided deforestation, about 6 gigatons of carbon emissions have already been avoided as a result of the program. “I think it is remarkable that in this environment we still get these types of results,” he concluded.

Read also: New study finds little private finance in REDD+ efforts, suggests blended finance as way forward

Session participants discuss REDD+ finance during the “What REDD+ finance needs to succeed” session at the GLF Investment Case Symposium 2018. Photo by Leigh Vogel/GLF


One keenly-debated issue was the role of the public sector in both developing and developed countries, in getting REDD+ to perform better. Olafson stated that we should “expect no solution from policymakers. They have too many other urgent things to do.”

“The scope, and the level of ambition, and the political capital to being involved with REDD+, I’m sorry to say, is simply not there.”

But Abbate urged caution about dismissing policymakers’ importance in REDD+ discussions: “Markets don’t work in a vacuum. They work better in London than in the DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo], because the institutions around them are different,” he argued. “And the strength of the institutions in a country is a political decision, made by policymakers.”

Olafson acknowledged that governments could, at least, play a useful role in helping unlocking private finance to fund REDD+ activities. “There is plenty of finance out there,” he said. “We need private finance to be involved, and governments to help with that.”

Ellysar Baroudy, Lead Carbon Finance Specialist at the World Bank (WB), described a large-scale project the Bank is involved with in Mozambique. The country received $3.6 million from the Forest Carbon Partnership Fund to establish an enabling environment for private finance, and the WB contributed $5 million to the cause.

Forest sector reform and technical assistance were key aspects of this process, as these aspects that are difficult for private investors to fund. “Countries need time to get sorted and put in place a foundation first,” said Baroudy, “and then they can start to attract funding from a whole mosaic of different sources.”

But Dharsono Hartono, president director of PT Rimba Makmur Utama, an Indonesian based company developing a 108,255 hectare peatland forest REDD+ project in Central Kalimantan, opined that in the Indonesian context, too much money has already been poured into creating enabling conditions, and too little into the task at hand. As a result, he said, “in the last 10 years, deforestation hasn’t decreased.”

In the Indonesian context, the government will start getting involved only once the private sector takes the lead and starts making sales, Hartono continued. “So this is a lesson for us going forward: it’s not just about the typical donor countries working together, we need full collaboration between the private sector, donors, civil society and communities.”

This includes making sure that incentives are truly worthwhile for communities on the frontiers of deforestation, urged Wansleben: “We need to provide systems and build models that allow local communities to generate incomes and livelihoods from the first resources that come through, which are able to at least compete with other, more damaging kinds of land use.”

Olafson shared Hartono’s sense of urgency about getting started, rather than waiting for perfect knowledge and conditions. “We should dare to test 70 percent solutions,” he said.

Baroudy added that the “high bar” for sustainability expected of the land-use sector has gotten in the way of being able to pay for results early in the piece. “Let’s not expect the land-use sector to have to be the gold, platinum and everything else in terms of what you can do, because the more we wait, the more deforestation is happening,” she said.

Read also: Blend, bond and blockchain: The financial landscape is changing to fit the planet’s needs


Several panelists pointed out the progress the program has enabled beyond the realms of carbon finance. In Indonesia, said Hartono, “REDD+ changed the way the private sector does business. We started seeing that communities should be part of the equation.” Wansleben added that REDD+ has pushed emphasis on to creating better monitoring systems, which can then also be used for other projects.

In the bigger picture, the program has helped precipitate a shift from the development paradigm of the 1990s, said Labbate. At that time, the prevailing view was that countries should pay for their own development. In his opinion, REDD+ has helped cement a new approach that takes into account globalization, international inequality and historical contributions to environmental degradation and climate change, and calls on wealthier countries and individuals to contribute to poorer areas’ development in more sustainable ways.

Hartono remained hopeful that the best for REDD+ is yet to come. “The tipping point is almost here,” he said. “People understand carbon much more now than ten years ago; we are in a very exciting time.”

Baroudy was similarly hopeful. “I don’t give up,” she said. “I am totally an optimist in this space. I think it behooves on us all to really push the barriers and keep going, and to me there’s just no other option than to make it happen.”

By Monica Evans, originally published at GLF’s Landscape News

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  • Profiling Carbon Storage/Stocks of Cocoa Agroforests in the Forest Landscape of Southern Cameroon

Profiling Carbon Storage/Stocks of Cocoa Agroforests in the Forest Landscape of Southern Cameroon

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Despite evidence that cocoa agroforests are composed of different types of associated plants leading to varieties of structures, few studies have been done to assess the implications of these variations on carbon stocks. The current studies profile the carbon storage of cocoa agroforests in Southern Cameroon by: (1) evaluating the carbon stocks of cocoa agroforests in different ecological zones (Yaoundé, Mbalmayo, and Ebolowa), (2) evaluating the carbon stocks of cocoa agroforests under different management methods, (3) evaluating the contribution of some plant species to carbon sequestration inside cocoa agroforests, and (4) identifying the carbon stocks of some important species. Inside the cocoa agroforests of Southern Cameroon, associated plants store around 70% of the carbon. Cocoa agroforests with timber and NWFP (Non-Wood Forest Products) store more than twice what is found in systems rich with Musa and oil palm. In these systems, timber and NWFP store more than 2.5 times what is found in cocoa systems with high densities of cocoa, and such systems with timber and NWFP store more than 3.3 times the carbon of unshaded cocoa orchards.


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  • Gender lessons for climate initiatives: A comparative study of REDD+ impacts on subjective wellbeing

Gender lessons for climate initiatives: A comparative study of REDD+ impacts on subjective wellbeing

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Although REDD+ is primarily a mechanism for reducing carbon emissions from forests, concerns regarding social benefits, wellbeing and gender are increasingly part of its mandate. This is consistent with the Paris Declaration as well as SDG 5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Critics have argued, however, that REDD+ design, both in policy and projects, does not take gender into account effectively, rather marginalizing women from decision making processes and exacerbating inequalities. Most of that research has been site specific or on single countries. This article uses data from a longitudinal study of subnational REDD+ initiatives in six countries to analyze their gendered impact on perceived wellbeing. Comparative research on subjective wellbeing was conducted at 62 villages participating in 16 REDD+ initiatives and 61 control villages at two periods in time, using a before-after-control-intervention (BACI) design. Focus groups with villagers (68% male) and women (100% female) permit a gendered comparison of definitions of wellbeing and outcomes of initiatives. The results highlight that while definitions of wellbeing overlapped between the two groups, almost half of the women’s focus groups thought that having their own source of income was important. Outcomes regarding wellbeing change suggest that perceived wellbeing decreased in REDD+ villages both for villagers as a whole and for women, relative to control villages, but the decrease was much worse for women – a decrease that is significantly associated with living in a REDD+ village. These declines may be due to unrealized expectations for REDD+, combined with little attention to gender in REDD+ initiatives, in spite of an important portion (46%) of specific interventions that women view positively. These interventions provide insights into potential ways forward. Overall, however, REDD+ initiatives appear to be repeating past mistakes, with insufficient attention to gender equality and safeguarding women’s rights. More effort needs to be paid to ensuring that gender is an integral part of future initiatives to combat climate change in rural communities.

