This is how to reach forest, landscape restoration goals

Mau Forest

A police officer plants a tree in the Maasai Mau.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The theme for this year’s International Day of Forests celebrations, which are being held today, is “Forests and sustainable production and consumption”.

Forest products such as wood, palm oil, fruits and honey sustain billions of people globally. But unsustainable use, such as heavy reliance on wood fuel, significantly contributes to forest and landscape degradation.

The damning reality is whether people living in poverty will starve to save trees. In the absence of viable alternatives that alleviate poverty and promote sustainability, forests will be depleted, and the climate crisis will worsen. Siloed interventions to realise forest conservation and restoration will yield little impact. A systems approach that appreciates the interconnectedness between environmental goals and socioeconomic well-being will achieve lasting impacts.

The payment for ecosystem services (PES), just energy transitions (JET) and water, energy and food nexus (WEF) approaches have potential for integrated pathways. PES seeks to conserve forests by compensating communities for the environmental services their land provides. The latter keep their land intact, avoiding deforestation and land degrading activities, for sustainable resource management.

Polluting options

Energy poverty and the need for a just transition cannot be overlooked. A third of the world’s population cooks with dirty fuels, such as firewood and charcoal, and lights with polluting options. Lack of access to clean, modern energy costs people and the planet: Four million premature deaths are recorded annually due to illnesses linked to household air pollution with women and children most affected.

A JET underpins equity, dialogue, context and inclusive stakeholder participation. Whether it is clean cookstoves, clean cooking fuels, and off-grid renewable energy solutions, communities want energy that is affordable and does not harm their health and environment. 

The WEF approach gained prominence as a method of addressing sustainable development a decade ago. It recognises the interconnectedness of the resources needed for water, energy and food supply and seeks to strengthen synergies while reducing trade-offs.

Common threads emerge from the analysis of PES, JET and WEF which can buttress a systems approach in the forest conservation and restoration space. First, localised flexible approaches guarantee long-term benefits as they provide context-specific interventions. Secondly, people and their livelihoods are at the centre of sustainable development aspirations and their inclusive participation and buy-in is imperative to integrated approaches.

Lastly, investing in credible data to help create a robust evidence-base is important to support decision-making and to track progress on what works well and areas for improvement to realise forest conservation and restoration goals.

Ms Odhiambo, an advocate of the High Court of Kenya, is an independent climate change consultant.