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  • Cut less, leave longer: decades of data show we are over-exploiting tropical rainforests

Cut less, leave longer: decades of data show we are over-exploiting tropical rainforests

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We are logging more than can be sustained by tropical forests. Plinio Sist, Fourni par l'auteur
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FTA communications

Tropical rainforests currently cover 1070 million hectares of the world’s surface. More than 90% of them are located in three regions: Central Africa, in the Congo Basin; South America, mostly in the Amazon; and in Southeast Asia, in Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.

It is estimated that 400 million hectares of these forests are currently given over to timber production. But our research over many decades shows the rules that govern timber harvesting in tropical forest – currently based on logging intensity and cutting cycle – do not allow for the long-term recovery of the timber volume being harvested from these ecosystems.

These observations question the very foundations of the so-called “sustainable management” of these forests, and indicates that we will see further degradation of the planet’s last timber-producing tropical rainforests. It is therefore urgent that we seek out new sources of timber. Natural forests alone will not be able to meet current and future demand.

The principles of tropical silviculture – the management of forests to meet the needs of diverse groups and industries – must also be completely revised.

No time to recover

Timber harvesting in tropical forests concerns only a very small number of trees of commercial interest: one to three trees per hectare in Africa, five to seven in the Amazon, and eight in Southeast Asia. Just a few species, including ipe, cumaru, okoumé and sapelli are exploited worldwide.

Among these, only the largest trees of more more than 50 to 80 cm in diameter are felled and harvested. The forest is then left to rest, generally for 25 to 35 years, depending on a specific country’s legislation. These rest periods, known as “rotations”, should theoretically allow the forest to recover the stock of harvested timber.

But our data shows that, in reality, these resting periods are vastly underestimated.

Since the early 1980s, CIRAD and its partners have set up experimental plots to monitor tropical forest dynamics in order to assess the effects of selective logging on the reconstitution of the timber stock. This information now allows us to simulate the trajectories of exploited tropical rainforests according to the harvesting intensity, but also other variables – including rainfall and soil type.

Using this information, we calculated the reconstitution of a forests’s biomass, the commercial volume of timber and the evolution of biodiversity within the Amazon basin to highlight significant differences within the same region.

We found that, in general, the rotation times of 25-35 years in force in most tropical countries are insufficient to fully reconstitute the timber volume removed. On the other hand, biodiversity and biomass seem to recover fairly quickly within 20-25 years, after which more than 80% of biodiversity remains at the level of the pre-harvest level.

Unsustainable production

In the Brazilian Amazon, current forest protection legislation is based on a 35-year cycle, with an harvesting intensity of 15-20 m3 per hectare and an initial proportion of commercial species of 20%. At this rate, and considering a harvesting area of 35 million hectares, the level of production cannot be maintained beyond one harvesting cycle of 35 years, and will then decline each year until the resources are depleted.

Only by reducing harvesting intensity by half and a 65-year cutting cycle would ensure sustainable and constant timber production; however, in this situation, only 31% of current demand could be met.

In Southeast Asia, the cutting cycle period is 20 to 30 years, and logging intensities in primary forest, on average 80m3 per hectare, can exceed 100m3 per hectare. But data from forest dynamics monitoring indicate that only an intensity of 60m³ per hectare every 40 years would ensure sustainable and consistent production over time.

Finally, in Central Africa, the recovery of the stock of timber removed 25 years after logging is only 40%, suggesting a recovery of barely 50% over a 30-year rotation.

A new system for harvesting timber

The idea behind tropical silviculture, designed more than half a century ago, is that natural tropical forests are capable of producing timber in a sustained manner. In light of our results, this position must be completely revised.

The monitoring of tropical forests dynamics after logging shows that, in most tropical countries, they will not be able to meet the growing market demand for timber within 30 years, according to the rules established by forestry legislation.

In the vast majority of cases, true sustainability would require a considerable reduction in the harvesting intensity and a significant increase in the duration of logging cycles, which compromises the economic sustainability of selective logging in the current legislation system.

Natural tropical forests can no longer be perceived as a simple source of timber: the environmental services they produce should also be taken into account. For example, we could consider pricing timber from natural forests higher than that from plantations, with intended use linked to the higher quality of their wood. This higher price would increase the economic profitability of timber harvesting in natural forests, while plantation wood could be used for less noble purposes.

