Climate Change Adaptation
To help people adapt to the effects of climate change, community forestry can build the resilience and social capital of local communities, as well as the stability of their forest ecosystems.
The Need for Forest-Based Adaptation
As we take the first steps toward a low-carbon world, we must also prepare for uncertain yet unavoidable climate change impacts. Even with mitigation efforts, experts predict that rising seas, extreme weather events, increased droughts and floods, and the spread of disease and pests will become increasingly common and more intense. Climate change will worsen existing problems of food insecurity and water access in many places, particularly in the vulnerable Asia-Pacific region. We must ensure that local communities and indigenous people are as well-prepared as possible for a changing environment.
Most of the 450 million forest-dependent people in the Asia-Pacific region live below or near the poverty line, and climate change threatens their already vulnerable livelihoods. The vast majority of these are farmers who rely on forests to provide timber and other products for supplementary income or household use. Climate change threatens their core business of agriculture. When crops fail or natural disaster strikes, forests are often their safety net, providing essential food and income sources. This puts further pressure on already vulnerable ecosystems.
However, if well-managed, forests provide indispensible environmental services to local communities, such as providing clean water and protecting against landslides, floods, and other natural disasters.
Climate change will be incremental and will occur over decades. Meanwhile, local people will continue to face dramatic socioeconomic changes. Already, the drive for economic development has led to the clearing of vast natural forest areas for large-scale commercial interests.
Ultimately, ensuring local people are prepared for uncertain change is about more than climate issues: Adaptation is about enabling local people to adjust to a dynamic world by taking opportunities and staving off threats.
Adaptation Through Community Forestry
The most practical support for local people and the forests they depend on is to ensure they have secure rights over forests and other resources, and are able to use those resources to diversify and strengthen their livelihoods. Community forestry is an investment in local people. It encourages adaptation to climate change by strengthening the following:
- The resilience of local communities: By providing secure access to forest resources and to additional streams of income, it strengthens their livelihoods and increases their food security, leaving them less vulnerable to change.
- The social capital of local communities: Because community forestry is based on flexible and participatory management, it establishes decision-making structures that enable rapid and effective responses to change, climate or otherwise. These processes mobilize local knowledge and skills, allowing communities and indigenous people to connect to wider conservation efforts and to join in national planning and policies.
- The stability of ecosystems: With their strong long-term interest in the forest, local people have proven themselves to be capable custodians of forest ecosystems. And since they live in or near these resources, they can recognize and respond more quickly to threats such as pests and fires.
Expanding community forestry in our six focal countries is the main focus of RECOFTC’s work and is where we contribute most to preparing local people for future challenges.