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Food Without Forests? Don't Count On It.

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Food Without Forests? Don't Count On It.

Deforestation has recently been the talk of the United Nations climate change negotiations because of its potential to release huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. But a recent study shows that even without this effect, clearing tropical forests will have important implications for temperature and rainfall – and how deforestation occurs (or doesn't) matters a lot for the future of agriculture on this planet.

This article was originally published on Ecosystem Marketplace.

18 December 2014 | While land-use negotiators at the United Nations climate talks tend to focus on the carbon released into the atmosphere when forests are felled – deforestation does, after all, account for as much as a fifth of global emissions – the climatic effects of land-use change go well beyond escaped carbon dioxide molecules. A new study released today in Nature Climate Change culls together the results of dozens of global and regional climate models to demonstrate the effects of deforestation on temperature and rainfall patterns, with implications for farmers around the world.

General circulation models (GCMs) that simulate the Earth's climate system, including the atmosphere, oceans, and land surface, allow scientists to hypothetically wipe out all tropical forests to see what would happen. These simulations show that a world without forests would be a hotter and drier one.

At the upper end of the models' projections, a world with forest-bare tropics would be 0.7 degrees Celsius hotter – about equal to the global warming since the Industrial Revolution. And this is without including any effects from the three gigatonnes of carbon that deforestation spurts into the atmosphere each year as felled forests decompose.

Tropical forests also move and regulate huge amounts of water, creating crucial micro-climates for plants and animals. Overall, deforestation leads to reductions in rainfall between 10% and 15% in the surrounding area.

"Tropical forests are often talked about as the 'lungs of the earth,' but they're more like the sweat glands," said Deborah Lawrence, the study's lead author and a Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia. "They give off a lot of moisture, which helps keep the planet cool. That crucial function is lost – and even reversed – when forests are destroyed."

Observational data – the on-the-ground stuff – indicates that deforestation has already had staggering effects on local climates. For instance, across deforested sites in Sao Paulo, Brazil, rain events were higher intensity but less frequent compared to areas that kept their forest cover. In Rondônia, Brazil the wet season has started on average 11 days later in deforested regions but remained unchanged in forested ones.



 Todd Lemons walks through a freshly-destroyed patch of forest

 

 

An Invisible Tipping Point

Complete deforestation of the tropics is a fairly unlikely scenario, as Lawrence and her co-author Karen Vandecar note. So what will happen to Earth's climate if deforestation continues in its current "business-as-usual" trajectory, with smallholder farmers slashing and burning, palm oil companies clearing their concessions, cattle ranchers grazing their herds, and mining companies splintering new roads into the canopy?


The models suggest that there may be a critical threshold beyond which reduced rainfall due to deforestation "triggers a significant decline in ecosystem structure and function." For the Amazon, this threshold is likely between 30% and 50%. The tipping point may be different for Africa's comparatively drier tropical forests where forest fires are more common, releasing aerosols that affect rainfall. Southeast Asia's tropical forests are naturally more humid and surrounded by oceans, also potentially affecting the climatic point-of-no-return.


"Although the current level and pattern of deforestation may not have pushed tropical climates over a tipping point yet, modelling results at regional to global scales are consistent in their predictions that such a tipping point exists," Lawrence and Vandecar write.

Not all Deforestation is Created Equal

The models demonstrate that the rate of deforestation doesn't matter much in terms of the climatic impacts, and that deforestation almost universally leads to temperature increases. However, the pattern matters a lot in terms of effects on rainfall.

Generally speaking, clearing a huge area of rainforest while leaving another huge swath intact reduces rainfall more than if the deforestation is "patchy" across the entire area (even if the same number of trees are cut). And if the deforestation is patchy, the size of those patches also makes a difference. A model that simulated two checkerboard patterns of deforestation – one using a 500-kilometer grid and the other using a 200-kilometer grid – found that, though both scenarios hypothetically cleared half the forest area, the 500-kilometer grid with both larger bare patches and larger forested patches received more rainfall.

"While somewhat surprising, these results are consistent with research that demonstrates the importance of large patches of forest in promoting or sustaining rainfall downwind," the authors write.

The Edgier the Better?

However, when the authors looked at regional models at a much smaller scale than the GCMs, they found that clearing very small patches of forest can actually lead to increased rainfall as the hot air over the deforested area rises and mixes with the moist air along the forest edge, leading to cloud formation. The smaller the patches, the more edges – and the more rainfall.

