Climate change policy from the ground up
21 Jun 2017 by James Vener
When governments do not properly consider the link between policymaking and how the policy would be practically implemented on the ground, there is a distinct risk the gap between concept and reality will be too much to overcome. In the field of climate change policy, I was recently reminded of one such disconnect that was turned into deft political solution-finding during a visit to Orhei, a farming town in rural Moldova.
We were about an hour from the capital, and the national strategy for countering the effects of climate change was in full swing. Sustainable forest management (primarily through protection of forests and new tree plantations) is providing a clear path for Moldova to contribute to the global efforts to keep global temperature rise this century well below 2ºC. The government has ample experience to back it up as well.
Moldovan forests in the fight against climate change
Although the carbon trading scheme under the Kyoto Protocol is presently barely active, Moldova still has two of the forestry projects earning carbon credits. More importantly, these projects have contributed to significant institutional knowledge on climate finance while enhancing forestry expertise in the areas of monitoring, planting techniques, and rule enforcement. Capacity has also been enhanced through close collaborations between the Ministry of Environment, the Climate Change Office, and UNDP’s Low Emission Capacity Building (LECB) Programme on strengthening institutions, national greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory systems to better measure and track GHG emissions, and the development of climate change projects that reduce emissions. See new project designs, which include re-forestation here.
Developing innovative project concepts with proven technologies that demonstrate financial viability and strong political support are critical for attracting domestic and international climate finance. The influx of climate funds is also important from the standpoint of stimulating markets, employment and investment, as Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe (Moldova had the lowest Gross National Income per capita in Europe in 2015 based on World Bank data.) The forestry project enjoys great domestic support, as Moldova’s forest coverage of 12 percent is among the lowest levels in Europe and its forest sector has a high potential for growth.
Policy implications at the local level
Bracing against a stiff breeze on green hilltops overlooking Orhei, it’s clear to me why Moldova uses its forests to combat climate change. New tree plantations are growing strong with dedication and resources from the skilled government forestry team known as Agency Moldsilva, which has proven successful in planting and caring for over 60,000 hectares between 2002 and 2008. Agency Moldsilva also has extensive carbon market experience by generating 1,200 tonnes of certified “carbon emission reductions,” a tradeable commodity for carbon markets through the two aforementioned projects that earn credits through the Kyoto Protocol.
During my visit, I was in the process of inspecting plantations from the previous growing season when three representatives from the local community approached the Mayor who was leading our field visit. The residents were insistent on informing the Mayor about a pressing matter regarding the new plantations.
It turned out that not everyone was benefiting equally from the government-directed tree plantations. Newly planted saplings were blocking cow paths, which required farmers to spend much more time leading their livestock to waterholes. Forest lands have also been a source of fodder for cattle, so the new effort decreased grazing areas. The Mayor deftly negotiated a compromise. He assured new fences would be installed along improved cow paths using town funds to ensure more direct pathways for livestock and easier access to locations with fodder.
As in Orhei, it was demonstrated that it’s critical to consider needs and capacities of communities and constituents when formulating far-reaching global policies. Even initiatives with the best intentions would be short-lived if they failed to anticipate potential negative impacts on local economies and quality of living or navigate unintended effects.
Implementing the Paris Agreement
Today, the global climate community is at a crossroads, as we’ve seen from recent global climate conferences. It is now widely recognized that climate action must be country-driven and linked to national sustainable development priorities. Devising an implementation roadmap for national climate plans that is sustainable in the long term will require skilful navigation around potential pitfalls, as the land usage discord in Orhei just showed us.
Countries need to achieve harmonious compromise between the trade-offs inherent with taking the economy-wide helicopter view on emission reduction targets while remaining vigilant to ensure these targets are workable on the ground. This can be best achieved by actively engaging local stakeholders and by taking a holistic, integrated approach to climate action. In engineering, we call this “ground-truthing” and only with foresight will governments be able to successfully translate climate ideas into action.