CIFOR and ICRAF join 11,000 scientists to declare ‘climate emergency’

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More than 11,000 scientists worldwide signed a paper published by the journal BioScience on Tuesday, raising the alarm that the planet is facing a climate emergency and urging action.

Scientists from more than 150 countries signed the “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency” in an act of solidarity, 40 years after scientists from 50 countries expressed similar concerns at the World Climate Conference in Geneva.

“An immense increase of scales in endeavors to conserve our biosphere is needed to avoid untold suffering due to the climate crisis,” say the scientists, led by William Ripple, a professor at Oregon State University in the declaration.

Recommendations highlight the crucial role that forests and other terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems play in carbon sequestration and the urgent need to protect and restore landscapes. Priorities include protecting remaining primary and intact forests, increasing reforestation and afforestation efforts wherever feasible, and curtailing the loss of habitats and biodiversity.

Signatory scientists, including representatives from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and World Agroforestry note that deforestation rates have increased dramatically since 1979. Supporting data demonstrate that global tree cover loss has grown from 13 million hectares per year at the turn of the century, to nearly 28 million hectares per year today.

“What really concerns those of us working on the role of forests in climate change is that global tree cover loss is increasing,” said Christopher Martius, managing director of CIFOR’s office in Bonn, Germany, who signed the statement.

“We know that fixing a problem is going to be much more expensive than avoiding the problem, so there is really a very urgent need to act,” said Martius, whose recent research focus has centered on climate change, energy and low-carbon development.

Many global efforts to mitigate climate change over the past four decades have been introduced, including the 1992 Rio Summit, 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and 2015 Paris Agreement, but “with few exceptions, we have generally conducted business as usual and have largely failed to address this predicament,” the statement says.

There is a disconnect between the consequences of the climate emergency and consumers with the purchasing power to buy their way out of these consequences, said signatory Elisabeth Simelton, a climate scientist with ICRAF.

“Scientists have reached the same desperate point about climate change impacts as scientists who foresaw the potential dangers of the atomic bomb,” Simelton added. “Now, not only does climate change threaten this planet as a liveable place for humans, we’re also running down natural resources as if they were available in the supermarket again tomorrow.”

Roeland Kindt, senior ecologist at ICRAF, suggested this disconnect can be bridged by making forest conservation relevant again to stakeholders who depend on  forested landscapes for their livelihoods, she said. Tools such as ICRAF’s 2017 Climate Change Atlas, aim to help identify struggling and thriving species, and provide information for designing agroforestry practices that address the potential impacts of climate change.

“Planting trees on farms offers a combination of useful tree products and environmental services, including mitigating the effects of climate change,” Kindt said. “At ICRAF, we’re planning adaptation to the anticipated effects of climate change, including tools such as climate change atlases.”

Despite alarming global tree cover loss trends, and impacts such as the abundance of atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions, accelerating global warming, diminishing ice reserves, increasing ocean heat content, ocean acidification, rising sea levels and frequency of extreme weather events, the statement also acknowledges positive changes towards mitigating climate change and adapting to it.

These include climate emergency declarations by governmental bodies, school strikes for raising climate change awareness, environmental lawsuits being litigated in court, and businesses and governments responding to civil society’s demands for marketplaces and policies that address the climate emergency.

“The climate crisis is real and urgent. Action is needed,” said Madelon Lohbeck, ICRAF land restoration scientist. “The urgency of the problem dictates that we speak with one voice, and this article is an opportunity to do so. Let’s hope it will wake up governments and companies to implement real action.”

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