There is an urgent need to promote diversified tropical forestry now, combining timber production from natural forests, mixed plantations, agroforests (human-created forest systems with a multi-level vegetation structure similar to natural forests), and secondary forests (those regenerated on deforested areas left to be abandoned).

The rising international interest in tropical forest restoration under the Bonn Challenge – a plan to restore 350 million hectares of deforested land by 2030 – or the very recent proclamation of the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), are both opportunities to implement this new approach in the tropics.

But no new system aimed at sustainable timber production will be successful without also introducing effective policies to combat illegal logging and deforestation, which continue to supply the timber market at lower costs and compete with any logging system aimed at long-term sustainability.

By Plinio Sist, member of the FTA Management Team

Originally posted on The Conversation »

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  • Realizing bamboo and rattan’s full potential: An interview with INBAR Director General Hans Friederich

Realizing bamboo and rattan’s full potential: An interview with INBAR Director General Hans Friederich

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INBAR Director General Hans Friederich is pictured among bamboo plants. Credit: International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation

Ahead of the Global Bamboo and Rattan Conference (BARC) on June 25-27, 2018, the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation’s (INBAR) Director General Hans Friederich spoke with the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) about the versatility and potential of bamboo and rattan, and what can be expected from the upcoming conference. 

Set to take place in Beijing, China, BARC will be the world’s first international, policy-focused conference on how the “green tools” of bamboo and rattan can benefit sustainable development. It is being coorganized by INBAR, an intergovernmental organization comprising 43 member states, which is one of FTA’s strategic partner institutions.

This year marks the first ever BARC. What has prompted INBAR and China’s National Forestry and Grassland Administration to organize this policy-focused conference?

INBAR has worked to promote bamboo and rattan for sustainable development since 1997, and we have never before seen so much international interest. Last year, for our 20th anniversary, INBAR received messages from two heads of state: His Excellency Xi Jinping, President of China, and His Excellency Mulatu Teshome, President of Ethiopia. INBAR also became an Observer to the UN General Assembly and welcomed its 43rd member state.

To quote a senior official from our flag-raising ceremony [for INBAR’s new member state, Brazil] last year: “The time is right for bamboo and rattan!” Overall, 2018 feels like the perfect year to bring people together and push for realizing bamboo and rattan’s full potential.

It is worth mentioning that we are holding our conference in China, INBAR’s host country and home of the world’s largest bamboo sector. The Chinese government has always been supportive of INBAR’s efforts, and uses bamboo for everything from land restoration and poverty alleviation to climate change mitigation. What better place to hold the first Global Bamboo and Rattan Congress?

What makes bamboo and rattan so versatile and suitable as an alternative to materials such as PVC, steel and concrete – and what makes them such strategic plants for contributing to the achievement of the SDGs? 

Bamboo and rattan are amazing plants. We have counted some 10,000 ways in which they can be used. Bamboo is taxonomically a grass, and it grows incredibly fast — you can literally hear and see some species grow — but it also has all the properties of hardwood.

This makes it an important low-carbon alternative for everything from paper and packaging to fuel and flooring. The industrial applications are also huge. Companies in China are starting to build wind turbine blades and drainage pipes from bamboo. Rattan, meanwhile, is a very important source of income for rural communities, who use it to make handicrafts and furniture.

What makes bamboo and rattan so powerful for sustainable development is their local availability to the rural poor. These plants grow in the tropics and subtropics — all but one of INBAR’s 43 member states are based in this belt — and can be grown and harvested close to homes. Communities can use them to create an income, restore their land or feed their animals — all the while preventing deforestation and climate change mitigation.

Children look out from a bamboo construction in Ecuador. Credit: International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation

Could you explain the concept of “green tools”? 

There is more and more talk about finding nature-based solutions to development problems. How can we improve the wellbeing of people in a way that also benefits the environment? So often, nature has the solutions — we just need to apply them in the most suitable way.

Bamboo is a great example of a green tool. At INBAR we’ve used bamboo around the world to restore degraded land, and as part of climate-smart farming systems. As well as improving soil quality and preventing water runoff, bamboo improves farmers’ incomes and can provide a clean-burning, renewable source of fuel. And, of course, when well managed, bamboo can benefit biodiversity, providing a source of food and habitat for a wide range of animals.

Climate change mitigation and adaptation is one of FTA’s key research areas. In what ways can bamboo and rattan contribute to combating climate change? 

Bamboo has huge potential as a means for climate change mitigation. Some species store carbon at a rate of almost 13 tons per hectare per year: faster than several species of tree.  Durable bamboo products also lock in carbon for the extent of the products’ lifespan.

