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  • Independent data for transparent monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions from the land use sector – What do stakeholders think and need?

Independent data for transparent monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions from the land use sector – What do stakeholders think and need?

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The agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) sectors contribute substantially to the net global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. To reduce these emissions under the Paris Agreement, effective mitigation actions are needed that require engagement of multiple stakeholders. Emission reduction also requires that accurate, consistent and comparable datasets are available for transparent reference and progress monitoring. Availability of free and open datasets and portals (referred to as independent data) increases, offering opportunities for improving and reconciling estimates of GHG emissions and mitigation options. Through an online survey, we investigated stakeholders’ data needs for estimating forest area and change, forest biomass and emission factors, and AFOLU GHG emissions. The survey was completed by 359 respondents from governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, research institutes and universities, and public and private companies. These can be grouped into data users and data providers. Our results show that current open and freely available datasets and portals are only able to fulfil stakeholder needs to a certain degree. Users require a) detailed documentation regarding the scope and usability of the data, b) comparability between alternative data sources, c) uncertainty estimates for evaluating mitigation options, d) more region-specific and detailed data with higher accuracy for sub-national application, e) regular updates and continuity for establishing consistent time series. These requirements are found to be key elements for increasing overall transparency of data sources, definitions, methodologies and assumptions, which is required under the Paris Agreement. Raising awareness and improving data availability through centralized platforms are important for increasing engagement of data users. In countries with low capacities, independent data can support countries’ mitigation planning and implementation, and related GHG reporting. However, there is a strong need for further guidance and capacity development (i.e. ‘readiness support’) on how to make proper use of independent datasets. Continued investments will be needed to sustain programmes and keep improving datasets to serve the objectives of the many stakeholders involved in climate change mitigation and should focus on increased accessibility and transparency of data to encourage stakeholder involvement.

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  • Research on Climate Change Policies and Rural Development in Latin America: Scope and Gaps

Research on Climate Change Policies and Rural Development in Latin America: Scope and Gaps

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Research on climate change policies can contribute to policy development by building an understanding of the barriers faced in policy processes, and by providing knowledge needed throughout policy cycles. This paper explores the thematic coverage of research on climate change policies related to rural areas, rural development, and natural resource management in Latin America. A three-tier framework is proposed to analyse the selected literature. The results show that research studies have focussed on the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions from forests, and adaptations to climate change in agriculture. There is little policy research on other vulnerable sectors (e.g., water and health) and emitting sectors (e.g., energy and industry) in the context of rural development. Our analysis highlights the various research gaps that deserve increased scientific attention, including: cross-sector approaches, multi-level governance, and the stages of policy adoption, implementation and evaluation. In addition, the selected literature has a limited contribution to theoretical discussions in policy sciences.

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  • The jumbo carbon footprint of shrimp

The jumbo carbon footprint of shrimp

Mangroves grow along the coast of West Bali National Park, Bali, Indonesia. Photo by Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR
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A mangrove ecosystem is seen in Kubu Raya, West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Sigit Deni Sasmito/CIFOR

Is eating a kilogram of shrimp worth 1600 kilos of greenhouse emissions?

You’re having dinner with your date. You both order the ‘surf and turf’ special: a shrimp appetizer and a steak. You might not know it, but the carbon footprint of your meal is mind-boggling massive.

If the beef and seafood came from the tropics, where mangroves once grew, the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the two dinners alone would be roughly equivalent to driving from Los Angeles to New York City and back – a massive 1632 kilograms of carbon dioxide.

Or, to put it another way, those greenhouse gas emissions would weigh about as much as the car you drove to the restaurant.

To come up with these numbers, scientists – including some CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) – spent seven years working in muddy mangrove forests from Southeast Asia to Central America.

Across the tropics, mangrove forests are being cleared to make way for agriculture and aquaculture. Found on the frontier of land and sea, their seaward sides are converted to shrimp ponds, while their drier edges are claimed and drained to become rice fields or cattle pastures.

The scientists examined 55 sites where that conversion is happening, in Indonesia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. It’s the first time that a carbon-footprint study has taken into account the greenhouse gas emissions that result from deforestation.

When the researchers made their final calculations, even they were surprised.

