Forests & climate change

Deforestation and reforestation in Bolivia: A thought experiment

Lykke Andersen

By: Lykke E. Andersen*

Within the Bolivian government, there are parts that encourage a massive expansion of the agricultural frontier, and other parts that work to control deforestation in order to reduce the local and global impacts of climate change. These are pretty much opposing policies, so consider the following hypothetical question: How large an area would we have to reforest in order to compensate the carbon emissions caused by the expansion of the agricultural frontier by 2.5 million hectares, if we wanted to reach carbon emission neutrality by 2030.

The answer to this question depends on a lot of details, such as where the agricultural expansion would be located and also when, where and how the reforestation would take place. However, let’s make a rough estimate based on the following assumptions:

  • The 2.5 million hectare expansion of the agricultural frontier will be well distributed across the country and it will be at the expense of average Bolivian forest, which according to FAO’s 2010 Forestry Assessment has a carbon content of 78 tC/ha (1). The expansion will take place as soon as possible during 2015 and 2016.
  • The reforestation will take place on previously deforested, fallow land, which will be planted with rubber tree seedlings, or some mix of species that accumulates carbon in roughly the same way as rubber trees (see function in Figure 1 below). This reforestation will also take place as soon as possible in 2015 and 2016.

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Bolivia’s Joint Mitigation and Adaptation Mechanism in the limelight

Thanks to the collaboration of Candido Pastor, Wilberth Tejerina and Edil Tellez, we had a very interesting program centered on the eco-tourism potential of the lowlands of La Paz. Photo credit: GLP films/IDRC
Thanks to the collaboration of Candido Pastor, Wilberth Tejerina and Edil Tellez, we had a very interesting program centered on the eco-tourism potential of the lowlands of La Paz. Photo credit: GLP films/IDRC

During the first week of September 2014, the California-based film company GLP films came to Bolivia to make a video about the Joint Mitigation and Adaptation Mechanism for the Integral and Sustainable Management of Forests and Mother Earth, which is Bolivia’s alternative to the international REDD+ mechanism to reduce deforestation (see expedition web-site).

The video project is financed by the Think Tank Initiative managed by the International Development Research Centre in Canada, and the resulting video is expected be featured at a side event at the COP20 in Lima in December 2014.

Under the direction of Lykke Andersen from INESAD, and with the help of many other institutions and individuals, a 6-person film crew, armed to the teeth with gear, visited La Paz, Rurrenabaque, Bella Altura, Pando, Santa Cruz, Concepción, and El Torno.

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Deforestation reduced – mission accomplished or too good to be true?

Lykke Andersen

By: Lykke E. Andersen*

During the last decade, Bolivia had one of the highest per capita deforestation rates in the World (1). Apart from this being decidedly unkind to Mother Earth and exacerbating problems of wild fires, droughts and flooding in Bolivia, this also caused Bolivians to be among the biggest contributors to CO2 emissions in the World (approximately 11 t/CO2/person/year – more than almost all European countries and more than twice the global average) (2).

This was obviously a major problem in Bolivia, and at INESAD we have been working for several years on promoting policies to reduce deforestation. Thus, we should be thrilled by the recent news from ABT showing that Bolivia has reduced deforestation by 64% since 2010 (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: ABT reports sharp reductions in deforestation in Bolivia between 2010 and 2013.
Source: La Razon, 23 July 2014 (

But it almost seems too good to be true. I suspect that everybody working in this area are asking themselves: Can this really be true?

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¿POR DISEÑO O POR CASUALIDAD? Los Bosques y el desarrollo agrícola de Bolivia

JuanCarlosLedezmaBy: Juan Carlos Ledezma*

La zonificación agroecológica y socioeconómica (ZAE) comenzó a aplicarse en Bolivia desde el año 1996 con la promulgación del Plan de Uso del Suelo (PLUS) del departamento de Santa Cruz. Este instrumento de planificación reconoce la vocación productiva de la tierra y acuerdos entre los usuarios de la tierra y las instituciones públicas y privadas involucradas en su utilización. La importancia del PLUS en Bolivia se deriva del hecho que la mayor parte de la población y de los municipios del país depende para su sustento directa e indirectamente del aprovechamiento de los recursos naturales renovables y que éstos se hallan sometidos a una creciente presión que proviene tanto de las formas de uso, las prácticas de manejo y las condiciones de tenencia de la tierra. Por ello, la zonificación y, en general, el ordenamiento territorial, son instrumentos que podrían ser útiles en la planificación territorial del desarrollo económico, social y ambiental, tanto en el ámbito nacional, como en los ámbitos departamental y municipal (ZONISIG, 2001). Sin embargo, en la mayoría de los casos, estos instrumentos carecen de una institucionalidad y en la práctica no se han aplicado en Bolivia a pesar que se hicieron grandes inversiones para desarrollarlos, y al final de cuentas, en lo que se refiere a nuestros bosques, en gran medida se han conservado donde se pensó que se debería y en gran parte se han perdido donde pensamos que deberíamos hacer uso agrícola de la tierra.

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Why and How We Should Preserve Forests: Synergies Between Logging and Forest Conservation

teresaBy Teresa de la Fuente

The benefits that humans obtain from forest ecosystems are numerous. Forests provide goods such as timber, paper, food (mushrooms, honey, roots, fruits, edible leaves, etc.), medicine, and fuel wood, as well as cash income and jobs in the industrial forest sector and ecotourism. Forests also provide ecological services, such as watershed protection (protecting the soil from erosion, regulating water flows, and improving infiltration), biodiversity conservation (forests ecosystems are the habitats for many plants, fungi, and animals), and climate change mitigation (trees absorb and store carbon dioxide for long periods of time, as explained in this previous post). Forests are also important to many cultures because of their beauty, and spiritual and cultural values. Read INESAD’s 5 Rainforest Ecosystem Services that Nourish People and Planet for more details.