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  • Bridging research and development to generate science and solutions

Bridging research and development to generate science and solutions

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A commonly held view is that trees in landscapes act as evapotranspirators, through which water is transpired and lost. But research now shows that rather than disappearing, this water falls back as rain – either over the same area or elsewhere – in a process dubbed ‘rainfall recycling’.

The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) participated in various ways at the recent Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Bonn, Germany, including in a discussion forum titled ‘Rainfall Recycling’ as a Landscape Function: Connecting SDGs 6, 13 and 15. The session examined the role of forests in regulating the water cycle and looked at research that suggests vegetation plays a critical role in the frequency and intensity of rainfall. It also explored how this can affect land restoration, water management and climate change adaptation.

“Forests have been long known for having very important influences on climate change through, mainly, the carbon cycle,” said FTA Director Vincent Gitz, who moderated part of the discussion. “What these findings tell us now is that we will need to consider the role of forests on the water cycle, and then the effects on local, regional and continental climates.”

Following the discussion, Gitz spoke about this holistic view of the water cycle, the potential implications of the research on policy and action, as well as FTA’s role as a research-for-development partnership.

What is FTA’s role in research for development?

The Segama River is seen from a viewing area in Sabah, Malaysia. Forests and trees in the water cycle are part of new insights on ‘rainfall recycling’. Photo by Greg Girard/CIFOR

The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry is the largest research-for-development partnership to tackle the important issues of the contribution of forests, trees and agroforestry to sustainable development, climate change, addressing food security and working toward sustainable landscapes.

‘Landscape’ is a very wide concept. FTA science encompasses work from genetic resources to livelihoods, value chains, and impacts – including wide, large-scale impacts such as climate change – and how they all interact altogether in a landscape. FTA brings research in development, meaning research that is done with development actors and embedded into development programs, taking into account the needs and the expectations of stakeholders and integrating them in the research being carried forward.

FTA, being a global partnership, brings solutions that are suited to different kinds of situations across the world. And it bridges the world of research and the world of development actors for the cogeneration of science and solutions.

Read more: FTA scientists feature in innovative series of talks on landscapes

How was FTA involved in GLF Bonn 2017? 

FTA provides science and knowledge and an evidence base to discussions between stakeholders here at the GLF on sometimes very difficult issues or very controversial issues. Here at this GLF in Bonn we emphasize three main topics.

The first one is the role of forests and trees in the water cycle, which we call the new science of ‘rainfall recycling’. The second one is about forest landscape restoration and providing a set of solutions to understand what tree to plant where, in which context, and also how agroforestry can help land restoration and promote food security at the same time. The last point is about finance and how finance actors and investments can orient the way value chains impact landscapes, toward sustainable landscapes.

What outcomes did you see from FTA’s discussion forum at GLF?

Clouds pass over homes on the banks of the Belayan River in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Nanang Sujana/CIFOR

The discussion managed to bring stakeholders and policymakers up to date with the latest scientific findings on rainfall recycling, so that they could first learn from the new science but also consider how these elements can be taken on board in the different institutional frameworks they are dealing with, be it water management, forest management or land management.

Vegetation has been known for some time to influence the terrestrial water cycle on the ground – precipitation translating to runoff, the issues of flood control, etc. What is less known is that vegetation and land cover influence the atmospheric part of the water cycle, meaning that there is a kind of a paradigm shift from a situation where trees and forests matter for water-basin management to a situation where trees and forests matter for the management of rainfall at different scales.

It is a different perception of how water is being produced and consumed in an ecosystem and how we can better manage ecosystems for providing water resources to agriculture for climate change adaptation.

Read more: FTA and IUFRO highlight cooperation at Global Landscapes Forum 

What are the implications of these new scientific insights on climate, land, water, and related policies and actions? 

These insights may have important implications for either climate policies, land policies or water policies. Forests have long been known to have very important influences on climate change through, mainly, the carbon cycle. What these findings tell us now is that we will need to consider the role of forests on the water cycle, and then the effects on local, regional and continental climates.

These kinds of discussions at the GLF are important because they help, first, different stakeholders understand the different perspectives on the technical issue, and then also share views and their concerns and expectations amongst themselves.

And one other important point in the GLF is that it is not a formal negotiation forum. So it enables us to distill new ideas, bring innovations to the table, that can then be matured, honed and brought up into other more formal kinds of platforms, either at national level, with government, or at international level, such as at international conventions.

Read more: The Global Landscapes Forum is ‘a movement worth building’

By Hannah Maddison-Harris, originally published by CIFOR’s Forests News

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors

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  • A review of research on the effects of drought and temperature stress and increased CO2 on Theobroma cacao L., and the role of genetic diversity to address climate change

A review of research on the effects of drought and temperature stress and increased CO2 on Theobroma cacao L., and the role of genetic diversity to address climate change

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The global status of research on the effects of drought, temperature and elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) levels on the cacao plant, and the role of genetic diversity in producing more resilient cacao, are presented in this report. With the aim to enhance what we know about the resilience of cacao to climate change, and generate a comprehensive understanding of the questions that remain, this report highlights significant advances in published and ongoing research on drought and temperature tolerance in cacao.

Most of the information about ongoing or unpublished work was obtained from personal communications and surveys involving research institutes around the globe. Organizations were selected to participate in the survey based on their presence in the relevant literature, referrals from other organizations, or personal communications from individuals attesting to their involvement in research related to drought and temperature tolerance, or increased CO2 response, in cacao. A vast network of public and private sector partners including research institutes, producer organizations, and industry representatives around the world participated and were involved to collect additional information on unpublished and on-going research work in this area.

