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FEATURE: Land use change and forestry – challenges and opportunities for developing countries

Christina Elvers of CDKN’s Negotiations Support team assesses current issues around land use, forest protection and REDD+ in the international climate talks – and what these mean for tropical forest countries.

Land use change is a hot topic when it comes to trying to cool the climate. Countries are currently asked to submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) before the Paris Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC. With no strict guidance on what should and shouldn’t be included in an INDC, developing countries preparing their contributions will need to decide whether to include land use, and how it may best be handled in view of the prevailing importance of agriculture, forests and land use for their economies. With land being a major asset in many developing countries, this decision could have far-reaching consequences for their future development. Similarly, a number of tropical forested countries are receiving or hoping to receive finance through the REDD+ mechanisms. However, in order for commitments around land-use and forestry to be meaningful, the difficulty of measuring and accounting for land use change under a future climate agreement needs to be addressed.

Halting deforestation helps the climate and developing countries

The agriculture, forest and other land use (AFOLU) sector has huge potential for carbon savings. Deforestation alone is responsible for around 10-12% of global emissions, but represents an ever greater share of near-term mitigation potential.

For developing countries with agricultural and forest based economies, a small industrial base and a dependence on biomass for energy, adjusting emissions from the land use sector is where the greatest potential lies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, deforestation, agriculture and land-use change account for 61% of Peru’s emissions. In Ethiopia and the Gambia, over 50% of emissions come from the agriculture sector (crops and livestock).

What’s the price of a forest?

Equally, tropical forested countries need to be incentivised to grow their economies in a way that does not involve large-scale deforestation. The REDD+ mechanism has been developed to do just this – to create a financial value for carbon stored in forests and to offer financial incentives to developing countries to stay below a set deforestation rate. After ten years of intense negotiations, the framework around REDD+ was agreed upon at the UNFCCC Intersessional in Bonn in June. Now parties are looking to Paris to lock REDD+ into a formal agreement. And some countries are already receiving payments through bilateral payments from donor governments such as Norway and Germany.

And how to count the trees?

However, there is a substantial challenge around measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of avoided emissions from AFOLU. Both the experience with early REDD+ programmes and recent analysis for INDCs highlight the challenges around accurate measurement of carbon savings. Without accurate MRV, developing countries will struggle to receive REDD+ finance and to have their emissions reductions from land-use accepted in the UNFCCC system. As a case in point, the European Commission decided not to include Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) in the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme as it doubted that LULUCF projects could deliver permanent emissions reductions and maintained that monitoring and reporting could not be realised or would be too costly.

Initiatives are underway to build developing countries’ capacity in this space, in order to enable them to meet crucial MRV requirements. For example, the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, supported by the German government, has been developing the capacity of tropical forested developing world countries in this space, in particular with regards to training them on how to include AFOLU in national GHG inventories.

The opportunity to make the grass greener

Notwithstanding these challenges, the opportunities for developing countries in the land use and forestry sectors are vast. Incorporating land use and forestry into INDCs can have a real impact on a country’s overall emissions levels and ambitions.

In Ethiopia, which has set out an ambitious 64% emissions reduction against business as usual in its INDC, over 85% of the potential comes from the agriculture and forestry sector. Initial analysis for the Gambian INDC indicates that at present land use degradation makes Gambia a net emitter but the afforestation, land use restoration and cook stove proposals being considered could make the country a net sink of carbon. This potential shift from emitter to sink even for the poor, vulnerable and low emitting countries can change the tone, ambition and narrative for Paris. It sends an important message to the global community and can put pressure on the developed world to account for its own land-use and to be more ambitious in its emissions reductions targets.

Developing countries will have to make choices soon (or are already making these) as to how to develop the AFOLU sector. Without a financial incentive to do otherwise, developing world countries could choose to monetise this asset in order to help their own development, through deforestation and unsustainable agriculture. Both to help international sustainable development and to decrease carbon emissions, the developed world needs to acknowledge this asset and compensate countries accordingly.

If COP21 in Paris ends with a binding agreement, REDD+ will feature prominently in it. And so will land-use if enough countries include it in their INDCs.

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One response to “FEATURE: Land use change and forestry – challenges and opportunities for developing countries”

  1. As Christina says, in the context of the UNFCCC talks, the management of tropical forests and related land uses poses significant challenges and opportunities for relevant developing countries.

    It’s not just the emissions and climate adaptation lenses that are important, but also the poverty alleviation lens: consider that in the FAO’s Global Forest Assessment 2010, the FAO found “In a time of economic crisis, we are reminded that forests provide employment and livelihoods for a large proportion of the population – especially in developing countries – and often act as an economic safety net in times of need” (although five years old, that statement seems equally valid today). This year, the FAO estimated that 1.6 billion of the world’s people rely on forests for their livelihoods ( – accessed Aug 2015).

    Readers may be interested to read some of CDKN’s “Inside Stories on Climate Compatible Development” which outline how developing countries have used forest conservation to go after the ‘triple wins’ of poverty reduction/human development, climate adaptation and mitigation – examples include our case study of Fiji’s REDD+ programme ( and Ecuador’s Socio Bosque programme (

    – Mairi Dupar

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