Colloquium on Forests and Climate

New Thinking for Transformational Change

24 September 2014, Alfred Lerner Hall, Columbia University, New York

Colloquium on Forests & Climate: Peter Holmgren’s opening address

Watch Peter Holmgren (Director General, CIFOR) speaking at the Colloquium on Forests & Climate.

Colloquium on Forests & Climate: New Thinking for Transformational Change, Columbia University, New York. #forestsclimate


Peter Holmgren’s speech:

Thanks, Louis. And thank you for the opening statement, Lisa. It was really good to hear. Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues, friends, welcome to all of you. A special welcome to all of you that are watching us online around the world at this moment. Today we have asked six leading scientists and thinkers to give us their big ideas about how we can change the future by challenging the present. You’re all most welcome, those speakers today. This will be a very, very interesting afternoon.

Many, many thanks to Columbia University and the Earth Institute for making this possible. I really am grateful for the development of our partnership and to make the best of all these opportunities that we can build through this partnership. This event is, among other things, also a key moment for us at CIFOR, together with our partners, to look at what are the research priorities in forests and climate change and landscapes over the next years? It’s an important week here in New York. We have some important political declarations. What does that mean for us? What does that mean for the research agenda in the years to come? This is really the essence of why we wanted to organize this afternoon, this conference, and think more about what is really the most important things ahead?

Now CIFOR, I would like to explain with a few words what CIFOR is, to those of you that may not have worked with us until now. We are part of something called the CGIAR, which I won’t explain the acronym for. But the CGIAR is the leading consortium internationally for working on research that relates to agriculture productivity, to food and nutrition security, and to natural resources management. Together, we are 15 centers worldwide. We have about 8,000 staff working daily on these major challenges for the future. And, within this, CIFOR has the responsibility for forestry research. And, for us, we have really three main pillars that we’re organizing our work around. One is environment, one is livelihoods, and one is governance. And all three of these have very strong links with the climate change challenge. So climate change really cuts across all the work at CIFOR, and across all the challenges we have in forestry. And, of course, our mission is to ensure that forest values – all forest values, the complete forest values – are a central part of the decisions on all levels that are related to sustainable development.

And obviously forests and forestry are key to so many parts of sustainable development, and development objectives. It’s relevant to poverty, it’s relevant to health, it’s relevant to green growth, it’s relevant to biodiversity, agricultural productivity, resilience, and of course not least in handling climate change. In our work, we have a strong focus on landscapes because the interdependencies, particularly between forests and agriculture, are so critical and so fundamental for our future. So, together with many partners, we’ve started to organize the Global Landscapes Forum every year. The second one will be in Lima at the time of the Climate Conferences in December. And this is bringing together a lot of partners, both from the forestry side and the agriculture side of research and development. This is really exciting because it really shows how much further we can go if we consider combined solutions instead of saying in our respective sector silos.

So, coming back to the summit this week, it’s really a busy week. It’s really a special week. We have more than 100 heads of state or heads of government in town. You that are from New York are used to this – the east Midtown gets clogged up every year at this time. But it is really not every year that you have heads of state gathered, and you hear them speak about forests and agriculture and commitments, as we have heard them do yesterday. Forestry is not really – or forests are not really the mainstream politics. So we should make sure that we do something good from what’s come out of the statements and commitments over the past days, and are still coming out. And another point is that it’s not only the governments. Increasingly, we see jurisdictions, provinces, districts taking action on climate change. Increasingly, we see that private corporations are making moves in the direction that many of us think is a good direction. To bring in climate change into their value chains, and see this as a business opportunity rather than a problem.

And, of course indigenous peoples and civil society continue to be engaged. And all of these have a voice in the United Nations these days. I used to work for the United Nations, and this is actually a new development. It’s exciting to see that. Now, let me come back to two of the declarations that were made and that were tabled yesterday – one on forests and one on agriculture. Taking together, if you put these two declarations and the action agendas together, they really make a compelling agenda, a compelling list of actions. They take on some of the big planetary challenges, and in fact probably the most important part of the climate challenge, both in terms of handling the climate change and the increased variability of the climate and still be able to secure food supply and secure healthy ecosystems. And also, secondly, to make sure that the land based sectors reduce their emissions, because they’re still a very big part of the problem. This dual responsibility makes forestry and agriculture really the key part of dealing with climate change.

But then again, these declarations, if you read them, you realize that they are really separate. There are surprisingly few cross-references between the Forest Declaration and the Agriculture Declaration. And the institutional arrangements for these two sectors remain apart. I highlight this because this really limits our options. We have a much better chance to find good solutions if we look across the sectors. If we don’t limit ourselves to look at the forests one day and agriculture the next. As, in fact, was what was done in the United Nations declaration. And so, in other words, to do this we really need to think about landscapes. We need to think about the landscape approach when we are trying to figure out how to move forward. This is something we will listen very carefully to in the next few hours, and I’m really curious to hear what our six eminent speakers have to say about forests, forestry – but also, in context, how do we mainstream the issues of forests and forestry to the main development agenda? We have the attention now. Heads of states and heads of governments are talking about this, promising things. And it will be up to, among others, the science community to do something with that promise and make sure that we provide the knowledge and the options for the way forward.

So again, very much welcome, and I look forward very much to the next couple of hours. Thank you.