Over 100 scientists from 50 institutes across 29 countries participated. Additional information was gathered from personal communications, surveys carried out in collaboration with WCF and its USAID-supported Feed the Future Partnership for the Climate-Smart Cocoa Program, the Global Network for Cacao Genetic Resources (CacaoNet), the International Network for Cacao Genetic Improvement (INGENIC), the Regional Breeders Working Groups, and the research team on cacao and climate change at the University of Reading, UK. Fundamentally, the literature compiled in this report serves as a basis to understand the questions that still remain regarding cacao’s responses to abiotic stresses, highlight the resources that are available to answer them, and identify synergies and complementarities.

The report also helps to identify key research questions and partners for the development of a proposal for an international/multi-institutional research programme, to be implemented over the next three to five years, as part of the Collaborative Framework for Cacao Evaluation (CFCE). Although future climatic predictions are worrisome, the genetic materials held within national and international collections offer much potential in the development of improved planting material. The objective of the report is to gather as much information as possible, so that we can aim to maximize the resilience of cacao through the discovery and use of improved planting material, in combination with improved management practices.

The authors express gratitude to all of those who provided details of thier research on cacao genetic resources and abiotic stress and acknowledge financial support of WCF and its Feed the Future Partnership for Climate Smart Cocoa, through a grant to Bioversity International from USDA-FAS, the ECA/CAOBISCO/FCC Joint Working Group on Cocoa Quality and Productivity; and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA).

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  • Green Climate Fund steps up to reduce deforestation and forest degradation

Green Climate Fund steps up to reduce deforestation and forest degradation

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Cattle farming is a key driver of deforestation in Brazil. Photo by Kate Evans/CIFOR
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The Amazon river and rainforest are seen from above in Amazonas, Brazil. Photo by N. Palmer/CIAT for CIFOR

The recent meeting of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) Board in Songdo, Korea, adopted two new decisions intended to reduce global emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, as well as to support forest restoration and conservation in developing countries via REDD+.

These two new decisions relate to the GCF’s role in financing development of policies and preparatory activities in developing countries and the GCF’s policy related to making payments for verified emission reductions achieved through such policies and measures.


It has been a long trek to get to this point at the international level. The work on REDD+ started as early as 2005, and the international framework was finalized between 2013 and 2015. The UN Climate Convention Standing Committee on Finance has more recently been undertaking work to move the finance discussion forward since 2014 and much groundwork has been done through initiatives led by the World Bank, UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), such as the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and the UN-REDD Programme.

Since efforts to curb forest loss and restore and conserve forests commenced through REDD+, there has been more than USD $6 billion provided to countries across Asia, Africa and Central and South America mostly on behalf of the governments of Norway, Germany, the UK and the US. Now, more funding (likely several hundreds of millions of US dollars) is expected to come from the GCF.

However, despite all these efforts, only one country Brazil has been able to show a decrease in deforestation. But this trend has been reversed with a recent growth in deforestation. The complexities associated with REDD+ and its lack of emissions reductions results has thus caused many to question the potential for the framework to mitigate climate change.

Attempts to achieve these objectives by relying on private sector finance and carbon markets (negligible to non-existent) have been marred with controversy, associated with on the ground realities of rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. These tensions remain, with deep divides persisting on topics such as carbon markets, offsets, lack of respect for indigenous rights, and continued uncertainty related to land tenure in many countries.

Despite this, slowing, halting and reversing forest cover and carbon loss remains a global priority. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15 seeks to achieve this by 2020. Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and restoring and conserving forests, was also identified as a priority action in the Paris Agreement.

The global community is well aware of the importance of forests to the climate change agenda, and heavy reliance is being placed on forest and land use to achieve the goals outlined by the Paris Agreement.

Read also: What’s causing the holdup in REDD+ results-based finance?

Serapio Condori Daza, a brazil nut harvester, works in a concession in Madre de Dios, Peru. Photo by M. Simola/CIFOR


The first decision made at the recent 17th Meeting of the GCF Board in Songdo addressed the type of support to be provided by the GCF to enact the enabling conditions, policies and measures required to support Phases 1 and 2 of REDD+.

The multibillion-dollar fund will support countries to develop strategies and action plans, reference levels to measure emissions, forest monitoring systems and safeguard systems, as well as land tenure reform, and will put emphasis on issues related to gender, indigenous peoples rights and environmental integrity.

The GCF intends to makes it a priority to enhance countries’ capacities to safeguard the rights of local and indigenous communities and to seek strict adherence to social and environmental safeguards.

The GCF says it will ensure relevant stakeholders and civil society groups are consulted, with particular attention paid to the rights of indigenous peoples. It will focus on investments that build local and long-lasting capacities and stakeholder engagement processes.

The GCF will support projects and programs, which target the following:

  • Previously forested lands: to reduce pressure on forests by increasing productivity of agricultural lands through more efficient and proven technologies, reforestation and agroforestry and restoration of natural forests;
  • Managed forests: targeting forests in proximity to the agricultural frontier. This may come in the form of sustainable forest management for timber or non‐timber forest products, payments for ecosystem services, and ecotourism; and
  • Primary forests: recognizing land tenure rights, strengthening law enforcement measures, creating large‐scale protected areas, maintaining the livelihoods and cultural values of forest‐dependent people and long‐term conservation of these forests and the ecosystem services they provide.

The decision also identifies that the GCF will engage with the private sector through its Private Sector Facility. Through this facility, the GCF considers that it may provide support by:

  • Providing funding and instruments to generate credit lines with improved loan conditions for sustainable agricultural practices conditional to maintaining natural forests and/or increasing forest areas;
  • Financing technical assistance to small‐scale farmers to improve capacities and generate opportunities to engage in deforestation‐free supply chains; and
  • Providing guarantees to reduce market risks, and other risks inherent to the forestry and land use sectors, including climate variability.

At this point in time, the GCF’s approach to engagement with the private sector is still in its infancy. Work will commence in the coming months to further develop a policy on the way in which the fund interacts with the private sector, likely including the topic of trading in forest carbon.

Tosi Mpanu Mpanu of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a leading board member working on this issue, underscored the intention of the GCF to become a global leader on the topic. It was emphasized by Mpanu Mpanu and other board members that funding should not be limited to just a few countries, but to all the countries that require support to achieve emissions reductions from forests.

Germany’s board member Karsten Sachs emphasized the need to ensure clarity on the comparative advantage of the GCF over other funds proving finance on the same subject. He elaborated that further work needs to be done on cohesion and complementarity with initiatives such as the FCPF and UN-REDD. Sachs also emphasized the importance of support for work by Germany and the importance of strengthening the role of the private sector, including through supply chain management.

