Wednesday, May 29, 2013


The earth is becoming warmer as a result of emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere through human activities. Global warming or human induced climate change is strongly linked to the higher incidence of extreme weather events globally such as hurricanes and droughts in recent times. For example, heavy rainfall in Northern Ghana this year which have led to unfortunate deaths and destruction of property has been linked to human induced climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in their global climate change assessment reports have consistently indicated high to very high probabilities that if the drivers of human-induced climate change are not addressed, our planet may become increasingly un-inhabitable.

This article discusses the curious case of forests which is both a driver of the global warming problem as well as one of the most potent solutions to the problem. Also outlined in this article are strategies that are being undertaken globally and in Ghana to incorporate forestry as a strategy to address the climate change challenge.

Deforestation remains a major driver of human-induced climate change. Deforestation is defined as the conversion of forests to other forms of land use. The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that 13 million hectares of forests globally were degraded or deforested each year from 2000 to 2010 (FAO 2010). A forest area equivalent to the size of Ghana was therefore lost every two years during the last decade. The world currently has an estimated 850 million hectares of degraded forests. The IPCC estimates that about 17 per cent of annual greenhouse emissions are as a result of deforestation and degradation of forests (IPCC 2007).

It can, therefore, be deduced that implementing strategies that will prevent deforestation will contribute substantially to climate change mitigation (or reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere). This method of mitigating climate change is termed as forest carbon stocks conservation and it is attained through sustainable management and use of forests; integrated fire management; management of forest biodiversity and management of protected areas and wildlife.

Forests (management) can help to tackle climate change in other ways too. Forests can aid in sequestering or absorbing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Forest management strategies such as afforestation, reforestation and agroforestry increase the stock of forests and thereby enhance photosynthesis which boosts the capacity of the forests to absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The trees incorporate the carbon dioxide as carbon in their biomass, soils and even wood products for possible perpetual storage.

Sustainable forests (management) also help forest fringe/ dependent communities to adapt to climate change impacts. Several dwellers of communities adjoining forests in Ghana are engaged in the collection of snails, mushrooms as well as manufacture of pestles and chewing sticks from non-timber forest products for their livelihoods. Additionally, good forest management ensures that the micro-climate conducive for agricultural productivity is enhanced for these communities. These livelihoods would be lost through deforestation and these communities may become poorer. Poor people tend to be very susceptible and have low coping capacities to climate change impacts. Thus, sustainable forest management ensures that there is an enhancement of the livelihoods of these communities to make them better off and consequently enhance their adaptive capacity to climate change impacts.

Forests play other essential roles which are depicted as co-benefits in sustainable forest management interventions that seek to address climate change impacts. These co-benefits include preservation of water bodies, protection of soils from erosion and degradation, and biodiversity conservation.

Global forestry programmes for climate change mitigation/ adaptation
Global negotiations on climate change have led to the development of two major international forestry based climate change mitigation initiatives. These initiatives include the forestry component of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and the REDD+ scheme.

The CDM is one of the three mechanisms for reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as outlined in the Kyoto Protocol, which was formulated in 1997 and ratified in 2005. The other mechanisms in the Kyoto Protocol are International Emissions Trading and Joint Implementation. The essence of the CDM is to allow developing countries to be actively engaged in activities that results in the reduction of GHGs whereas developed countries have the option to purchase offsets created by these CDM projects to enable them to meet their binding targets. There are a variety of projects under the CDM and these include forestry initiatives such as afforestation and reforestation strategies. The CDM, however, excludes avoided deforestation as a result of difficulty in the measurement of what constitutes avoided deforestation. The CDM has chalked some successes but to date a bulk of all CDM projects (over 80 per cent) emanates from China and India whereas the European Union (EU) have been the main purchasers of CDM offsets. The EU has however indicated that they will be introducing tighter measures for purchasing CDM credits from 2013 and the bloc will only purchase CDM credits from Least Developed Countries (LDCs) who currently account for negligible CDM projects. This position of the EU is likely to have implications for the long term sustainability of the CDM and by extension the forestry component of CDM.

The REDD+ scheme seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from avoided deforestation and forest degradation and (+) to conserve and enhance forest carbon stocks through sustainable forest management (UNFCCC 2011 (Paragraph 70, decision 1/ CP. 16)). The REDD+ scheme therefore incorporates all forest management activities which contributes to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Deforestation and poor forest management tends to be associated with developing countries. Consequently, the REDD+ scheme is usually conceptualised as a scheme that results in the flow of funds to developing countries in order to incentivise the requisite sustainable forest management strategies (UNFCCC 2008). The essence of the incentives is to make forest conservation more profitable than clearing of forests. As has been outlined previously, sustainably managing forests will also deliver co-benefits to forest fringe communities. The proposal that led to the evolution of the REDD+ scheme was put forward by developing countries at the Climate Change Conference of Parties at Montreal in 2005 (Streck 2008, pp. 243 – 244). The past eight years have seen enormous negotiations for a global framework for the scheme. Factors such as a sustainable financing mechanism for the scheme, as well as a potent way of measuring, monitoring, reporting and verifying REDD+ activities are yet to be sorted out at the global level. However, through targeted support by the United Nations and developed countries such as Norway, REDD+ activities have commenced in several developing countries including Ghana.

To be continued:
In the concluding part of this article, the writer will throw light on Ghana’s forestry programmes for climate change. Stay tuned


Kwame Agyei holds a master's degree in Climate Change from the Australian National University (2012). He has worked with the Forestry Commission (FC) of Ghana since February, 2007. His main job responsibilities at FC involve engaging forest fringe communities as key partners to ensure the successful implementation of forest management operations including community-based reforestation programmes such as the Modified Taungya System as well as prevention of deforestation. He also holds a Graduate Diploma in Environmental Management from the Australian National University (2011) and Bachelor of Science in Natural Resources Management from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (2005).


  1. Good attempt. I can imagine this is the initial effort to take a shot at the broad range of issues. I still look foward to how far you want to go. But remember in Ghana are far advanced and very diversed. In suggest in the next part of the article you kindly focus on some specificity of topics.

    1. Danny, thanks so much. I am sure Kwame will be looking at more specific issues related to Ghana's forest. In the concluding part of this article which will be on in about 2 weeks, Kwame will throw light on Ghana’s forestry programmes for climate change. And I am sure we will continue to have your inputs as well. Thanks!

    2. Great advice Tutu. As Benji mentioned, I will dwell on some specific issues in my next article (in 2 weeks). I am also finalising some studies on tenure matters and REDD+ in Ghana as well as the relationship between historical power play amongst stakeholders and forest degradation in the High Forest Zone and if possible, I will be sharing the findings on this blog. Thanks once again for the comment. Kwame Agyei (the author)


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