About 60% of Zambia’s land area is covered in forest, but this figure is dropping quickly. Of the 44.6 million hectares of forest we are losing 250 to 300 thousand hectares each year according to recent data by the Centre for International Forestry Research.
Experts agree that at the current rate of deforestation Zambia will be completed denuded within a mere 15 years. The problem lies mostly with slash and burn, logging for timber, and cutting down trees for firewood and charcoal production.
Charcoal is a lucrative business in Zambia because of the high demand for it as an energy source, and with only 25% of the population connected to electricity, this comes as no surprise. Add to this the intermittent power supply due to load shedding, the dependence that even affluent households have on charcoal is understandable.
More indirectly, there are other underlying causes of forest loss which relate to the government’s economic liberalisation policies that influence the conversion of forest to agriculture and charcoal production. Economic policies such as currency devaluation and the removal of agricultural subsidies are partly to blame. Over the years, indigenous farming techniques, like the use of ash of cleared vegetation for fertiliser, have been replaced with subsidised chemical fertilisers which ultimately results in soil erosion, fertility loss, and acidification. These subsidies were withdrawn in the 1990’s and rural farmers resorted to charcoal farming to be able to afford agricultural inputs.
The privatization of electricity imposed on many countries by the IMF and World Bank raised energy prices forcing many people to return to charcoal usage. The government also incentivised farmers to plant cash crops such as sunflower, soya, and cotton which further denuded local forests.
The burning of forest results not only in the loss of bio mass, but is also a huge contributing factor to greenhouse gas emissions. Land use change, including deforestation and forest degradation are responsible for 12 – 29% of these harmful emissions
What’s being done?
In response to what has been deemed a failure to recognise a major source of global greenhouse gas emissions, the Coalition for Rainforest Nations (CfRN) was established and in 2005 they proposed to the Conference of the Parties to the The United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) a mechanism for considering the reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases stemming from tropical deforestation and forest degradation as a climate change mitigation measure.
As a mechanism under the multi-lateral climate change agreement, REDD+ (Reducing emissions from deforestation and Forest Degradation) is essentially a vehicle to financially reward developing countries for their verified efforts to reduce emissions and enhance removals of greenhouse gases through a variety of forest management options. As with other mechanisms under the UNFCCC, there are few prescriptions that specifically mandate how to implement the mechanism at national level; the principles of national sovereignty and subsidiarity imply that the UNFCCC can only establish what results it would reward and require that reports are submitted in a certain format and open for review by the Convention but in essence REDD+ is no more than a set of guidelines on how to report on forest resources and forest management strategies and their results in terms of reducing emissions and enhancing removals of greenhouse gases. However, a set of requirements has been elaborated to ensure that reports from Parties are consistent and comparable and that their content is open to review and in function of the objectives of the Convention.