The decision was welcomed by representatives of indigenous peoples, who reinforced that land rights are the basis of success for interventions of this type. They emphasized the need to ensure prevention of risks arising from implementation and their desire to see support from the GCF in strengthening land rights.


The second decision was on the topic related to payment for results – meaning verified emissions reductions achieved by following the processes set out by the UNFCCC Framework related to REDD+. The decision was entitled “Pilot Program for REDD+ Results Based Payments”.

This was a more technical decision than the previous one, and one in which the GCF Board members ensured their UNFCCC expert negotiators were present to provide consul on (including the US, Norway, Malaysia and Brazil).

The results-based payments decision contained the following aspects as the “Key Procedural and technical elements”:

An aerial shot shows the contrast between the forest and agricultural landscapes near Rio Branco, Acre, Brazil. Photo by Kate Evans/CIFOR

a) Access modality: requests would be channeled through accredited entities of the GCF, albeit acting in a more limited role.

b) Financial valuation of results: proposed a uniform and fixed price of USD $5 per ton CO2 eq. for the pilot program.

c) Size of the Request For Payments (RFP): proposed allocating between USD $300 million and USD $500 million for the pilot program. It was noted that as of June 2017, 25 countries have completed their reference levels, and the Technical Analysis by the UNFCCC and four countries have submitted REDD+ results to the UNFCCC Secretariat with a potential volume of emissions reductions from countries ranging between 600 and 2500 million tonnes of CO2 eq. over the last two to four years.

d) Double payment and double financing: considered by the GCF Secretariat to be where a country receives both support for activities pertaining to Phases 1 and 2 of REDD+, and payments for the results achieved during the same periods in Phase 3, proposing that this can be managed through appropriate control policies (i.e. registry systems).

e) Use of proceeds: Proposed that countries receiving REDD+ results-based payments (RBPs) should reinvest the proceeds in activities in line with countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

f) Ownership, legal title and implications on NDCs: the emissions reductions paid for by the GCF under the pilot program are proposed not to be transferred to the GCF and should be retired. In other words, it is a ‘non market’ approach.

g) Eligibility date for results and length of the RFP: Concerns the eligibility date of results (past or future) for payments. The secretariat suggested the pilot only consider recent ex-post results. The length of the entire process could take up to two years (from the launch of the request for payments to the distribution of payments).

h) Scale of implementation: proposals should be designed to achieve tons of emissions reductions or enhanced removals at national, or in the interim, sub-national level.

i) Forest reference emission levels (FREL)/Forest reference levels (FRL) and results: The GCF proposes to employ a scorecard to create a bridge from UNFCCC Technical Analysis processes to GCF RBP payments.

j) Operationalization of the Cancun safeguards: Noting differences between the Cancun safeguards and the GCF environmental and social standards, countries applying for results-based payments will have the primary responsibility of demonstrating how the Cancun safeguards have been addressed and respected in the implementation of the REDD+ activities through their Summary of Information. The AEs, working with the countries, will prepare and document an assessment describing how the GCF interim standards have been met and applied in the REDD+ activities. Again, a scorecard will play an important role.

The secretariat identified the need to better understand the size of the pilot, the eligibility date, the distribution of payments, and the application of the scorecard.

The board members approached the issue with caution, recognizing the complexities, sensitivities and history of international negotiations on the topic.

Caroline Leclerc of Canada, one of the champions leading the process, mentioned the complexities and the interlinkages of topics, as well as the fact that the board is not in a place to fully agree on all the parts of the proposed decision.

Mpanu Mpanu mentioned that the price may be a complicated issue as it costs many countries more per ton than US$5 to reduce emissions through the forest and land-use sector.

The board members commenced putting forward different positions, making it clear that there was not going to be agreement on many issues. Diverse positions and concerns arose on various topics including: eligibility dates, transfer, the size of the GCF envelope, price, double financing, assessment, and the content of the scorecard.

Read also: Smallholder farmers in REDD+ sites: The cost of missed opportunities

Cattle farming is a key driver of deforestation in Brazil. Photo by Kate Evans/CIFOR


Following a full day of consultations and closed-room negotiations, the board finally took note of the progress made. It asked the secretariat to undertake further analysis to finalize the draft request for further consideration on proposals at the 18th Meeting of the Board, which will be held in Cairo, Egypt, in September.

The GCF approach to forests, on paper at least, seems encouraging in many ways. This major global fund is seeking, at this point in time, to look beyond merely economic incentives such as markets and carbon trading to holistic landscape and cross-sectoral approaches with broad stakeholder engagement. The fund seems to embrace both market and non-market approaches.

Although these decisions are about REDD+ specifically, the GCF is making efforts to look beyond the limitations associated with the current REDD+ framework concerning matters such as addressing drivers of deforestation.

It is also seeking to enhance respect for rights. In recent years, there has been a significant improvement of the fund’s approach to indigenous peoples’ rights. This is reflected in the recent decisions taken and the ongoing work related to a standalone indigenous people’s policy expected to be put forth at the next board meeting.

It is also noteworthy that the GCF is progressively laying the groundwork to engage in more depth on carbon trading-related interventions, which will no doubt in due course give rise to increasing controversy and potential for reputational risk to the fund.

The proof, however, will be in the project approval, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. The GCF is still on a learning curve when it comes to project implementation, with 43 projects now approved and valued at around US$2 billion.

Very little funding has started to flow and getting money out the door has been challenging. Projects approved by the GCF have come under some criticism for lacking consultations with stakeholders, and the fund will need to ensure that these issues do not reoccur as it moves further into the realm of forests and landscapes.

By Stephen Leonard, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Stephen Leonard at

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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  • Smallholder farmers in REDD+ sites: The cost of missed opportunities

Smallholder farmers in REDD+ sites: The cost of missed opportunities

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A man from Pangkalan Limus village collects wood from the surrounding forest in West Java, Indonesia. Photo by A. Erlangga/CIFOR
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A man from Pangkalan Limus village collects wood from the surrounding forest in West Java, Indonesia. Photo by A. Erlangga/CIFOR

Paying farmers not to clear forests could be more effective – if we had a better idea of how much income they really lose.

It is clear that REDD+ has changed from what was first envisaged. First formulated in 2005 as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the approach attracted high hopes for slowing down climate change by reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation. An integral part of the approach that was originally conceived included direct payments to forest users for not deforesting or degrading forests.

This has not turned out to have been as central to REDD+ implementation as initially expected. There is still, however, broad consensus that the global beneficiaries of climate change mitigation should provide benefits greater than the burdens faced by local forest users who are asked to conserve forest.