So, in addition to a tipping point for the percentage of tropical rainforest that may be lost, there may also be a sweet spot in terms of patch size. These findings may explain apparent contradictions between models that predict drier conditions with large-scale deforestation and real-life observations that find no change or even more rain in some deforested areas.

Earth's Future Menu

So, what happens if we tumble over the edge of these invisible deforestation tipping points?

The authors suggest that on the other side of the cliff may be a world of strained food production. Without the forests that drive water and wind systems, the breadbaskets of the world – even those on entirely different continents from tropical forests – could see altered climate conditions.

Models suggest that deforestation in the Amazon could reduce rainfall in the U.S. Midwest, which grows much of the world's corn. Deforesting the Congo could cause up to a 50% reduction in rainfall and a three-degrees-Celsius temperature rise, affecting cassava, plantain, coffee and cocoa production. And clearing 40% of the Amazon rainforest could reduce rainfall 4% in the Rio de la Plata Basin, a center of soy and wheat production thousands of kilometers away.

On-the-ground observations in the Amazon and elsewhere also show that deforestation can also exacerbate climatic extremes, such as more pronounced dry periods followed by monsoons or much hotter days and cooler nights.

"Farmers, so reliant on consistent and reliable growing conditions, could lose their bearings and even their incomes, when facing these ups and downs in temperature and rainfall," Lawrence said. "While farmers may ultimately adapt to shifts in the season, it's difficult – if not impossible – for farmers to adapt to increased floods or parched soils."

Deforestation could affect what types of crops can be grown and where, as well as what types of techniques might be needed to adapt to projected changes.

"What happens on the surface of the Earth (in terms of changes in vegetation) is a big factor in climate change," Lawrence said. "We ignore it at our own peril."

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Governors' Climate and Forests Fund Looking for Project Proposals in Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Indonesia and Nigeria

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Governors' Climate and Forests Fund Looking for Project Proposals in Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Indonesia and Nigeria

On December 6th, 2014 the Governors' Climate and Forests Fund launched its second Request for Proposals at a special reception on the sidelines of the 20th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Lima. GCF Fund Executive Director Rosa Maria Vidal made the announcement alongside notable guests including governors, GCF Fund board members, the Brazilian Ambassador to Peru, and a number of other valued stakeholders. Proposals are being requested which will strengthen the ability for GCF members to monitor, report, and verify changes in forest carbon stocks, enhance alignment with national level efforts to reduce tropical deforestation, and address key gap areas in the design of jurisdictional programs to promote sustainable low emission rural development. The call is a part of the GCF Fund's wider and ongoing efforts to support multi-stakeholder programs which enhance GCF member capacities to reduce deforestation while improving rural livelihoods.

Under the request, Civil Society Organizations are invited to partner with GCF tropical forest member states to develop proposals which strengthen monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) capacity, enhance sub-national/national alignment, and address key gap areas in the design of jurisdictional programs. Under this round of funding, the GCF Fund will support projects in Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Indonesia and Nigeria.

Supported by a generous grant from the United States Agency for International Development in conjunction with the United States Department of State, the GCF Fund is now inviting stakeholders and GCF members to collaborate and develop of proposals for submission to the Fund. Proposals are due January 24th, 2015 for projects which will be implemented before March 31st, 2016.

For more information on the Request for Proposals and to review application materials, you are encouraged to go to the GCF Fund's website http://www.gcffund.org/requests-for-proposal/

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Avoided Deforestation Could Land On Green Climate Fund's Fast Track

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Avoided Deforestation Could Land On Green Climate Fund's Fast Track

The Green Climate Fund gained momentum during the international climate negotiations here in Lima, Peru, surpassing the $10 billion mark and securing landmark financial commitments from both developed and developing countries. Now the race begins to assess and finance the first projects, including possibly REDD+, ahead of the Paris climate talks in December 2015.

This article was originally published on Ecosystem Marketplace.

12 December 2014 | LIMA |Peru |
It was a heavy lift to get countries to pledge the $10 billion seen as a crucial source of early financing for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) by the end of this year's Conference of Parties (COP 20) in Lima, Peru. Now comes the even harder part: the race to commit some of that funding to projects that will prove the GCF works ahead of the climate talks in Paris in 2015.

The GCF was established during COP 16 in Cancun, Mexico to support projects, programs, policies and other actions that contribute to low-carbon and climate-resilient development in developing countries. Funding under the GCF will be split 50-50 toward adaptation and mitigation activities, including REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) projects.