Read also: The jumbo carbon footprint of a shrimp: carbon losses from mangrove deforestation

For every kilogram of beef produced on land that was converted from mangrove forest, 1440 kilograms of climate-altering greenhouse gases are pumped into the atmosphere. For shrimp (more widely known as ‘prawns’ in the U.K. and Australia), it’s even worse: 1603 kg of emissions per kilo of crustacean.

“We were astounded that the carbon footprints were as high as they were,” says lead author Boone Kauffman, a mangrove expert from Oregon State University.

A Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) researcher stands in a research site for the Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Program (SWAMP), in Kubu Raya, West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Sigit Deni Sasmito/CIFOR


So why the out-sized emissions?

Mangrove forests store a lot more carbon than terrestrial tropical forests, because they sequester a huge amount in the soil – in some cases up to 98 percent of the carbon stocks in a mangrove ecosystem can be underground.

When those forests are cut and drained, carbon isn’t just lost through the breakdown of leaves, twigs and branches. All that carbon in the soil is also released – and not just at the surface. The study found that deforestation could release carbon stored up to three meters below ground.

Read also: Focus on mangroves: Blue carbon science for sustainable development

That’s why mangroves may account for as much as 12 percent of the total emissions for all tropical deforestation, Kauffman says, even though they only make up 0.6 percent of the land area occupied by tropical forests.

“You’re losing centuries of carbon sequestration in just a few years of land use,” says Kauffman.

That’s the other big problem with these conversions – shrimp ponds in particular have very short life spans. Disease, soil acidification, pollution, and market conditions tend to limit their use to just three to nine years (the scientists assumed a conservative nine years for the purposes of the study, meaning that the actual carbon footprint of some shrimp may be even higher).

Once the area is exhausted, the ponds are abandoned – and the farmers move on to next patch of mangroves. 


CIFOR Principal Scientist Daniel Murdiyarso’s research in Indonesia has shown just how much carbon mangrove ecosystems can lock away.

“They store twice as much carbon per hectare compared with terrestrial forests – and in some cases five to six times as much,” he says.

New research is showing that emissions can be reduced during mangrove conversion by limiting the exposure of excavated soil to the air, but finding ways to reduce rampant mangrove deforestation is even more important.

Murdiyarso helped to conceptualise the carbon footprint study with Kauffman.

They wanted to find a way to make the climate impact of mangrove deforestation more easily understood.

“When scientists talk about the role that deforestation plays in climate change, scientists tend to talk about the global picture – petagrams, gigatons, a billion metric tonnes of carbon – and the public can’t really grasp that,” Kauffman says.

“So instead of scaling up to the global, we decided we would try to scale it down to an individual dinner – to report the influences of deforestation at the personal scale.”

Watch: Is your shrimp cocktail destroying the planet?

Mangroves grow along the coast of West Bali National Park, Bali, Indonesia. Photo by Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR

To make the calculations, the researchers compared the carbon stocks in shrimp ponds or cattle pastures with nearby patches of intact mangrove forest.

That was harder than it sounds – they had to clamber through aerial mangrove roots to measure trees, gather every stick of downed wood, and collect muddy soil samples to take back to the lab.

“It brings the child out in you if you like being in the mud,” jokes Kauffman.

But that hard work had a very serious objective.

“We spent seven years on this project to make sure that we got it right,” Kauffman says.

“We are faced with such unprecedented environmental problems, particularly the threats of climate change and its possible environmental and social ramifications.”

“So it’s really important that we convey our science in a way in which the public can comprehend, so they can see how their daily activities affect climate change, and they can manage their lives accordingly.”

The result is a study that uses solid, real-world data from a broad range of sites across the tropics, with the aim of making people think about one simple question: Is a kilogram of shrimp worth 1600 kilos of greenhouse emissions?

By Kate Evans, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Boone Kauffman at boone.kauffman@oregonstate.edu or Daniel Murdiyarso at D.Murdiyarso@cgiar.org.

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

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  • FTA event coverage: Gaining traction on climate goals

FTA event coverage: Gaining traction on climate goals

Deforestation in Jambi, Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo: Asep Ayat for 2014 Global Landscapes Forum Photo Competition
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Deforestation in Jambi, Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo: Asep Ayat for 2014 Global Landscapes Forum Photo Competition
Deforestation in Jambi, Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo: Asep Ayat for 2014 Global Landscapes Forum Photo Competition

By Catriona Croft-Cusworth, originally posted at CIFOR’s Forests News

An increasing number of states are embracing commitments made under the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global temperature rise. But how do these grand ambitions play out in reality?