A new paper by CGIAR Research Program for Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) scientist Dr. Amy Ickowitz of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and colleagues Erin Sills and Claudio de Sassi shows just how much smallholder farmers in a variety of REDD+ sites would actually lose if they were to stop all deforesting and degrading activities, and were not compensated. The paper also outlines how these costs vary between the richest and poorest farmers.


Using data from CIFOR’s Global Comparative Study on REDD+ (GCS REDD+), taken from a number of sites across six tropical countries, the new paper shows that initial estimates of how much smallholder farmers should be compensated for their losses from foregoing deforesting and degrading activities were underestimated.

That led to a mindset in which policymakers and donors thought they could reduce emissions “very cheaply,” according to Ickowitz.

In some cases, this is true. But in many others, it is not. This mindset does not adequately take into account the fact that costs vary widely, even within the same community.

The study separated costs by income group to show how the opportunity costs of deforestation and degradation differ between the richest and poorest members of the communities. As it turns out, these differences can be very large indeed.

Making payments based on more accurate opportunity cost estimates would make REDD+ programs more equitable and likely more effective, says Ickowitz.

She adds that the research shows how a system of flat payments — per hectare, or per household — could be a “pro-poor” approach, as lower-income households have lower average opportunity costs compared to richer farmers in all study sites considered across all six countries.


So what exactly is an ‘opportunity cost’?

Simply put, it is the income a forest-user loses after complying with REDD+ restrictions on his or her land. If a farmer used to clear trees and grow crops on that land, the opportunity cost is the value of the production he or she has had to give up.

Based on household data and estimates of carbon stocks from six tropical countries, Ickowitz and her team found that opportunity costs per ton of carbon for most of the smallholders in the study exceed current market prices on the voluntary carbon market.

In the early days of REDD+ thinking, estimates of smallholder opportunity cost were much lower than they turned out to be. At the same time, carbon market prices did not rise to the level that many had anticipated.

“One of our main findings is that despite many concerns that REDD+ would mostly hurt poor farmers, if payments were made to farmers based on average community opportunity costs, they would most benefit the poorer farmers in our sample,” says Ickowitz.

But even if carbon prices were to rise to a level that would be able to fully cover average opportunity costs of forest users, there would still be distributional considerations.

A flat payment system could increase transparency, reduce transactions costs, and benefit the lowest income households. But under this type of system, forest-users with higher incomes would not be fully compensated unless payments were set at higher-than-average costs – thus they would either opt out, or lose out from participating in REDD+.

If compensation costs were set at higher-than-average rates to attract the higher income households, costs would substantially increase.

A smallholders farm is seen in Acre, Brazil. Photo by K. Evans/CIFOR


On the other hand, the opportunity costs to smallholders in all but one of the sites sampled were less than the social cost of carbon as estimated by an Interagency Working Group of the US federal government.

Therefore, reducing deforestation by smallholders and consequent carbon emissions “would generate net global benefits,” Ickowitz and her colleagues conclude.

But the research also makes clear just how serious an economic loss REDD+ restrictions can impose on small farmers if they are not compensated adequately.

“This, to me, is the real significance of having real numbers from real people across many different places,” says Ickowitz.

And because it is so hard to conduct detailed household surveys at all locations where REDD+ will be implemented, the wide range of sites sampled across the tropics increases the value of the data.

While REDD+ may have evolved into a different type of mechanism than originally conceived, ultimately, it is still about getting forest users to change their behavior.

The research brings us back to looking at what is required to compensate smallholder forest users fairly if they are asked to change their activities. Without equitable compensation, forest-users are not likely to cooperate. This means getting compensation right may well be one of the many issues REDD+ needs to overcome to fulfill its objectives at meaningful scale.

By Andrew North, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Amy Ickowitz at

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. We would like to thank all donors who support this work through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.

This research was supported by Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the European Commission (EC), the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB), the United Kingdom Department for International Development (UKAID). 

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  • Protecting North Sumatran mangroves, supporting biodiversity, people and the world

Protecting North Sumatran mangroves, supporting biodiversity, people and the world

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Mangroves are a massive storehouse of carbon. The mangroves of Indonesia, with its vast expanse of islands and coastlines, cover an area of around 3 million hectares. These tangled trees and the swampy soil they grow in store approximately 3.14 billion tons of carbon, hence they play an important role in climate change mitigation.

Indonesia is home to about one-third of the global storage of mangroves, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) scientist Daniel Murdiyarso says. In North Sumatra, scientists measured the amount of carbon in both protected and degraded mangrove forests lining the province.

Originally published at

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  • FTA cohosts meeting on soil carbon and climate change agenda

FTA cohosts meeting on soil carbon and climate change agenda

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Land is cleared for agriculture In the Nebbou area, Burkina Faso. Photo by Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
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Land is cleared for agriculture In the Nebbou area, Burkina Faso. Photo by Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) recently cohosted a fruitful meeting along with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) on the topic of soil carbon.

“Soil carbon — the ‘carbon beneath our feet’ — could help mitigate significant greenhouse gas emissions, while also supporting food production and adaptation to climate change,” Lini Wollenberg (CCAFS), Christopher Martius (FTA), Keith Shepherd and Rolf Sommer (WLE) emphasized following the webinar.

“As such, soil carbon could be crucial to meeting the Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to below 2 degrees and Sustainable Development Goals related to food security and climate. However, we still lack the knowledge needed to sustainably manage soil,” they added, taking into account that carbon sequestration is an important cobenefit to other productive and ecological functions of healthy soils. 

Soil organic carbon (SOC) is a key component of many essential soil functions, including food production, habitats and biodiversity, carbon storage, as well as water storage and filtration. Climate change is also altering the picture.

The global 4p1000 Initiative and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ Global Soil Partnership are among current efforts to overcome this knowledge gap.

The webinar aimed to build a common understanding of CGIAR’s current soil carbon research and inform a vision and coordinated agenda. Thirty CGIAR scientists, representing seven CGIAR Centers and six CGIAR Research Programs, exchanged research findings and identified priorities for a future research agenda on soil carbon and climate change.

FTA scientist Tor-Gunnar Vågen presented on soil organic carbon during the recent webinar.

As outlined in CCAFS’ blog following the webinar, future research priorities on soil carbon and climate change can be grouped into five general themes:

  • Quantifying soil carbon sequestration potential,
  • Understanding soil carbon processes,
  • Evaluating the impact of land use and new technical practices,
  • Methods for improved assessment, and
  • Policy and action.