The GCF is designated as an operating entity of the financial mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Funding for the GCF materialized very slowly, but UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres challenged countries to provide initial funding of $10 billion by this year's COP. Countries finally met that challenge this week with a flurry of commitments, including new pledges from Peru, Colombia and Austria that increased total committed funding to nearly $10.2 billion.

"That capitalization does send a strong signal," said Mary Robinson, UN Secretary-General Special Envoy for Climate Change. "This capitalization, though, is just a start. Most people understand that this is still a long way short of what will be needed."

Developed countries have committed to provide $100 billion per year by 2020 to support climate initiatives in developing countries.

"The Green Climate Fund looks likely to transform the landscape of climate finance," said Heru Prasetyo, head of Indonesia's REDD+ Agency. "It is vital that we start discussing how we can most effectively use this new institution to leverage its transformative potential as much and as rapidly as possible."

Getting up to Speed

The pressure is on the GCF to quickly launch its operations now that it has received this $10 billion in pledged financing, namely by assessing and securing board approval for projects ahead of COP 21 in Paris next December.

Countries are concerned about the speed at which projects will navigate the GCF process, acknowledged Héla Cheikhrouhou, GCF's Executive Director.

"If GCF is not moving as fast as private commercial banks, then people will say 'how come--this is something that's so urgent, so important, yet so slow'," Prasetyo said.

Small island countries are particularly concerned that the GCF application process may be cumbersome and that they might be bypassed by the GCF as they have been by other funding mechanisms because they are classified as middle-income countries.

There needs to be a way to fast track and build capacity so that these countries are not left behind, said Tony de Brum, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, who advocated a theme of "less process, more access" for the GCF.

The GCF will have to accomplish in nine months what it would normally take three years to do, such as accredit entities, complete portfolio details and assess proposals, Cheikhrouhou observed.

"Our task together is going to Paris with some sample of projects already approved by the board," she said.

Developing countries can submit funding proposals to the GCF through National Designated Authorities (NDAs), with 70 countries already nominating an NDA or a focal point to oversee such submissions.

"We're looking for countries to put forward their best, highest-performing institutions," she said.

REDD+ in the Fast Lane?

REDD+ projects could be among those fast tracked ahead of the Paris talks as forest management and land use have been defined as a key area of focus and funding by the GCF.

"I would be more than delighted if some of the projects approved include forestry projects," Cheikhrouhou said. But given the short time frame to Paris, she warned: "Don't bring us concepts that will take years to develop."

Norway sees the GCF as an important channel for financing REDD+ projects, said Henrik Harboe, Deputy Director of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Co-Chair of the GCF Board.

"Now is the time for countries to come forward with good proposals for REDD projects and programs," he said. The GCF board adopted a specific model and measurement framework for REDD+ results-based payments in October, which was of "great significance" in the view of Indonesia's national REDD+ agency, Prasetyo said.

The GCF could help Indonesia's interim financing mechanism called Financing REDD+ in Indonesia (FREDDI) become a useful and effective fund, he said.

"The government of Indonesia looks forward to building a strong relationship with the Green Climate Fund," Prasetyo said.

Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects could also be funded under the mitigation component according to the GCF rules, but assurance is needed that the projects meet the GCF's investment criteria and results-based management framework, Cheikhrouhou said.

The GCF is looking for trend-setting projects that have significant climate impacts and contribute to a paradigm shift in terms of the country's international pledges under the UNFCCC process and its economic capacity to implement mitigation activities on a national level. CDM project developers will have to evaluate their projects to see if they fit the GCF's criteria, she said.

Private Sector's Entry Into the Race

The key feature of the GCF is the private sector facility, which will allow direct and indirect funding for private-sector activities, because it is the only way to mobilize funds at the necessary scale, Harboe said.

"Ten billion US dollars is a very impressive figure, but it is a very small compared to the needs for finance in developing countries," he said.

The advantage of the GCF is that it can work with the private sector in ways that other funds cannot because it can provide project and program financing through a variety of mechanisms, including grants, loans and equity, Cheikhrouhou said. The fund is also ready and willing to take on risks that other facilities cannot, which can help engage the private sector.

"We are ready to hit the ground running and we think we will have to run very fast and will only be able to do that as fast as partners are running with us," Cheikhrouhou said.

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