17 December 2012

Africa: Climate Conversations - Tackling Food, Fuel, Fiber and Forests


"I don't wanna talk about it..." sang Rod Stewart in the 1975 song, but there are some things that just won't bear silence for too long.

That said, there's a difference between mere talk and an actual dialogue, a process which implies action and inter-action to bring about results. The Forests Dialogue carries a number of topics of global import - including climate change - to the forefront, with the aim of stimulating debate, informing thoughtful leadership, and engaging influential players to seek tangible change.

To this end, The Forests Dialogue has rallied the 4Fs Partnership, an alliance of like-minded organizations providing leadership expertise in a global, collaborative process to determine how to rapidly shift consumption and production towards equitable and sustainable use of natural resources.

The four F's-food, fuel, fiber and forests-have each generated substantial discussion on their own. But there are few examples of these topics being taken together, to deal with competing interests and trade-offs that could have major implications for whether we are able to live within the means of a single planet and under 2 degrees Celsius of global warming.

The first three F's (food, fuel and fiber) are critical products requiring land and natural resources - often at the expense of the fourth F (forests). But our forests, too, are critical bastions of biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and ecosystem services. Are the four F's mutually exclusive, or is there enough land to provide for all without further conversion of forests and the climate damage it implies?


The demands we are currently placing on our planet exceed its capacity to support us[i]. Population will exceed 9 billion by 2050, requiring a 70 percent increase in food supplies. Climate change will reduce crop yields and introduce new challenges for agriculture.

Continued increase in demand for wood and fiber products will intensify competition for resources. This last fact has further implications for the climate, as close to 20 percent of carbon-dioxide and more than 70 percent of methane release is due to land-use emissions.

The philosophy behind the 4Fs Partnership is that, with better management and governance, there is enough land available for food, fuel and fiber without sacrificing forests and consequently, the climate. This will, however, require land management practices that achieve much more with much less, and changing consumption patterns for both the poor and the affluent.


A four-day, 4F's field dialogue in Capão, Bonito, Brazil this November 2012, was a case in point. One of the principle questions posed was: How can land-use in Brazil be intensified without causing environmental or social harm, including harm to the climate?

Brazil is the world's largest exporter and producer of beef, an industry with significant climatic responsibility on its shoulders - on the order of 10 to18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans, much of it due to land-use change. There is also evidence that around 40 percent of pasture land in Brazil is below average productivity. Improved management of Brazilian pastures, especially in the Amazon, could therefore boost productivity while slowing down expansion into forested lands.

But many challenges are apparent. How can private land owners be given incentives to invest in intensification technologies or practices? Will intensification on current productive land necessarily translate to land sparing - or emissions reduction, for that matter? How can intensification technology be designed to be appropriate for small scale producers and local conditions? What indicators and safeguards need to be in place to monitor social and environmental impacts?

These are the key areas of discourse that must guide Brazil - and the world - as it enters an increasingly resource-scarce and climatically unpredictable world.


What's next for Brazil? 4Fs Dialogue participants recommended that the country rapidly take up integrated land use planning to use its available resources as efficiently as possible. To that end, Brazilians have committed to building a national cross-sectoral platform on 4Fs issues.

As for the 4F's Partnership itself, its contribution is noteworthy for the inclusive and long-sighted vision it provides, one that addresses questions as part of a system rather than an isolated problem. The Forests Dialogue will continue strengthening ties between the 4Fs and its partners and anticipates further dialogues in key 4Fs nexus countries in the coming years.

It is this kind of integrated discussion and action that we will need to enter a complicated future. That is, of course, if we care to enter it cool, nourished, and well-forested.

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