In particular, scientists discussed the role of SOC in landscapes, and the need to estimate SOC across landscapes, while traditional work is by essence based on plot-level measurements.

FTA scientist Tor-Gunnar Vågen of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) cited the Land Degradation Surveillance Framework (LDSF), which was developed by ICRAF following years of research on land degradation and ecosystem services, as well as CGIAR and FTA’s sentinel landscapes, before highlighting the vital important of context in assessing SOC.

Watch the presentation: On the critical role of SOC in landscapes 

“The scientists will take steps to support coordination of [soil carbon] research across CGIAR Research Programs in ways that make use of our extensive network of field sites and large knowledge base on sustainable agricultural practices, while also recognizing the broader ecosystem functions of soil carbon and seeking to improve understanding of the benefits and trade-offs of soil carbon sequestration,” confirmed Wollenberg, Martius, Shepherd and Sommer.

Moving forward, FTA, CCAFS and WLE will coordinate relevant research by involving different strategies for soil carbon management across all land covers and uses, from cropland to pastures, agroforestry, trees outside forests, and forests, by providing solutions on best practices, management and policy, as well as the measurement of impacts.

The programs will also consider how soil carbon preservation and enhancement objectives can provide important co-benefits to other objectives, such as conserving, rehabilitating or restoring land, and the sustainable intensification of agriculture, for which trees provide an important solution, as FTA work will inform.

By Vincent Gitz, Christopher Martius and Hannah Maddison-Harris.

Related reading: 

This work forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. We would like to thank all donors who supported this work through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.

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  • ‘Black gold’ for climate mitigation

‘Black gold’ for climate mitigation

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CIFOR’s Daniel Murdiyarso, left, speaks during a panel discussion on “Black gold for climate mitigation? The rediscovered carbon stocks in tropical wetlands and peatlands” at the Global Landscapes Forum: Peatlands Matter in Jakarta. Photo credit: CIFOR
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CIFOR’s Daniel Murdiyarso, left, speaks during a panel discussion on “Black gold for climate mitigation? The rediscovered carbon stocks in tropical wetlands and peatlands” at the Global Landscapes Forum: Peatlands Matter in Jakarta. Photo credit: CIFOR

Measuring the wealth of carbon stocks in peatlands.

Indonesia – New tools and new discoveries are drastically altering our knowledge of peatlands. Scientists have recently discovered the existence of huge, previously unknown areas of peatland in central Africa and South America – and the numbers are quite astonishing.

A new map developed by CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) partner the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) suggests much more peat exists in the tropics than was originally estimated – a total of around 1.7 million square kilometers.

Additional research published this year revealed that as much as 30 billion tons of carbon may be locked away in the Cuvette Centrale peatland that straddles the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Compare that with the estimated 10 billion tons of carbon the world emits each year.

The peat swamp covers just four percent of the Congo Basin – and yet stores as much carbon in its waterlogged soils as all the trees across the surface area of the two Congo Basin countries combined. The two countries could use this new discovery as a major opportunity to help crack down on global climate problems.

Given their renewed value, these countries need to move quickly to protect these precious carbon stocks, according to panelists at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF): Peatlands Matter event in Jakarta on May 18, where numerous FTA scientists appeared.

The science discussion forum, entitled The rediscovered carbon stocks in tropical wetlands and peatlands, was organized and moderated by CIFOR and featured panelists from Indonesia’s Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG), as well as UN Environment.

Panelists discussed the latest tools for identifying and locating wetlands and peatlands, and revealed how scientists are using them to reassess carbon stocks.

A disaster for the climate? 

But will this new discovery of peat in the Congo Basin be a boon or a liability for global climate change mitigation? That depends on what happens next, said panelist Lera Miles, senior program officer at the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

“We need to make sure that it’s not a risk,” she said. “Now is the time to be proactive, and think about what can we do to make sure that any use of this resource is sustainable. From a carbon perspective, the number one thing to do is to make sure there is no drainage.”

When peatlands are drained and dried out, and the organic matter they contain is exposed to the air, large amounts of carbon dioxide are emitted into the atmosphere. The dried-out soil becomes extremely vulnerable to fire.

In addition to the GLF event, Miles was also in Jakarta for a meeting of the Global Peatlands Initiative, alongside policymakers from both the Republic of Congo and DRC. The group went on a field trip to Riau, Sumatra, to observe firsthand the efforts Indonesia is making to try to re-wet and restore peatlands that have been badly damaged by deforestation and oil palm cultivation.

“Restoration is much more resource intensive than conservation from the onset,” said Miles. “We know that it is not sustainable to drain peatlands because of the fire risk, huge associated regional health problems, and the damage to the soil itself which eventually makes it impossible to grow anything.”

“And obviously it would be disastrous for the global climate if there were widespread degradation in these newly-discovered peatlands in central Africa.”

That means tropical countries need international support to plan and fund policies to protect these areas and to make sure they are developed sustainably.

“It certainly wouldn’t be fair to expect the countries to take on that burden completely by themselves,” she said.

Firefighters put out fires spreading in Sebangau national park, Central Kalimantan. Photo by Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR

Magic map 

But international awareness of peatlands’ importance for climate change still seems to be lagging behind, FTA scientist and moderator, Christopher Martius of CIFOR, told the panel.

Martius analyzed the plans made by countries to the UNFCCC for how they will reduce their carbon emissions. Of the 139 Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted so far, there were 68 mentions of ‘forest’ and 18 mentions of ‘mangrove’. None, however, mentioned ‘peatlands’.

“That means we need to do more to move peatlands into the awareness of policymakers,” said Martius. “Peatlands may be implicit when countries talk about land use, but it’s important that more attention is given to this high-carbon ecosystem.”

CIFOR Principal Scientist Daniel Murdiyarso told the audience that wetlands and peatlands should be on the agenda of every annual UNFCCC meeting, and that countries should explicitly incorporate them into their NDCs.

CIFOR’s new map showing the extent of global peatlands can help with this process, he said. It is freely available and interactive, and the scientific and policy community can help to make it more accurate.

“The map isn’t ours, it’s yours, it’s open for the public,” Murdiyarso said. “We need your knowledge to refine the interactive map – this will make the map more convincing to governments, communities and practitioners.”

Policymakers can already use the map to locate carbon assets, and plan how to protect and manage wetlands and peatlands more wisely, he said.

Act now 

Miles told the panel that the Global Peatlands Initiative is working on a rapid response assessment of the global peat resource to help bring these issues to global attention.

