Impact of Climate Change on Forestry

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development

12 October 2009
Chairperson: Mr M Johnson (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Chief Director: Forestry Regulation and Oversight; and the Technical Director: Forestry of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries briefed the Committee on the impact of climate change on forestry.  Climate change was high on the agenda globally and South Africa was in the process of developing a position paper on mitigation and adaptation strategies with regard to climate change.  The SADC countries had recently held a workshop on climate change.  The National Coordinating Committee was established to facilitate negotiations between all relevant Government Departments in South Africa, the SADC countries and other countries in Africa.

The briefing included an overview of the current status of forest cover in the Southern African countries.  The technical aspects of forest cover and climate change were explained.  There was currently insufficient information available on forest cover and further research was necessary. Only Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique had conducted National Forest Cover Assessments through the Food and Agriculture Organisation.  In South Africa, the National Forestry Act required State of Forest reports every 3 years. The FAO would visit South Africa on 24th to 30th October 2009 to start the process of assessment of forest cover and to develop and integrated plan for forestry and agriculture. The major causes of deforestation were increased demand for land for agricultural and residential purposes.  In South Africa, 60 000 ha in the Eastern Cape and 40 000 ha in KwaZulu Natal had been set aside for afforestation programmes.  The funding required for these programmes over a five-year period was US $6 million.

South Africa supported the REDD-plus programme and aimed for a REDD-plus fund to be established to support capacity building and technological transfer, which was critical for success.

Members asked questions about the measuring mechanisms in place, a realistic estimation of the effects of afforestation programs on carbon levels, the most suitable types of trees for afforestation programmes and the monitoring of countries participating in the REDD programme.  The Committee urged the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to cooperate closely with the Department of Environmental Affairs.  The Committee concluded that further engagement and discussion on issues concerning climate change were required.

Meeting report

Ms D Carter (COPE) and Mr P Pretorius (DA) complained that Members did not have sufficient time to prepare for the meeting due to the late arrival of the briefing documents.  The Chairperson ruled that the matter was discussed after the briefing by the Department.

The apologies of Ms Phaliso (ANC), Mr Abram (ANC) and Ms Pilusa Mosoane (ANC) were noted.

Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries on impact of climate change on forestry
Ms Sebueng Kelatwang, Chief Director: Forestry Regulation and Oversight, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF, or the Department) apologised to the Committee for the late delivery of the briefing documents.

Climate change was high on the global agenda and South Africa was in the process of drafting a position paper on mitigation and adaptation strategies to deal with climate change. In May 2009, the Southern African Development Countries (SADC) held a workshop to develop a position on the issue of climate change.  Subsequently, a Linking Climate Adaptation (LCA) workshop was held in Nairobi to consolidate the position of the African continent. In December 2009, the 15th Conference of Parties (COP) on Climate Change would be held in Copenhagen.

In the SADC region, Angola had the most forest cover, followed by Botswana. South Africa had the least forest cover (7.3%). Currently, there was poor quality of information regarding forest cover. Only Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique had conducted National Forest Cover Assessments through the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).  Of the forest cover in SA, more than 75% was indigenous forest. Countries with highest percentage of deforestation were Zambia (2.7%), Malawi (2.4%), Zimbabwe (0.7%) and South Africa (0.1%). It was recognised that the threat to woodlands was mostly from the demand for agricultural and residential land, uncontrolled wild fires, logging and elephants (mostly in Botswana).

Mr J Bester, Technical Director: Forestry, DAFF presented the technical aspects of forest cover and climate change and South Africa’s position at the forthcoming Convention in Copenhagen (see attached document).

Forests had implications on the carbon cycle as they acted as carbon sinks, where carbon was incorporated into biomass and released oxygen into the atmosphere. Natural forests, such as those found in Knysna, made up less than half a million ha in South Africa. Woodlands (also termed savannah or bushveld) comprised between 5% and 75% of the canopy cover. Plantations, which included eucalyptus, wattle and pine trees, covered an area of 1.5 million ha.

Mr Bester stressed that more research was necessary to provide better information on forests. It was important to note that trees accumulated carbon biomass as they aged and when the tree died, carbon was no longer released into the atmosphere but remained in solid form. Woodland forests were South Africa’s most important carbon reservoir. He said that permanent structures, such as plantations to provide timber for the construction, mining and furniture sectors (which could last for 800 years) would be instrumental in the storage of carbon over an extended period of time. The replacement of products manufactured in steel and concrete (which manufacturing processes generated huge carbon emissions) with wooden products would have benefits. However, wood resources were small and might not be a viable option in South Africa. Sawn timber caused a reduction of biomass but resulted in faster growth after the thinning, which extended the lifetime of productive growth of the plantation.

