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Forestry Partnership with US Climate Fellow Continues to 2023


Climate Fellows is a U.S. Government technical cooperation program that promotes sustainable land use through targeted technical assistance to selected country partners. The program places technical experts in host country government ministries to address priority technical needs related to national greenhouse gas inventories, forest management, and/or forest monitoring. These experts work directly with host country counterparts to provide customized, long-term technical assistance to strengthen national capacities with respect to forest inventory, forest monitoring, and other systems for tracking and reporting changes in forest, agricultural, and other lands. 

Provide a brief overview of the work that has been done since joining the Department  in April 2021? Since joining the Department of Forestry, I have focused on the fight against climate change by supporting Fiji’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) program. This program aims to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions from the forestry sector by slowing deforestation; by restoring and conserving forests, which remove carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere; and by promoting sustainable forest management. Through the REDD+ program, Fiji will receive payments from international donors for demonstrating net reductions in greenhouse gas emissions through these efforts.

A key component of the REDD+ program is accurate monitoring to definitively demonstrate reductions in deforestation and increases in forest cover as compared to historical levels. Therefore, I particularly focused on helping the REDD+ team improve and also simplify existing monitoring methods, while simultaneously incorporating rigorous quality assurance/quality control practices, to produce highquality data. As a result, the team ultimately produced defensible data with significantly improved accuracy. I documented the procedures and steps for the team’s future reference. 

In parallel with my support to the REDD+ team, I initiated preliminary work with the Department of Forestry and other ministries to develop an expanded national land use monitoring system. This system will produce maps of six key land uses (forestland, cropland, grassland, wetland, settlements, and other land uses) and changes among them. The data from this system will support the REDD+ program, greenhouse gas reporting for land use conversions, as well as other initiatives. 

What challenges (if any) have you come across while doing this work and what would you recommend that the Department  do to close this gap? Fiji is on the front line of the climate change battle and is already facing serious impacts from rising sea levels, increased intensity and frequency of cyclones, and increased variability in weather patterns. Forests are critical in the fight against climate change. A significant challenge in Fiji is the daunting task of protecting and managing the forests with limited financial and human resources.

Although Fiji’s tropical forests represent a small proportion of the global forests, they are still very important for the world and especially for all Fijians. The trees in the forests remove carbon dioxide, a major contributor to global warming, from the atmosphere. Despite the critical importance of forests, there is tremendous pressure to cut the trees for timber, agricultural expansion, and various other purposes, which releases greenhouse gases back into the atmosphere.

To provide perspective of the magnitude of the impact of deforestation at a global scale, if it were halted across the world and tree cover increased through reforestation efforts, global net greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by up to 30%. In addition to the contribution of forests in the fight against climate change, they provide clean water, habitat for wildlife, food, medicine, oxygen, protection of the land from erosion, cooling and cleaning of the air, and regulation of weather patterns, among others things.

Despite its limitations, the Department of Forestry continues to champion the protection of existing forests, reforestation activities that increase tree cover, and sustainable forest and land management. The 30 Million Trees in 15 Years (30MT15Y) initiative is a great example of Fiji’s commitment to increase forest cover and restore forests in degraded lands.

The Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) program is well underway and encourages landowners to conserve existing forested land, restore forests in degraded areas, and manage the land sustainably for future generation in exchange for financial incentives. Perhaps even more important than monetary benefits are the many co-benefits of improved forest ecosystem services. For instance, restoring forests to degraded lands could reduce erosion, improve water quality in streams, increase fish populations due to better water quality, prevent or reduce flooding, increase biodiversity, and protect coral reefs from excessive sedimentation.

The Department of Forestry is also working with local communities to encourage tree planting, agroforestry and sustainable food production, and sustainable timber production and land management.

What areas will you focus on for 2023? In 2023, I will continue work already initiated with the Department of Forestry and other ministries to develop the national land use monitoring system mentioned above. Although the REDD+ program has already developed a system to monitor changes in Fiji’s forest cover, the Department of Forestry  recognizes the importance of expanding its monitoring to include other land uses such as croplands, grasslands, wetlands, settlements, and other lands. This expansion will provide data for a variety of other needs. Understanding the distribution and changes in Fiji’s land uses is essential to inform and track the effectiveness of environment and development policies, guide land use planning and land management, and inform decisions. It is also required for reporting for a variety of international initiatives and agreements such as REDD+ and greenhouse gas reporting for land use changes.

Apart from helping develop the national land use monitoring system, I will help the Department  update its methods for conducting field-based forest inventories, which involve sending people to the forests for direct assessment of the forest conditions. Field inventories are needed for various purposes such as directly measuring the amount of carbon stored in the forests, which is important for climate change mitigation efforts. They are also used to determine the value of trees in forested areas to equitably compensate landowners who conserve their forests. These inventories can also help track the health of the forests and the biodiversity found within them. Specialists from the US Forest Service will meet with Department  and other stakeholders to understand the information needs and then collaborate with them to update the inventory protocols. They will then provide training to Forestry and other stakeholders.

Finally, I will continue to support Fiji’s REDD+ program as it continues to transition into full operation. During 2023, I plan to help the Department of Forestry  formalize its standard operating procedures for the monitoring aspects of the program. I will also provide assistance during the first international audit of the program. Lastly, I will help the team generate data for the second monitoring period.

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