In practice, climate action gains traction at the ground level — ‘where the rubber hits the road’, so to speak — and that requires collaboration among a whole range of different stakeholders.

Besides national governments, subnational governments are increasingly involved in action on climate change in the land use and forestry sectors. Non-state actors, including indigenous groups (which sometimes own and manage important territories), non-governmental organizations and the private sector, are also playing a growing role.

So how can the efforts of these various groups be best coordinated to meet national and international pledges, bringing real action on climate change?

A political world

Anne Larson, a Principal Scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), has led research on this issue in five countries as part of the Global Comparative Study on REDD+ under the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, including two national studies on systems of monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV).

Planting Mangroves. Photo: Putu Budhiadnya for 2016 Global Landscapes Forum Photo Competition
Planting Mangroves. Photo: Putu Budhiadnya for 2016 Global Landscapes Forum Photo Competition

She says that even with apparently technical issues like MRV, political tensions tend to emerge both horizontally and vertically among stakeholder groups when trying to turn ideas into reality. This shouldn’t discourage efforts to take action but suggests that we need to take a different approach.

“We can’t ignore political realities,” she says. “We have many great ideas, but no matter how great they might sound technically, we always bump into reality when we hit the ground and try to start implementing.”

Also read: FTA project update: Understanding REDD+ across the globe

“Politics is not necessarily good or bad, it just is. We need to embrace this and learn to work in this reality.”

Pham Thu Thuy, another CIFOR scientist involved in the study, says her research in Vietnam found that politics not only influenced coordination, but also shaped perceptions of goals and challenges among different levels of governance.

“Different levels perceive different problems. But also how they actually define the problem is based on their own perception and their political interest,” Thuy says.

The answer to coordinating those differences, she says, is to take a landscape approach.

Click to read: Exploring the agency of Africa in climate change negotiations: the case of REDD+
Click to read: Exploring the agency of Africa in climate change negotiations: the case of REDD+

You have to be aware of these politics and think about how you can bring together every piece of information and every active group to make a policy work,” she says.

“And I think that for the land-use system, if you want something to work, basically it has to be at the landscape level.”

A landscape view

At the Global Landscapes Forum in Marrakesh, subnational and non-state actors were invited to share their perspectives on the matter of catalyzing action on the ground.

The term ‘non-state actors’ includes researchers, civil society and other community-level groups, but via global climate negotiations in recent years has become shorthand for the private sector.

Also read: COP22 Special: REDD+ monitoring is a technical and political balancing act

Bruce Cabarle, Team Leader of Partnerships for Forests, an initiative for investment in sustainable use of land and forests, said in discussion at GLF that public-private-people partnerships were key to applying lessons learned into the future.

“The more interesting question is: How do we get synergies and complementarity between voluntary certification schemes and government regulations so that they are mutually reinforcing?” he asked.

Christoph Thies, a forest campaigner for Greenpeace, welcomed cooperative efforts among sectors, but maintained that states should take the lead.

“The private sector should never replace the roles and responsibilities of governments,” he said.

For Thies, the answer lies in understanding political factors as both challenges and opportunities for change.

“Technical barriers can be overcome,” he said. “To really address the landscape requires political will.”

On the ground

Fernando Sampaio, Executive Director of the PCI (Produce, Conserve and Include) Strategy State Committee in Mato Grosso, Brazil, acknowledged the importance of both private-sector and civil society involvement in ground-level efforts, from a subnational government perspective.

“The private sector is an important part of the process, but we also need to include other stakeholders who are excluded from the process,” he said.

Excluded groups often include indigenous peoples, whose land rights are not always recognized. Norvin Goff, President of MASTA, an indigenous federation that represents the Miskitus of the Honduran Mosquitia, said that blueprint approaches to land and forest use rarely work at the ground level for indigenous communities.

“We don’t need a set formula that has been used in the past, we need to create an approach together,” Goff said.

He urged closer partnerships between government and indigenous groups.

“Instead of an enemy, they should consider us as part of the solution,” he said.

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