The commercial forestry industry in South Africa stored 3.69 x 10 12 tons of carbon per ha per year (Tc/ha/yr). Pine plantation forests accumulated 1.8 Tc/ha/yr, eucalyptus plantation forests 6.568 Tc/ha/yr, natural forests (e.g. Knysna) 0.46 Tc/ha/yr, tropical rain forests (e.g. the Amazon) 0.61 Tc/ha/yr, savannah (e.g. Nylsvlei) 3.9  Tc/ha/yr, northern temperate (e.g. Siberia, Canada) 0.239 to 0.789 Tc/ha/yr and grassland 1.9 Tc/ha/yr. Grasslands accumulated a substantial amount of carbon in a short space of time but it was lost in one or two year cycles as a result of fires.

The stem wood of plantation trees contained about 70% of the above -ground biomass, i.e. 70% of the carbon sink. Carbon was released through the decomposition of wood and combustion. Carbon was stored on site in forests, which was not necessarily a good carbon sink. Pine, for example, grew very slowly. Grasslands were low in carbon stock but had a short carbon rotation cycle.

Rehabilitation of degraded forest land and the extension of grassland veld fire cycles would have mitigation potential. However, it was argued that carbon released through combustion was re-absorbed when the grassland re-grew. The concern was that fires contributed to global warming and an increase of 2 degrees Celsius would result in a net loss of carbon from natural ecosystems, with a vicious snow-ball effect.

Important themes in negotiations were the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions form Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD) (which was the main negotiation track) and REDD-plus (an elaboration of the concept of REDD), which had implications in terms of reliably measuring carbon fluxes in forest ecosystems; LULUCF (Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry) and the newly established AFOLU (Agriculture, Forestry and Land Use); and Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) - Kyoto protocol, which had provisions for small scale forestation and reforestation as a project for carbon trading. CDM had created opportunities for gain in the forestry sector by entering into carbon trade, but this was limited to 8 kilotons of carbon. It would appear that the reason for this was that industrial pollution emitters needed to account for their emissions. However, at the Bali COP 13, it was agreed that the ceiling would be increased to 16 kilotons of carbon. Further debate was necessary over the benefits of carbon trading. The Ad-hoc Working Group on Long Term Co-operative Action (AWG-LCA) focused on a future global deal on climate change.

At COP 13, decisions were made to include forest degradation in the definition deforestation and to open the door for rewarding countries with demonstrable re-forestation activities. With the forthcoming Copenhagen COP 15, the question would be whether forest conservation, enhancement of forest carbon storage and Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) would be added to REDD-plus. South Africa supported REDD-plus as this would benefit South Africa in terms of carbon sequestration. Other issues for agreement were improved definitions of forests, improved measurement, reporting and verifiability, reference (i.e. the total extent of forest in the area) and baseline (i.e. relevance to previous trends in deforestation) scenarios. Agreements on funding would have to be made. The market economy was driven through agricultural development and if forests were retained, the economic growth of a country might decrease. Deforestation for agricultural purposes was an issue in South Africa. The question was whether countries should be compensated for forcing the benefit of forestry over agriculture. Displacement of emissions (i.e. leakage) was another issue, as conservation in one area might lead to increased emissions in another area.

The Chairperson asked the Department to advise the Committee of the highlights of a review of the Kyoto Protocol, which would assist with preparations for the conventions to be held in Copenhagen in December 2009 and Rio de Janeiro in 2012.

Mr Bester said that he was not personally involved in the United Nations (UN) processes, but the Department did link up and harmonised its activities at the international level. The FAO regularly reported on the activities of Forestry International and incorporated the demands for climate change and biodiversity.

Mr L Bosman (DA) said that the agricultural sector would be severely affected by climate change. The focus on forestry in the presentation was only one aspect of the effects of climate change. He asked how far South Africa had progressed with the investigation of indicators and prospects for the future measurement of the situation. Other agricultural issues, such as greenhouse gas emissions and animals played a role as well. He asked for a realistic estimation of the effect of accelerated afforestation programmes on CO2 levels. An increase in temperature of 20 C in South Africa would render a vast area unusable for agricultural purposes.

Mr Bester said that the global critical level was a 20 C increase above the pre-industrial levels.  The current rate of increase was 0.7%. He suggested that a climate scientist was approached to provide detailed information on the subject.

The Chairperson asked if poorer countries would be able to live up to the expectations of REDD, in the light of the conflict of the REDD programme with agricultural development.  He asked how the practical monitoring of these countries could be achieved.  He asked if the 100 000 ha designated for afforestation in South Africa would be a contributing factor to REDD-plus.