More information is needed to confirm the extent of the peatland area, she said. In addition, for a more accurate estimate of the carbon stocks, it is also necessary to find out how deep and carbon-dense those peat bogs are – but pinning down the area and distribution is the first priority, she says.

“Once it starts to degrade, whether it’s two meters or five meters deep, you’ll still be getting significant annual greenhouse gas emissions.”

However, countries should already act now to protect these places, Miles said. “I don’t think we ought to be waiting for better field information before starting to take this issue seriously.”

“Even if we need more precise information about how widespread the peat swamp is for the purposes of spatial planning, we don’t need to wait to identify how the development needs of this area can be met in a way that still protects its valuable ecosystem and all of its services – not just its carbon stocks.”

By Kate Evans, originally published at CIFOR’s Forest News

For more information on this topic, please contact Daniel Murdiyarso at or Christopher Martius at

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA).

We would like to thank all donors who supported this research through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.

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  • Interview: Leveraging peat to beat the heat in Peru

Interview: Leveraging peat to beat the heat in Peru

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Peatlands are home to diverse fauna and flora like this colorful butterfly. Photo by Jeffrey van Lent/CIFOR
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A researcher measures peat degradation in Peru. Photo by Kristell Hergoualc’h/CIFOR

FTA researchers are working to recognize the potential of Peru’s rich peatlands in tackling climate change.

Peru – Peruvian peatlands are of huge environmental importance, not only locally but also globally. They not only house enormous stores of carbon, but are home to diverse flora and fauna, and provide essential ecosystems services that support local livelihoods.

Located in Amazonia, the Pastaza Marañon Basin stores an amount of carbon in peat soil equivalent to more than 100 years of the country’s anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG).

However, most of this carbon has only been partially protected and now, Peruvian peatlands are showing clear signs of degradation. At this vital crossroad, these peatlands can either become part of the problem, or the solution in the global battle against climate change. This depends greatly on the country’s actions towards their sustainable management.

In work that forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, Kristell Hergoualc’h, a scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), has been studying Peruvian peatlands for CIFOR’s Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Program (SWAMP).

Based in Peru, Hergoualc’h was part of a team of scientists who recently published a pilot study that was the first one to attempt to map and characterize the degradation of palm swamp peatlands in the Peruvian Amazon. The study combined remote sensing data and carbon in biomass from inventories.

Read also: FTA seeks to influence debate at GLF on peatlands

Peatland is pictured in Peru. Photo by Kristell Hergoualc’h/CIFOR

“Providing solid and credible estimations of the impacts of degradation is an essential step in planning and adopting conservation strategies,” says Hergoualc’h. “Peruvian peatlands should be considered as priorities in any national conservation program for climate change mitigation.”

Hergoualc’h discussed the study’s results and the pressing need for the country to develop strategies and policies that ensure their sustainable management.

What are peatlands and why are they important, particularly in the context of Peru?

Peatlands are wetland ecosystems located in depressions that remain flooded during most of the year. The continued oxygen-poor conditions in the soil lead to a slow decomposition of the dead branches, leaves and roots and result, over thousands of years, in the accumulation of a soil layer extremely rich in carbon.

This layer can be very deep. For example, in Peru, peat deposits with a depth up to nine meters were found in the Amazon basin. Peatlands are therefore very important in terms of carbon storage and cycling. Peru holds a substantial area of peatlands, most of which is located in the Amazon basin, but there are also peatlands in the Andes. Lowland peatlands are mostly forests hosting a high density of Mauritia flexuosa palms – locally known as aguajes.

What is causing the current degradation of Peruvian peatlands?

There are different types of activities causing peatland degradation, such as peat extraction in the Andes or illegal gold mining in the region of Madre de Dios. We’ve been looking more specifically at the degradation of the palm-dominated forests that spans the entire Amazonian basin.

People consume the fruit of the aguaje palm and a weevil – called suri– that develops inside the dead trunk of the palms. These products are important sources of vitamins and proteins, especially for rural communities. Unfortunately, the harvest of the fruit has not been very sustainable. It has been extensively cultivated in the past decades by cutting down the entire palm instead of climbing it.

Water ripples in a peat landscape in Peru. Photo by Kristell Hergoualc’h/CIFOR

What are some of the conclusions of your recent study into the drivers of Peruvian peatland degradation?

We’ve been working in an area of about 350,000 hectares in the region of Loreto and combined data obtained by remote sensing and data collected on the ground to evaluate the extent of degradation and the impact of degradation on the structure and composition of the forest.

We found that 73 percent of the area of palm swamp forest on peat was degraded. Our results suggest that degradation induces a shift in forest composition; the forest becomes dominated by woody trees instead of palms.

We also found that degradation translates into significant reductions in tree carbon stocks with initial stocks decreased by 11 percent and 17 percent following medium and high degradation.

Are Peruvian peatlands being protected?

Some areas that include peatlands like the Pacaya Samiria reserve in Loreto are protected. However, Peru doesn’t have a regulatory framework for specifically protecting its peatlands. The country doesn’t have a soil classification map and has not adopted a definition for peat soil or peatlands. The term “peatland” appears in only one official document – The Wetlands National Strategy – where it is used to designate high-altitude peatlands in the Andes.

What actions should be taken to ensure their conservation?

The peatland areas that are legally under protection were effectively conserved which is encouraging, but these sites remain limited and should be extended. Initiatives such as REDD+ projects should be regarded as an opportunity for more peatland protection.

There is also a general need to bring awareness about what peatlands are and why they are important for Peru at the decision-making level in the national and regional governments, as well as in academia.

Peatlands are home to diverse fauna and flora like this colorful butterfly. Photo by Jeffrey van Lent/CIFOR

You have studied Indonesian peatlands as well, which have been largely deforested and degraded. What are some recommendations you have for Peru so that it does not encounter the same scenario?

Indonesian peatlands have been devastated as the result of large governmental programs aimed at relocating people within the country, expanding agriculture, and extracting timber. For these purposes peatlands have been drained and, as a consequence, turned into fire-prone areas. The environmental, social and economic damages caused by land-use change and fires in Indonesian peatlands are considerable and are of major international concern.

Read also: Managing peatlands in Indonesia: Challenges and opportunities for local and global communities

Peatlands are not suitable areas for agriculture because the soil is acid and nutrient-poor and most crops can’t cope with flooded conditions. It is unexpected and dicey for the Peruvian national strategy for forests and climate change to recommend technical capacity-building on wetland drainage as a way to reduce migration of communities towards fertile soils and/or forested areas.