As well as this, bamboo and rattan can help communities adapt to the effects of a changing climate. Bamboo housing is flexible, durable and earthquake-resilient. More generally, bamboo and rattan can provide an important income stream to households whose livelihoods are negatively affected by climate change. Many INBAR member states are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts, so we take this part of our mandate very seriously.

Finally, we are working with a number of countries to realise the potential of bamboo energy. Bamboo can be burned directly, or converted into charcoal and gas, providing a cleaner-burning and renewable source of biomass for rural communities.

How can bamboo and rattan support local communities and livelihoods, at the same time as providing environmental benefits? 

There are many INBAR examples I could use, but perhaps the best one is Chishui, China. Chishui is one of China’s most famous hometowns of bamboo, with almost 100,000 ha of bamboo forest. A lot of Chishui residents are also very poor, and a large number have to emigrate to find work.

INBAR has worked with the local government in Chishui on a number of projects, to help restore degraded land and reforest areas using bamboo. The socioeconomic impacts were extraordinary. Within six months of one project, farmers were earning money from selling bamboo shoots, and using bamboo to feed their livestock. Within a few years, 40 per cent of migrant workers in nearby Guangdong were returning home to Chishui; three-quarters of them are now involved in the bamboo sector.

What’s particularly interesting about the Chishui example is how homegrown bamboo enterprises can help women. We see this in our member states across the world — women use bamboo because it is easy to collect and process, can be grown in home gardens, and can be used to make a lot of products with no special machinery or setup costs. One woman in Chishui, Mrs. Lu Huaying, started off making small carved bamboo handicrafts, and now runs an enterprise worth some RMB 2 million a year!

Clouds drift over a bamboo forest in China. Credit: International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation

In your opinion, how can governments, international organisations and the private sector work together on bamboo and rattan?

INBAR and FTA know why bamboo and rattan are strategic tools for sustainable development — now we need to make these plants part of the conversation at a global level.

Bamboo and rattan can make a real contribution to the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Bonn Challenge for reforestation, the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. They can also become a key material in sustainable infrastructure and trade. One of the reasons we are holding BARC is to provide a platform for people to share ideas and start this conversation: How can bamboo and rattan benefit my work?

What outcomes are you hoping to see at BARC in terms of national and global policy? 

INBAR expects to launch or facilitate a number of new initiatives at BARC. We will sign a major new agreement with the International Fund for Agricultural Development to work across Africa, sharing experiences from working with farmers in Ethiopia and Madagascar with communities in Cameroon and Ghana. In Latin America, a number of National Bamboo Societies will establish a plan for increased regional cooperation. And in China, we will be discussing the challenges and opportunities for the newly announced Giant Panda National Park, and the relationship between biodiversity and bamboo. I hope that we can announce a dedicated conference about bamboo and the panda early next year.

Most excitingly, we are also expanding our work into new areas. At the congress, INBAR and the government of Cameroon will announce the establishment of INBAR’s new Central Africa office, with diplomatic privileges, in Yaoundé. Central Africa contains much of the continent’s bamboo, but we have previously had little access to these countries. We will also sign an agreement with the Pacific Island Development Forum regarding land restoration and rural development in the Pacific.

These are just some of the expected policies, programs and partnerships that we are excited about, and exactly the reason we are so delighted to host this congress.

By Hannah Maddison-Harris, FTA Communications and Editorial Coordinator, and Charlotte King, INBAR International Communications Specialist. 

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  • Creating a movement on sustainable landscapes

Creating a movement on sustainable landscapes

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Robert Nasi, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) spoke with Forests News on the sidelines of the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) on 20 December in Bonn, Germany. On behalf of CIFOR, Nasi signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development (IPMG) on the event’s closing day, confirming the IPMG’s ongoing participation in the CIFOR-led multi-stakeholder platform on sustainable land use from 2018-2022.

Originally published by CIFOR.

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  • Unlocking private finance for climate and sustainable development

Unlocking private finance for climate and sustainable development

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Rice fields and forest plantations are integrated in the landscape in Libo County, Guizhou Province, China. Photo by Louis Putzel/CIFOR
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Wind turbines generate renewable energy in Adama, Ethiopia. Photo by Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

As the challenges of climate change come into clearer focus, international initiatives such as the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals lay out ambitious targets to shift humanity’s course to a less-destructive trajectory.