Mr Bester replied that negotiations were progressing towards setting targets for the various countries involved. Remote sensing mechanisms to monitor the achievement of the targets set had its weaknesses, for example, the degradation of forests was difficult to define and could not be measured by remote sensing. Satellite imaging could only provide information on what was above, not below, the canopy. Monitoring on the ground was labour-intensive and difficult to measure.

Ms Kelatwang said that FAO, which had developed cheaper methods and techniques around carbon measurements, planned to visit South Africa on 24th to 30th October 2009 and would start the process of assessing the forest cover and developing an integrated plan for forestry and agriculture. Once forestry resources were accounted for, the measurement of carbon uptake would begin. The duration of the assessment programme was expected to be 3 years. Although South Africa was a water-scarce country, it was hoped that 60 000 ha in the Eastern Cape and 40 000 ha in KwaZulu Natal would be afforested. Over a five-year period, this programme required funding of US $6 million.

Ms M Mabuza (ANC) suggested that the DAFF worked closely with the Department of Environmental Affairs before assigning millions of dollars to new projects. The United States was a major contributor to emissions but expected South Africa was to generate energy without using coal. Climate change negotiations involved issues concerning politics, technology and finding.  African countries could not afford to attend the meeting in Copenhagen without being thoroughly briefed beforehand.

Ms Kelatwang explained that one of the benefits of FAO membership was that the FAO provided training to capacitate people working in the field to collect information, which was essential for the determination of the extent of existing woodlands, the rate of deforestation and other information necessary for fulfillment of the National Forestry Act, which required State of Forest reports to be issued at three-yearly intervals. Other issues concerning climate change could be dealt with when funding was made available.

Ms Mabuza asked if climate change affected the colour of plants, for example blue gum trees were reported to be changing colour and the branches appeared to be thinner.

Mr Bester explained that the presentation had focused on mitigation rather than on the impact of climate change. He suggested that Ms Mabuza’s question was directed to a specialist, who would be better qualified to reply. He said that interactions involving climate change were complex. Climate change affected the evaporation of water and resulted in moisture-stress being suffered by plants. Diseases and pests were also affected by climate change and would have a different impact on plants as well.

The Chairperson asked if the DAFF and the Department of Environmental Affairs could prepare a joint briefing to Government on the issue of climate change.

Ms Kelatwang advised that the DAFF had made progress in encouraging co-ordination between Government Departments concerning the collection of information on climate change. The Department of Environmental Affairs had established the National Coordinating Committee, which facilitated negotiations with all the relevant Government Departments of South Africa, the SADC countries and other African countries.

The Chairperson asked what the major issues were for negotiation by South Africa at Copenhagen.  He asked if all the important issues were included in the presentation or if there were other matters that needed to be taken into account.

Mr Bester explained that deforestation was an important negotiation issue of REDD, although deforestation was not a major issue to South Africa. With regard to REDD-plus, there were opportunities to benefit from rewards associated with our national woodlands and agricultural circumstances. The stakes were higher in Brazil, India and the Democratic Republic of Congo than in South Africa. South Africa was not alone at the negotiations and there would be other items on the Copenhagen agenda, which would be considered to be of greater importance than forestry.

The Chairperson asked how South Africa was categorised in terms of negotiations.

Ms Kelatwang replied that South Africa was categorised as a developing country, along with the other SADC countries. South Africa had developed a position paper for the Copenhagen convention, which would be circulated on 14 October 2009. South Africa would like to see the establishment of a REDD-plus fund to support capacity building and technology transfer, which was critical for success.

Mr Bosman asked if it was proper procedure to promote this aspect, given the prediction of a shortage of 6 million tons of wood by 2020 and of 10 million tons of wood by 2034. Furthermore, the forestry industry was not a viable option for many farmers and he suggested that the immediate issues be addressed first so that future projects around climate change would be viable.

Ms Mabuza asked if a certain type of tree could be planted which would deal with sequestration of carbon.

Mr Bester said that the Jatropha tree absorbed CO2 out of the atmosphere while it was growing and could be used to produce biodiesel to replace diesel produced from fossil fuel. There was not enough information available on the performance of the Jatropha species in South Africa.  He mentioned that research was conducted on pine and eucalyptus tree plantations to quantify and qualify the benefit of the trees before they were planted in South Africa more than a hundred years ago.

The Chairperson commented that it was clear that matters concerning climate change required further engagement and exploration. The impact of climate change on agriculture, forestry, fisheries and mariculture was of interest to the Committee. The Committee intended to engage further on the issue and become more active than previously. He advised that public hearings on climate change would be held on 17th and 18th November 2009.

The meeting was adjourned.


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