The world’s thinking has changed about forests and climate change. Or has it?

From the 1989 Noordwijk Declaration to the latest version of reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation, much has changed (and much hasn’t) in how policy makers see the relationship between forests and climate change, say Joyeeta Gupta, Robin Matthews, Peter Minang, Meine van Noordwijk, Onno Kuik and Nicolien van der Grijp in a new book

Forests and climate change interlock in many ways. Many scientists and policymakers seem to think that bringing climate into the argument about how to resolve the challenges of deforestation and forest degradation adds a new perspective that helps mobilize resources. On the other hand, addressing these challenges can also buy time in dealing with the climate-change challenge because negotiations on the subject have reached a deadlock thanks to other issues.

Ba Be misty mountains, Northwest Viet Nam

During the past 25 years, political perceptions about how forests and climate change are linked have evolved. From 1987 to 1992, the link was actively discussed at various conferences and international meetings convened to deal with one or other of the issues. During the preparations for one of the earliest political conferences on climate change, the 1989 Noordwijk Conference on Climate Change, five background documents were prepared. One document focused on the role of forests in climate change. It discussed the many services that forests provide and then continued, stating that, ‘it inevitably leads to recognition that the world’s forests represent a legitimate interest of all nations, for all manner of interdependency reasons apart from the predominant factor of climate regulation; and that this recognition need not be construed to conflict with sovereignty consideration.’

The document further argues that there ‘is need for the developed countries to support developing countries in reducing their deforestation in a spirit of true partnership’. The Noordwijk Declaration on Climate Change  stated that the participating ministers agree ‘to pursue a global balance between deforestation on the one hand and sound forest management on the other. A world net forest growth of 12 million hectares a year in the beginning of the next century should be considered a provisional aim.’

However, by 1997, with the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the subsequent Marrakesh Agreement that clarified the scope of its Clean Development Mechanism, the forest issue was put on the backburner. This was due to the complexity of getting agreement between developed and developing countries about what to do about forests, the uncertainty around forest-related emissions and the political importance and perceived simplicity of focusing on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from industrial sources.

By 2007–12, it had become clear that what had seemed politically simple at the time was, in fact, politically complex. Consequently, attention shifted away from reducing emissions from industrial sources and back to the presumed 12–17% of emissions related to forests and land-use change. It was hoped that forest-related emissions would be simpler to reduce since it might be more cost-effective.

This has led to new discussions on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) and, in doing so, it seems that the global community has come full circle, as if the political situation has changed so much over the last 20 years that the seeming complexity has evaporated. It seems there is a renewed thought that a focus on forests can help buy time in the climate-change debate and that the knowledge gained about forests in the last 20 years can help to make a better global forest regime with a higher compliance rate.

In the new book, Climate change, forests and REDD: lessons for institutional design (Routledge Taylor and Francis Group), we address the complex political, policy and legal issues involved with the historic and currently unfolding debate on forests and climate change and their relationship to the uncertainty of data and attribution of emissions and their attempted reduction.

To do this, we go beyond merely analyzing forest policy in relation to climate-change policy to explore the dimensions of multi-level forest governance. Our ultimate objective in the book is  to identify the lessons to be learned from the history of governance in order to identify the most appropriate norms, rules and instruments that will help design a new system to deal with forests and related land-use issues. We follow a methodological framework to explore the generic drivers of deforestation and potential policy instruments at multiple levels of governance, examine the global policy evolution on forests, describe forest policy implementation in four case-study countries, present some economic quantitative analysis and, finally, draw some conclusions that we hope will lead to better management of forests and slow climate change.


Edited by Robert Finlayson


Get the book

Gupta J, Matthews R, Minang PA, van Noordwijk M, Kuik O, van der Grijp N. 2013. Climate change and forests: from the Noordwijk Declaration to REDD. In: Gupta J, van der Grijp N, Kuik O, eds. Climate Change, Forests and REDD: lessons for institutional design. New York: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group.





This work is related to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry




Rob Finlayson

Robert Finlayson is the Southeast Asia program's regional communications specialist. As well as writing stories for the Centre's website, he devises and supervises strategies for projects and the countries in the Southeast Asia region, including scripting and producing videos, supervising editors and translators and also assisting with resource mobilization.

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