But change requires financial investment as well as political will, and there’s a significant funding gap between what’s been committed and what’s actually required to achieve these aims. Private finance presents a powerful – and oft-cited – possibility to close the gap, with trillions of dollars of investment apparently available to be deployed for the purpose.

So why isn’t the money coming in yet? Given the nature of the private sector under capitalism, if these investment opportunities were available and viable, “you wouldn’t actually need to unlock them – the finances would already be flowing,” says Robyn Clark, a consultant for the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and lead author of a new policy brief and paper on the topic.

“That made me start asking the question: what’s hindering the sector from being unlocked in these types of investments, if we’re saying there’s trillions of dollars just sitting there and waiting?”

Read also: Green Climate Fund steps up to reduce deforestation and forest degradation


Embarking on the research, Clark quickly discovered one of the key barriers holding these investment flows back: availability of information. Even with her finance background, she and her co-authors “really struggled” to find an empirical evidence base or concrete information regarding projects, would-be investors and existing financial flows.

“So I can’t even imagine how difficult it is for projects or their investors to find the information,” she says. “The projects are saying ‘we can’t find money’, and then the investors are saying ‘we can’t find projects’.” The lack of information and transparency makes it difficult for investors and financial institutions to comprehensively adjudicate and mitigate risk.

This also makes the bigger picture – what financial mechanisms are out there, and what’s happening to achieve global goals – decidedly difficult to envisage and assess. “Everyone’s working on their own specific niche,” says Clark, and not enough reporting and information-sharing is happening to keep track of the cumulative effort. “You can’t actually pinpoint what resources are going where, especially given that most projects have multiple objectives, which can lead to overstated investment figures.”

While there’s plenty of momentum around the topic at the moment, Clark is concerned that decisions are being made on the basis of limited and incomplete data, which makes for a vulnerable financial system. “So there’s a ton of research still to be done.”

A key recommendation of the policy brief, then, is the establishment of a centralized convening body to connect people and resources. “I think that would be a great starting point,” says Clark, “and it would also help push the bigger policy changes and recommendations.”

Rice fields and forest plantations are integrated in the landscape in Libo County, Guizhou Province, China. Photo by Louis Putzel/CIFOR


One major policy shift that would help make low-carbon and environmentally friendly investments more attractive than others, entails valuing natural capital – the world’s stocks of natural assets, including geology, soil, air, water and all living things – more accurately.

When companies are not obliged to cover their negative externalities, such as the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of their production processes, “it creates a false economy,” says Clark. If policies took natural capital into account, many high-carbon activities would no longer be cost-effective, and investment would flow to lower-carbon activities instead, she says.

Policy and institutional shifts are also required to encourage long-term investment decision-making. Cost is frequently cited as a barrier to transitioning to a low-carbon economy. However, when a longer-term view is taken, a low-carbon model often works out just as cost-effective as continuing the status quo – if not actually cheaper, as one Citibank study found.

“So not only are you achieving those goals, and staying below the threshold that we need for climate change, but it’s actually more financially feasible as well,” says Clark. “It’s not that it’s not possible, it’s just that we’re still in the mindset of thinking about short-term profit.”

Relying on voluntary commitments to the global goals, she says, is not enough. “It requires a shift in policy to create a political and economic environment that really redirects the bulk of private finance. You can’t just rely on things like green finance or corporate social responsibility, which are maybe 1 percent of the whole market.”

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


What this report calls for, then, is nothing short of a paradigm shift.

“We can’t operate under existing business models, continuing business-as-usual, and expect transformational change to happen,” says Clark.

To unlock private investment, she reiterates, “we just need to create the enabling conditions that would make that a viable choice over the environmentally degrading activities which are currently incentivized.”

And it’s possible, she says: “just not within the current system. We need to make major changes, in order to see major changes. We can’t do the same thing and expect different results.”

By Monica Evans, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Robyn Clark at

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

This research was supported by USAID and UKAID from the UK government through their Knowledge for Forestry Program.

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  • Bridging funding gaps for climate and sustainable development: Pitfalls, progress and potential

Bridging funding gaps for climate and sustainable development: Pitfalls, progress and potential

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  • Policy reform is required to more accurately value natural capital and incentivize green investments through aligned subsidies, supportive financial measures, and risk mitigation support.
  • A centralized system that synthesizes evidence and connects projects to investors would both improve awareness of initiatives and funding sources, and build capacity and financial literacy.
  • Key information gaps persist in reporting, monitoring and impact assessment. Leveraging a centralized system could reduce redundancies, enhance cost-effectiveness and bridge finance gaps.

