September 14, 2018 / 6:46 PM / 2 months ago

Land conservation steps into limelight as key climate change fix

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - From U.S. states to retail giant Walmart, governments and businesses pledged to protect natural lands that help brake global warming at an international climate summit this week.

Important ecosystems like Brazil’s Cerrado savanna and Malaysia’s Borneo rainforest also got a boost from donors allocating new money for their conservation.

Cutting down trees to grow crops or for timber, and other uses of land for food production and forestry, contribute about a quarter of global climate-changing emissions each year.

But efforts to keep peatlands, forests, mangroves and other vegetation intact receive only 3 percent of global climate finance, according to conservation group WWF.

“Land has emerged as a priority topic,” WWF’s climate lead Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, former Peruvian environment minister, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of the meeting.

At the Global Climate Action Summit, which ends Friday, 17 U.S. states pledged to measure the carbon storage capacity of their forests, and incorporate land conservation into their greenhouse gas reduction plans by 2020.

States like Hawaii have already begun to restore native forests on former farmland in order to capture more carbon, like the 5,500-acre (2,225-hectare) Pu’u Mali Forest.

“We have more agricultural land than we need to produce more of the food that we want to eat,” Hawaii Governor David Ige said by telephone from Honolulu.

Other states view conservation of natural land as essential, but they flagged the lack of financial incentives to discourage landowners from selling up to real estate developers.

“The greatest threat to the Washington state environment is the conversion of working forests and lands,” Washington’s Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said in an interview.

Globally, 18.8 million acres (7.6 million hectares) of forests are converted for agriculture, livestock or human infrastructure use annually, WWF says.

Franz also highlighted the threat posed to forests by wildfires, which some scientists believe are becoming more frequent and intense due to climate change.

More than 7 million acres have burned in close to 48,000 wildfires in the United States so far in 2018, according to the U.S. National Interagency Fire Center.

To help local governments manage land more effectively, new money is starting to flow.

The Global Environment Facility announced $500 million on Thursday for a new programme to help farmers and ranchers increase their yields without encroaching on more forest land.

And the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force, composed of state leaders from Brazil, Indonesia and the United States, announced $25 million in grants for forest restoration.

U.S. retailer Walmart Inc adopted “science-based targets” to reduce emissions from its supply chain, and said it would hire environmental groups to vet the forest-friendly credentials of its suppliers for materials like palm oil and wood pulp.

These pledges will contribute to a new goal announced at the summit of providing 30 percent of the planet’s needed climate change solutions through land-based measures by 2030.

"Countries must advance more of these conversations to set science-based targets and develop land-based solutions that will help mitigate the worst effects of climate change," said WWF's Pulgar-Vidal. (Reporting by Gregory Scruggs; editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)

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