Louis Verchot is a Senior Scientist representing the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) at the Colloquium on Forests and Climate Change, Columbia University on 24 September and will act as emcee for the event. A Q&A with Verchot follows.
Q: What’s your vision for this event?
A: The aim is to engage with key thinkers on forest and climate change issues to help set the agenda for science to support more effective policy making and implementation on issues related to forestry and climate change. Ultimately we hope to contribute to raising ambition at the UN Climate Change Summit that will be held in New York that same week to get countries committed to making the UNFCCC process successful.
We organized this meeting to engage with stakeholders in different scientific disciplines on these climate change issues. We’ve been talking about climate change and forests primarily at the UNFCCC meetings, and this summit gives us the opportunity to engage a wider audience in New York.
The fact that UN General Assembly is taking up the issue will help raise awareness of forestry in the climate change agenda. But effective policy making requires greater scientific engagement, so we’d like this meeting to help set out the vision for where the science-policy interface needs to go on forestry issues.
As we move past 2015, the UN negotiations are going to be shifting gears from big international negotiations to implementation at national and sub-national scales. So it is a good time to ask how science can be more effective to support policy on tropical forests and help the international community be more effective in dealing with climate change.
Q: Will forests get a mention at the UN meeting?
A: Yes, definitely. Forestry, agriculture and land use are still 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally, they’re just as important as energy-related emissions – so they cannot be ignored. At the same time, it’s always more delicate, because these emissions mainly come from developing countries, and these countries are facing various economic challenges. Measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions cannot challenge their food security, and they need their environmental integrity to pursue their development aspirations.
In addition, forestry is one of the areas that UNFCCC has been most effective in moving forward; they have not made as much progress on fossil fuels.
Forests are a major safety net in the climate system, absorbing about 35-45 percent of all fossil fuel emissions through forest growth, and keeping them out of other places in the biosphere where they do damage. When carbon dioxide ends up the ocean, acidification results, which can damage coral reefs and affect shellfish. When you store it in soils it’s easily reversible. The only place to safely store carbon in the biosphere is in forests.
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