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  • Sustainable development of Cameroon's palm oil

Sustainable development of Cameroon’s palm oil

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Cameroon’s tropical climate provides the perfect conditions for growing oil palm. The high-yield crop is liked by industrial farmers and smallholders, but some are concerned that vast plantations could undermine food security and prevent local families from getting the food they need.

Originally published by CIFOR.

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  • Forestry and landscapes: Solutions for sustainable development

Forestry and landscapes: Solutions for sustainable development

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  • An environmental balancing act

An environmental balancing act

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How can we reconcile conservation and food security? Photo: Icaro Cooke Vieira/CIFOR
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Awareness in the importance of the landscape approach is growing. Photo: Kate Evans/CIFOR

By Suzanna Dayne, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

As we embark on a new year in 2017, what critical social and environmental issues are we facing?

For one, some 800 million people still go to bed hungry every night – mostly in developing countries. Meanwhile, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. When it comes to global poverty, nearly 900 million people survive on less than $1.90 USD per day. What’s more, our natural habitat is disappearing at an alarming rate due mainly to agricultural expansion in what has been termed the ‘sixth mass extinction’.

But it’s not all a doomsday scenario. While significant challenges still persist, progress has also been made. For instance, the United Nations estimates that since 1990, more than one billion people have been lifted out of poverty. Additionally, the number of undernourished people has been halved.


So how do we ensure that those most in need attain food security while we protect our environment from the ravages of climate change?

Landscape approaches seek to provide tools and concepts on how to best manage land in order to achieve a balance between social, economic and environmental goals. They are also seen as the way to achieve the Aichi targets of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity that aim to develop national strategies in 193 countries for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.

Experts from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), along with partner institutions, examined how landscape approaches can help overcome major challenges in a new study. What they found was a major gap in the way these approaches have been implemented.

“Landscape approaches should be long-term commitments implemented across broad scales (processes, not projects) and this contradicts the current models of policy, research, and donor funding,” said James Reed, a landscape and food system researcher at CIFOR.

Reed says that overlaps between landscape approach philosophies, the Aichi targets, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) should, in theory, provide a convincing case for donors, policymakers, and researchers to commit to well-funded and well-designed long-term, large-scale landscape initiatives.
How can we reconcile conservation and food security? Photo: Icaro Cooke Vieira/CIFOR


Since we are talking about vast landscapes that range from remote frozen tundras to arid deserts and tropical forests – how do we ensure that what we do works?

The study stressed the need for more research on better monitoring and data collection to ensure targets are being met, and to provide a strong evidence base to track the effectiveness of various landscape approaches. This includes a well thought out ‘Theory of Change’ which includes planning, participation and evaluation components.

“A fully considered landscape approach must be underpinned by the rigorous development of a ‘Theory of Change’ model supported by metrics to measure progress along impact pathways,” said Reed.

Researchers also found that if agencies are unable to provide the required investments to measure their effectiveness, they should recognize that what they are doing cannot be accurately described as a landscape approach.

One way to make sure a specific landscape approach is working is to integrate ‘citizen science‘. By engaging the community in scientific research, we can more effectively monitor how well these landscape approaches are working and identify any major challenges.

“In order to develop long-term commitment beyond the duration of project funding, initiatives need to be locally embedded, enhance local capacity, and encourage empowerment of previously marginalized groups. Done effectively, participatory monitoring offers a way to engage local stakeholders and enable them to evaluate progress towards goals that they themselves helped to establish,” said Reed.


However, it is vital that everyone involved in the landscape approach is fully onboard. Reed says one of the major challenges is making sure there is greater political will and that all stakeholders are fully engaged. He says that everyone involved needs to have a clear outline and know what the expectations are. He also stresses the need for all stakeholders to take a flexible approach that works on the ground.

“It is important not to try to promote prescriptive approaches and instead understand that the specific situation within the landscape will often best dictate which strategies are likely to be more effective,” said Reed.

The study shows that it is vital that any implementing agency also looks for ways to provide incentives while providing alternative livelihood strategies for vulnerable groups. Looking at how donor agencies and programs are developed, research indicates that there is a real need to break down sectorial barriers across policy, research and practice.

