Climate: Have we got the wrong end of the stick

Wednesday 11 Dec 2019

Perhaps, when it comes to forests and climate change, we've got the wrong end of the stick - We talk about forests almost entirely in regards to climate mitigation, through their capacity to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as trees grow. Carbon sequestration by plantation forests currently offsets nearly one-third of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions, which helps us meet our international obligations.

But we don't only have obligations for climate mitigation. The 2015 Paris Agreement has three pillars, which also include climate adaptation and climate finance.

Climate adaptation means preparing communities and infrastructure for the effects of a heating world. Climate finance means redirecting financial flows, both domestically and internationally, toward projects and activities that deliver mitigation and adaptation benefits.

Happily, forests can support all three outcomes, at least when the right trees are in the right place for the right purpose. Forest investment is a kind of climate finance, a flow of money into carbon sequestration for timber and credits. Tree planting also contributes to climate adaptation by enhancing the resilience of our landscapes – by reducing erosion, sedimentation and soil loss, and improving water quality and flood regulation. As extreme weather events become more frequent and severe, integrating trees into the landscape is a crucial defence, reducing risks to public and private property, and enriching native biodiversity.

However, the three pillars of climate action don't always overlap. Over-prioritising one outcome can compromise another.

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