The main lesson we learned about peatlands worldwide is that they should not be drained. There are other sustainable options for livelihoods in these ecosystems, and these need to be defined and developed in tandem with the communities living within them.

By Yoly Gutierrez, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Kristell Hergoualc’h at k.hergoualc’

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

This research was supported by USAID.

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  • Focus on mangroves: Blue carbon science for sustainable development

Focus on mangroves: Blue carbon science for sustainable development

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Working on the study on Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Program (SWAMP). Kubu Raya, West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Sigit Deni Sasmito for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
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CIFOR scientists collect mangrove leaves to assess the above-ground carbon stock. Photo credit: Kate Evans/CIFOR

By Leona Liu, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Mangrove forests have been recognized for a variety of important functions, such as buffering coastal zones from tropical storms and inundation, providing nutrients to coral reefs, and serving as rich habitats for fish and wildlife.

With three million hectares of mangrove forests lining its 95,000-kilometer coastline, Indonesia is a key battlefield when it comes to raising awareness about the potential of ‘blue carbon.’

The world’s archipelago harbors nearly a quarter of the world’s mangroves. But Indonesia, like most of the world, is losing its coastal forests at an alarming rate. The country lost 40 percent of its mangroves in the past three decades.

‘Coastal blue carbon’ is known as the carbon stored in tidal wetland ecosystems, which includes tidally influenced forests, mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrass meadows. It is kept within soil, living biomass and non-living biomass carbon pools. ‘Coastal blue carbon’ is a subset of ‘blue carbon’, which also includes ocean blue carbon that represents carbon stored in open ocean carbon pools.

“Indonesia is losing 52,000 hectares of mangroves per year, or the equivalent of three football fields of mangroves per week,” said Daniel Murdiyarso, Principal Scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Working on the study on Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Program (SWAMP). Kubu Raya, West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Sigit Deni Sasmito for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Murdiyarso was one of three speakers at the recent event titled, Mangrove ecosystems in Indonesia: A strategic resource for local sustainable economy and adaptation to climate change, held on the occasion of World Wetlands Day. The event was hosted at the Italian Cultural Institute in Jakarta with the support of the Embassy of Italy.

Carbon powerhouses

Coastal blue carbon ecosystems are the planet’s greatest carbon storehouses. They are capable of capturing and storing excessive atmospheric carbon with burial rates 20 times greater than any other terrestrial ecosystem, including boreal and tropical forests.

But when cleared or degraded, blue carbon ecosystems can transform into worrisome emission sources. Currently, global greenhouse gas emissions from unsustainable coastal development amount to one billion per year.

One-fifth of that (200 million tons CO2-eq) is produced by the country of Indonesia alone- the equivalent of 40 million fewer cars on the roads, according to Murdiyarso.

“The rate of conversion in Indonesia is very high at 2 percent,” he said. “And recent findings show that the loss of mangroves is not only caused by fish, shrimp and aquaculture development, but also by oil palm plantation development.”
Mangrove forests on Lake Tabarisia. Mamberamo Raya, Papua. Photo by Mokhammad Edliadi for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

This finding is surprising, as the saline environment of mangrove ecosystems is hardly conducive to growing palm oil. But that hasn’t stopped the trend.

“This is now happening in North Sumatra and on the east coast of Riau near Pekanbaru,” said fellow event speaker Nyoman N. Suryadiputra who heads the Indonesian arm of the NGO Wetland International.

“My worry is that they will do the same in Papua and West Papua. This province has the most mangrove forests in Indonesia, with a shallow layer of peat underneath. It’s a very dangerous situation because many big oil palm companies are invading the area. If they drain the forests, the peat will subside, the sea level will rise, and it cause significant inundations for the local communities.”

The value of blue carbon

Given its large carbon stocks, mangroves hold high potential economic value under climate adaptation and mitigation schemes like the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) mechanism.

“If the price of one ton of carbon is valued at $5 USD, and if Indonesia could halt the current emissions from degrading coastal blue carbon ecosystems, this would represent $6 billion USD in gains from the carbon market”, said Murdiyarso.

“Compare this to the current revenue generated by Indonesia’s shrimp export industry ($1.2 billion USD). The conversion of mangrove forests to shrimp ponds brings only a fraction of the income that could be earned from the carbon market. Policymakers should consider this and realize the value of coastal ecosystems,” he further explained.

Co-benefits derived from the restoration and protection of mangroves, such as biodiversity, ecotourism, non-timber forest products and watershed protection, are additional financial incentives for policymakers to consider.

According to Murdiyarso, adaptation to the impacts of climate change should be mainstreamed into the political and economic development planning and implementation process.

“In Indonesia, there is a lack of national guidelines on how to conserve and restore mangroves. The only regulation [Presidential Regulation No. 73/2012] on the national mangrove ecosystem management strategy is insufficient because it is merely coordinative. Within the regulation, it specifies who should do what but it doesn’t say anything about how,” he said.

More science and initiatives are needed

More research on blue carbon is needed to meet the targets outlined by the global development agenda. According to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Report, oceans and wetlands remain extremely vulnerable to environmental degradation, overfishing, climate change and pollution.

SDG 14, “Life below water”, aims to conserve and use marine resources for sustainable development. One of its targets is that by 2020, marine and coastal ecosystems should be sustainably managed, protected and restored.

The recent Paris Agreement, which required all parties to put forward their best efforts through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), represents a rare and important window of opportunity to include blue carbon in national climate strategies.

Today, only 50 countries have recognized the value of blue carbon in their NDCs. To much surprise, Indonesia- the world’s largest archipelago – has not recognized mangrove conservation in its National Action Plan for Climate Change Adaptation (RAN-API).

“We need to focus on blue carbon science to support policymakers with credible scientific information to make better decisions about the sustainable use of coastal and marine resources,” said Murdiyarso, in representing CIFOR, one of the founding members of the International Partnership for Blue Carbon (IPBC).

Launched at the 2015 Global Landscapes Forum at the COP21 in Paris, the partnership aims to connect the efforts of governments, research organizations and non-government organizations on integrating blue carbon into climate policies and agendas.

It was created by the governments of Australia, Indonesia and Costa Rica, alongside various partners such as the Blue Carbon Initiative, GRID-Arendal, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP), the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and Office of the Pacific Oceanscape Commissioner, the Global Change Institute, and CIFOR.

For more information on this topic, please contact Daniel Murdiyarso at
This research was supported by USAID

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Blue carbon science for sustainable coastal development

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