“Often, sector-specific aims will contradict and negatively impact the objectives of other sectors within the landscape. A more holistic approach will attempt to identify where synergies and trade-offs occur within the landscape and act upon those accordingly,” said Reed.


To find ways to improve human well-being while at the same time maintaining and restoring the natural resource base upon which future societies will depend on is not an easy task. But that shouldn’t hinder actors from taking the first step.

“We don’t really need a checklist for success, just working towards these goals will be sufficient to make a start. We need to acknowledge the complexity and have an understanding that there is no blueprint for landscape approaches,” said Reed.

“It will often be a case of muddling through, using trial and error approaches, learning from mistakes, adapting governance over time and, with that, we can move forward” he added.

For more information on this topic, please contact James Reed at or Terry Sunderland at
This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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  • Reflections on COP22 and gender

Reflections on COP22 and gender

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Photo by Marco Simola for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
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By Markus Ihalainen, originally published on CIFOR’s Forests News

Thanks to lobbying efforts by gender equality advocacy groups, the recent climate talks in Marrakesh yielded a significant decision that extended the mandate of the Lima Work Program on Gender (LWPG) over the next three years.

The two-year work program – first adopted at COP20 in Lima – contains a two-fold objective of: 1) Enhancing the gender-balance in the negotiations and 2) Providing guidance to Parties on gender-responsive climate policy.

Actions under the program included trainings for delegates on gender-responsive climate policy, capacity building for women delegates, and developing guidelines for implementing gender considerations in climate change activities.

While the extent to which the LWPG has achieved its objectives is debatable, it has opened up a space for more specific discussions and recommendations with respect to enhancing the gender-responsiveness of various policies and mechanisms under the UNFCCC. The decision to extend the mandate of the work program was thus received with much appreciation by gender equality advocates at COP22.

Here’s a look at some key dimensions of this decision in the context of the broader debates around gender and climate change.

Photo by Marco Simola for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
Photo by Marco Simola for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).


One of the criticisms of the previous iteration of the LWPG is that despite its mandate, it “failed to articulate work on gender-responsive climate policy in relation to broader international obligations to human rights and gender equality”. This, in turn, allowed for a fair amount of confusion with respect to what ‘gender-responsive climate policy’ actually means.

It is thus positive that the preamble to the new decision maintains the ‘importance of coherence between gender-responsive climate policies … and the provisions of international instruments and outcomes’, including the Beijing Declaration, the Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and now the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

What this text actually means for policy design, implementation and monitoring remains unclear. It is, however, essential that the above provision guide the work under the new iteration of the LWPG, as it opens up a crucial space for conceptualizing the role of gender equality and women’s empowerment in climate policy and action in a much broader sense.

Instead of viewing empowerment or equality as a vehicle for achieving other policy objectives, this framing allows us to flip things around and look at how various policies can impact equality or empowerment across a much wider set of political, economic, social and cultural indicators.

As such, this ‘rights-based’ framing departs from popular ‘business case’ arguments, which assert that women’s empowerment will lead to better economic, environmental or social outcomes. A rights-based argument does not ignore women’s contributions to promoting development and conservation; however, it does not make the granting of rights contingent on how effectively women contribute to the latter.

A strong rights-based framework is especially important now that policies and programs are increasingly aligning themselves to the SDG framework. Anchoring ‘women’s empowerment’ in broader international conventions could help mitigate the unfortunate tendency to water down empowerment to tokenistic participation in meetings simply to allow policies and programs to ‘hit as many SDGs as possible’.

Instead of simply assuming win-wins between social, economic and environmental objectives, a rights-based approach also allows us to have a much clearer and more honest conversation about leveraging synergies – as well as reconciling potential tensions – between the different SDGs.

Photo by Tomas Munita for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
Photo by Tomas Munita for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).


In addition to a continued mandate, the new decision also requests the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) to ‘develop a gender action plan in order to support the implementation of gender-related decisions and mandates under the UNFCCC process’.

While the development of a gender action plan under the UNFCCC was not a given, it follows the trajectory of the other Rio conventions, which already have such plans in place. The priority areas for the action plan still needs to be defined, but this decision invites Parties, observers and other stakeholders to provide inputs to the formulation of the action plan.

A collaboratively developed, comprehensive Gender Action Plan (GAP) could prove useful for coordinating the efforts of various bodies and stakeholders, channeling funding towards specific actions outlined under the GAP, and for developing salient indicators for evaluating the gender-responsiveness of various climate policies.