If these services, such as carbon storage, are recognized as commodities, the value of forests will rise. The concept of “payments for environmental services” (PES) is explained by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR): “Payments for environmental services are economic instruments that provide incentives to land users to continue supplying an environmental service that is benefiting society more broadly”. These payments can encourage local communities to preserve their forests.

But what does “forest conservation” mean? Does it mean that the forests must remain completely untouched? Is it possible to harvest forest resources and preserve forest ecosystems at the same time? Read More »

Taking stock of REDD seven years after Stern

Charles PalmerBy Dr Charles Palmer*

The release of the Stern Review in 2006, which looked at a wide range of evidence to estimate the cost of a changing climate, was an important milestone in our understanding of the economics of climate change. It made a convincing economic case for protecting the climate function of forests, particularly with respect to tropical forests. Until Stern, biomass in such forests, both below and above ground, were long known to store vast quantities of carbon, the release of which was contributing to anthropogenic climate change.  While the term ‘reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation’ (REDD) had not yet been coined, Stern demonstrated that slowing down deforestation had the potential to be a cost-effective strategy in the fight to mitigate against some of the effects of climate change. Read More »

Making people more prosperous with forests than without

jbush120By Jonah Busch*

Tropical forests store carbon that regulates the global climate. They provide clean water to farms. They shelter a dizzying range of unique plants and animals, and are a source of life-saving medicines. These services are enjoyed by people all over the world, for which they are sent no invoice and pay no bill. But the value that forests provide directly to local people, in the form of hunting, wood collection, and so forth, is often less than the value of cattle or crops. So for many local people, deforesting for agriculture is more profitable than leaving the forest standing.

International payments for forests’ carbon could change such calculations, making land more valuable as a forest than as agriculture (as explained eloquently by Lykke Andersen at 1:53 of The REDD Dilemma ). This concept is often described as “making forests worth more alive than dead.”

But forests don’t make zoning decisions, wield chainsaws, set fires, or plant crops. People do these things. So perhaps “making forest worth more alive than dead” has a corollary: “making people more prosperous with forests than without.” After all, what good is increasing forests’ value through carbon payments if people aren’t better off as a result?

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What would it cost to implement deforestation reduction policies in Bolivia?

Ioulia-FentonIn conjunction with its partners, the Institute for Advanced Development Studies (INESAD) has designed statistical tools, using extensive real life data, to simulate what kinds of policies are likely to make a measurable impact on reducing deforestation while maximizing human wellbeing in Bolivia. As the “How to Live Well in Bolivia” infographic released by INESAD earlier this month illustrates, two policies working in tandem are predicted to have the best results. An internal US$450 tax on every hectare of cleared forest, structured in a way as to mainly affect large-scale commercial agriculture, could raise one billion dollars every four years and kick start deforestation reduction efforts. While laudable on its own, the policy would not be enough. A matching system of payments from rich countries to Bolivia for reducing deforestation that would raise an additional one billion dollars every two years is predicted to act as a catalyst. If the money is then spent on paying people to conserve their forests, on creating green jobs (such as within the eco-tourism sector), and financing anti-poverty initiatives, every year, together, the dual policy effort is forecast to engage 72 percent of the rural population, increase the income of the poor who participate by 29 percent, and achieve a 29 percent reduction in deforestation. (Play the SimPachamama simulation game to see if you can keep forests standing while making the community happy and wealthy). Read More »

Guess Who’s Chopping Down the Amazon Now

DeforestationBy Juan Forero, article originally published by NPR.

Though Brazil’s Amazon has been the focus of environmental groups for decades, the deforestation rate there has fallen dramatically in recent years as clear-cutting of Amazonian jungle in eight other countries has started to rise.

As a result, the 40 percent of Amazonia located in a moon-shaped arc of countries from Bolivia to Colombia to French Guiana faces a more serious threat than the jungle in Brazil. The culprits range from ranching to soybean farming, logging to infrastructure development projects.

And in no other country is the problem as serious as in landlocked and remote Bolivia. Though better known for its bleak and haunting highlands, 70 percent of Bolivia’s land mass is part of the Amazon basin, from biodiverse foothills to lowland jungles. It’s an area bigger than California; but every year, nearly 1,400 square miles are deforested, about two-thirds the size of Delaware. Read More »

Carbon Markets: How Not to Save the Planet

Ioulia FentonLéelo en español aquí Spanish flag


Upsetting the Offset: The Political Economy of Carbon Markets

Mayfly Books.

By Ioulia Fenton

Let’s say you live in a fairly rich country and you are actually quite well off. You use lots of paper in your job, drive a car, heat and air-condition your house, and regularly fly for work, vacation, and to see your family in another country. You know that this causes tons of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to be released into the atmosphere, which is driving climate change, and that if everyone in the world had your kind of a lifestyle then we’d need five planets, not one, to survive. So you decide that you want to do something about it. Even though you have started to recycle, have put energy saving light bulbs in your house, bought a Prius, and always carry your water bottle and coffee thermos flask, somehow you feel that this is not enough: the Carbon Footprint Calculator still tells you that your kind of life needs more than four planets. Read More »


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