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Earth Day 2020: Deforestation in Sri Lanka

We have seen a spectacular growth in momentum around the demand for climate action over the last 12 months. From Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future youth strikes, to Extinction Rebellion’s global protests to today’s huge digital event for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, all on the theme of climate action. But what exactly is climate action? And how will we know when we’ve achieved it? We wanted to use this Earth Day to set out what climate action success looks like to us as an organisation and what we are fundamentally fighting for.


As the Forest Healing Foundation, our focus is on conserving and restoring forests in order to combat climate change and protect our planet. It has been estimated that forests hold the potential to provide over 30% of the climate mitigation required to keep global temperature rise to below 2⁰C. However, the trend is currently heading in the wrong direction, with a study in the journal Nature last month finding that the ability of the world’s topical forests to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere actually peaked in the 1990s, unlike our emissions. A 2018 analysis by Global Forest Watch showed that tropical deforestation now emits more CO2 emissions than the European Union.


While by no means an exhaustive list, we have pulled out three of our most important indicators of climate action success both in Sri Lanka and globally.


Sri Lanka

  1. A reversal of the deforestation rate (currently 1.4% per annum), including through a proactive and strategic approach to reforesting degrading lands to restore forest connectivity and health.

  2. A paradigm shift to consider environmental concerns and economic development as co-dependent rather than mutually exclusive. This needs to be seen through strong integration of environmental considerations into decision-making at all levels, particularly through stimuli to develop a green economy, in land/urban planning policy (especially enforcement of detailed mandatory environmental impact assessments) and in protected area management.

  3. Widespread adoption of approaches to support local communities to gain ownership of and additional income from projects for the protection and restoration of forests, e.g. through well-designed eco-tourism, payments for ecosystem services or tree produce initiatives.


Please see this video published today for an overview the current state of deforestation in Sri Lanka:


Globally

  1. All countries to fulfill their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to reduce their impact on climate change as agreed to under the Paris Climate Agreement. These targets should be strengthened to align with the emissions reductions needed to stay under a 1.5⁰ average global temperature rise.

  2. Significant and strategic uplift in both the financial and in-kind support (e.g. expertise) for lower income countries that hold a significant proportion of the world’s biodiversity and carbon stocks to help them protect it. This should be through government international aid but also corporate sustainable supply chain practices and in-country research/training support.

  3. Recognition within climate action planning of the value, potential and necessity of community-led change programmes, ensuring that communities are key to action design rather than an afterthought.


Are we asking for a lot here? We think actually not. Many of these actions have been committed to by the relevant parties already, e.g. in the requirement for environmental impact assessments or in the signing of the Paris Agreement. The issue is rather the conversion of commitment into meaningful action. This Earth Day we almost hope not to see another raft of press releases with new pledges to support the climate cause. To quote Simon Sinek’s famous Ted talk, we are well aware of the “why” we need to take action, we know “what” action needs to be taken (and have seen the many commitments), and we are now over-ready to see the “how”. We want to see how organisations and governments are actually implementing the actions set out above and we are ready to play our part in helping to achieve them.


References:

1. Griscom et al., PNAS (2017) - https://www.pnas.org/content/114/44/11645

2. Hubau et al., Nature (2020) - https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2035-0

3. Gibbs et al., Global Forest Watch (2018) - https://blog.globalforestwatch.org/climate/by-the-numbers-the-value-of-tropical-forests-in-the-climate-change-equation

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