However, it is important to note that the content of the GAP is to be defined over the coming year. So given the urgency of beginning the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the immediate priority in terms of gender equality in climate policy is still to ensure that all Parties to the Agreement take substantial actions on the national level towards safeguarding women’s rights and enhancing the gender-responsiveness of the climate policies and actions as outlined in the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

This is particularly important given the fact that out of 188 INDCs submitted to the UNFCCC Secretariat prior to COP21, only 63 submissions included specific references to women or gender. A closer look shows that these references are often very general and superficial, mostly just outlining women as ‘vulnerable populations’.

It is also noteworthy that all of the 63 INDCs mentioning ‘women’ or ‘gender’ came from developing countries. Despite high-flying rhetoric, there seems to be a tendency among donor countries to view gender-responsive climate policy mostly as a priority for developing countries.

Concerns are being raised over whether donor commitments to gender equality and women’s empowerment actually translate into concrete funding. A recent OECD DAC report estimated that investments in women’s economic empowerment remained unchanged in the period from 2007-2012, and represented only two percent of total bilateral aid. This is a significant concern, especially as many commitments in developing countries’ INDCs remain conditional on the availability of funding.

During a discussion forum on gender held at the 2016 Global Landscapes Forum, panelist Lorena Aguilar, Senior Advisor of the Gender Programme at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), stated that 21 countries have developed specific climate change and gender action plans (ccGAP). Yet, she warned, a lack of funds is hindering many governments from implementing these plans.

To enhance the implementation of gender-responsive climate policies, it is thus crucial that the operating entities of the Financial Mechanism – including the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility – are held accountable vis-à-vis the gender policies that both entities now have in place.

It is reassuring that the COP22 decision requests financial entities to provide information on the ‘integration of gender consideration in all aspects of their work’. However, it contains no references to the allocation for financial resources towards the implementation of gender-responsive climate action. Issues around financial responsibilities, targets and accountabilities thus remain largely unresolved.

At the same GLF forum, Eleanor Blomstrom, Co-Director of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), stressed the need to improve gender-responsive tracking and monitoring of finance for enhancing – and enforcing – the implementation of gender-responsive climate policies at the national level.

Ugwono Pauline plants Gnetum (okok) in the village of Minwoho, Lekié, Center Region, Cameroon.   Photo by Ollivier Girard for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
Photo by Ollivier Girard/CIFOR


While it is important to monitor what policies are in place and to track their implementation, it is arguably even more important to understand the impact of these policies on the lives of local women and men. Policy processes removed from local realities are less likely to yield transformative results on the ground.

CIFOR’s research shows that climate change vulnerability tends to be highly contextual and depends on various socioeconomic, cultural and environmental variables. Despite this, gender is still primarily tackled as a men-versus-women dichotomy in climate change studies, according to a recent CIFOR paper.

One of the key hopes of CIFOR gender experts at COP22 was thus to contribute to a more nuanced picture of gender and climate change. Understanding that the vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities of women and men are structured by various societal power relations – and not just by virtue of their sex – can help enhance the responsiveness of climate policies. In order to ensure everyone’s voice is heard, it is vital that such ‘intersectional’ thinking is translated into implementation processes and impact assessment tools and instruments.

This requires that the voices of local people be accounted for in policy processes, particularly when it comes to adaptation, says Houria Djoudi, a scientist at CIFOR who was a panelist at the GLF event. Women in impacted communities are not sitting around waiting for international agreements to come in place – they use various strategies to adapt to climate change every day. However, rural women often lack a voice in national policy processes. As a result, many locally grounded, potentially up-scalable adaptation and mitigation initiatives risk going unnoticed, or replaced by top-down, inflexible programmatic responses with little local ownership.

It is therefore good to see the new decision taken in Morocco encourage Parties to recognize the value of grassroots women’s participation in gender-responsive climate action at all levels.

However, much remains to be done to move beyond lip-service towards meaningfully integrating local-level action in national climate policy and action, and to ensure that adequate capacities and resources are in place at the national and sub-national levels to support and scale up successful initiatives.

For more information on this topic, please contact Markus Ihalainen at
This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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Creating communities to combat climate change – 2016 Global Landscapes Forum in Marrakesh

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The 2016 Global Landscapes Forum: Climate Action for Sustainable Development on 16 November is bringing together experts from many sectors to talk climate change, landscapes and sustainable development. Join us in Marrakesh or online to make connections and#ThinkLandscape!

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