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Climate Leadership Series: A Powerful, Pioneering Plan to Protect Forests

Jonathan Shopley | 28 November 2019 |

Like The Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Europe after the war, Charlotte Streck, Co-founder and Director of Climate Focus, is calling for an overarching strategy that would bring the varied forest protection initiatives around the world into alignment for much greater impact and scale. She’s calling it The Marshall Plan for Forests.

In this Climate Leadership Series, we ask experts and influencers in business climate action to share their insight into best practices, discuss current and future trends, and debate the most impactful solutions. You can read more about Charlotte Streck and Climate Focus at the bottom of this article.

Jonathan Shopley (JS): Tell us a bit about how you came to start Climate Focus, and what role it plays in the climate space.

Charlotte Streck (CS): We set up Climate Focus in 2004 to provide business advisory services on the then-emerging carbon markets. Fifteen years on, our work has diversified and I now head our climate advisory practice on forests, agriculture and land use. I believe forests have an enormous potential to help us as humans deliver solutions to our climate and planetary challenges. My work now continues to involve market-based financing mechanisms like carbon markets, but also looks at investments around sustainable supply chains and agriculture.

JS: You have called for a Marshall Plan for Forests. Could you explain what you mean by that, and why such an approach is needed within the global response to climate change?

CS: As a German, I am acutely aware of the successes of The Marshall Plan, which was an extraordinary effort led by the Americans to rebuild Europe after the second world war. A Marshall Plan for Forests would ensure everyone in every sector is pulling in the same direction, and the right policies and finance would be put in place to achieve the Plan’s goals.

At the moment we have a lot of disconnected discussions and actions on forests. There is a community that works on REDD+ with governments using results-based payment systems. There’s a community, which includes Natural Capital Partners, that delivers private sector finance to carbon projects. Then there are separate initiatives and groups focused on forests in supply chains, on biodiversity, and on forest governance; I could go on. Even within governments there are different ministries running separate programmes, not talking to one another. Each of these actors has their own investors, constituencies and people to please. All of these efforts are important, but by working to individual agendas, we risk missing the overall, collective goal of protecting forests.

In addition, we don’t want anybody claiming “we are saving the forest” because we have done this for too long and it doesn’t work. Instead of competing, we need everyone to contribute while supporting others in their efforts. This spirit is missing from current forest policies and activities, so we need a bigger, better plan.

JS: Should individual companies heed your call, and if so, how can they best support your compelling analogy to The Marshall Plan?

CS: Along with protecting forests, our ultimate goal is to decarbonise our economy. To achieve this, companies need to make radical, transformational reductions in fossil fuel use.

We know that 30% of the emission reductions we need to meet the Paris Agreement climate targets will have to come from natural climate solutions – they are essential, they are underfunded, and we need to do a lot more.

I think companies can clean up their supply chains and invest in credible forest operations. This includes investments into sustainable commodities and supporting smallholder operations. In a chronically underfunded sector, well-designed carbon projects are an essential part of the puzzle as they channel funds to operations at the forest frontier. Where governments are weak, projects are often the only way for local communities to benefit from activities that protect forests. By supporting credible carbon projects that protect forests, companies can deliver emission reductions along with a wide range of co-benefits like enhancing biodiversity and supporting local communities. Finally, banks and financial institutions need to de-risk their portfolios and step up their investment due diligence. All these activities form part of The Marshall Plan for Forests.

JS: What type of challenges do you think The Marshall Plan for Forests might face?

CS: If we were living in a better world, every government would support forest protection, but this is not the world we are living in. There are many countries where state-run forest protection projects have risks around poor governance, and some where there aren’t any national forest programmes at all. For example in Guatemala, government programmes are limited in scope and area, and there are parts of the country where if there weren’t privately-supported projects, there wouldn’t be much else. In this sense, corporate engagement is essential as it brings private finance to the parts of the world where it’s most needed.

We need all types of activities, private and public; anything that works to protect and restore forests. We don’t have the luxury to be picky. The Marshall Plan for Forests is partly about investments, but it’s not only about investments, it’s partly about business models, but it’s not only about business models. It would include national budget allocations, development support, carbon finance, private investment, and public-private finance. We need to protect forests in all the ways we can with all the passion that we have. All activities are essential, but to reach their potential they need to be much better coordinated – all contributing to the same goal, all contributing to the same Plan. Coordination will not be easy considering how hard it is to align donor programmes within one agency or one country. Many actors are more concerned about short-term political wins than about long-term sustainable landscapes.

JS: Finally, can you tell us about another initiative you are involved in: Sinfonía Trópico.

CS: Everybody who has ever been involved in Sinfonía Trópico says it was the most rewarding thing that they had ever been part of. It is very dear to my heart.

Sinfonía Trópico brings art and expression to communities in Colombia with a history of violence and conflict. Artists from Europe, Bogotá and Medellin spend several weeks in remote areas to engage young people in telling stories about the nature that surrounds them through documentary film making, poetry, songs, dance and art.

I have spent 15 years of my life writing reports and talking to other climate professionals. We all agree about the urgency for action, but sometimes I feel we haven’t spent enough time talking to real people on the ground. We need to conquer their hearts and capture their attention, to make sure change is happening. In Europe, we are seeing young people making the case for immediate climate action with Fridays for Future. But we also need to involve young people in countries with tropical forests, so they start seeing their forests and biodiversity as part of their wealth, part of their identity, and as something to celebrate.

Sinfonía Trópico is such a wonderful project and has led to hundreds of young people working together across Colombia. Too often, violence results in the destruction of the community, which in turn results in the destruction of the ecosystem. Sinfonía Trópico celebrates diversity, nature and culture all at the same time – and I believe these three things belong together. Instead of seeing the destruction and deforestation of the past, it helps young people to see their part of the world as thriving, exciting and valuable – not only to them but to the rest of the world too.

About Charlotte Streck

Dr. Charlotte Streck is director of Climate Focus and a renowned expert on the legal and financial aspects of the climate regime. She specialises in advising on reduced deforestation, sustainable land use solutions and agricultural supply chains. Before founding Climate Focus in 2004, Charlotte worked as Senior Counsel with The World Bank. Charlotte serves, among others, as associated editor of the Climate Policy Journal and Chair of the Board of the Climate Strategies research network. In 2018, the University of Potsdam rewarded her with an honorary professorship. She has edited four books and published more than 100 articles.

About Climate Focus

Climate Focus is a pioneering international advisory company and think tank that provides advice to governments and multilateral organisations, non-governmental and philanthropic organisations, and to companies across the globe.

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