FOREST CONSERVATION WITH FIJI’S FORESTRY ER PROGRAM

Following the REDD+ readiness phase is the implementation phase of the Fiji Forest Emission Reductions (ER) program in which Fiji signed an agreement on January 28, 2021 with the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), a global partnership of the World Bank, of US$12.5 million (approx. FJ$26 million) in results-based payments for increasing carbon sequestration and reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Fiji is the first small island developing state to sign an Emission Reductions Payment Agreement (ERPA) with the World Bank’s FCPF. The five-year agreement will reward efforts to those who participate in reducing carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

To assist with greater public understanding of Fiji’s ER Program, the Ministry of Forestry will continue to publish a series of articles detailing the different aspects of the Program. An article published on April 16, 2022 highlighted the customer driven afforestation and alternative livelihood initiatives. Today we will look at Forest Conservation as an activity within Fiji’s Forestry ER Program.

Forest Conservation

According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), forests are influenced by climate, landform and soil composition and they exist in a wide variety of forms in the tropical, temperate and boreal zones of the world. Each forest type, evergreen and deciduous, coniferous and broadleaved, wet and dry, as well as closed and open canopy forests, has its own uniqueness and together these forests complement one another and perform the various socio-economic, ecological, environmental, cultural and spiritual functions.

The importance of forests cannot be underestimated. We depend on forests for our survival, from the air we breathe to the wood we use. Besides providing habitats for animals and livelihoods for humans, forests also offer watershed protection, prevent soil erosion and mitigate climate change.

According to Conservation International, Fiji contains some of the richest natural communities of all the Pacific oceanic islands. The archipelago is known for its high levels of endemism: at least 900 vascular plant species are endemic, and it is a hotspot for endemic palms, amphibians, skinks, geckos, iguanas, bats and birds. Twenty-seven bird species occur only in Fiji, 26 of which are land/forest birds. Fiji’s forests are critical for the conservation of its endemic biodiversity, but about half of the forests have already been lost through clearance for agriculture, unsustainable logging, and fires. As a result, many of Fiji’s endemic species are threatened, including at least 8 of Fiji’s palm species, Fiji Flying-fox; Crested Iguana; Banded Iguana; Fijian Burrowing Snake; Tree Frog; Ground Frog; and 11 of the endemic 26 land birds. Fiji’s forests also contribute substantially to the quality of life of the rural people, providing timber and non-timber products and environmental services such as soil conservation, water catchment, and carbon sinks. They also have important traditional social and cultural values. Over 80% of Fiji’s land and forests are owned by family clans, called mataqalis, for whom these forests are their main source of livelihood.

Fijian Government’s Commitment to Forest Conservation

Fiji faces its share of challenges in maintaining and expanding forest cover and Government recognizes the need to skillfully balance pressures for economic development and conservation of both the country’s forests and oceans. Fiji has set a high ambition for protecting and expanding its forests cover. Fiji is proud to share some of the most pristine tropical forests with the rest of the world. These forests are our heritage – but more so they are a heritage of the world.

For the Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) sector, Fiji is committed to afforestation of an area of 77,400 ha and the reduction of deforestation by 80%. Fiji’s forest cover will be increased by 40 percent as a result.

To strike a balance between conservation and development, the Fijian Government recognized the need for the sustainable management and development of forests in Fiji in the 5 years and 20 years National Development Plan and most recently the Climate Change Act 2021. It also initiated and continues to fund the national tree-planting and growing programme of planting 30 million trees in 15 years. These developments, among others, commit Fiji to ending deforestation, restoring degraded forests and substantially increasing afforestation. The overall approach Fiji has taken is to one that transforms conservation into development. Fiji has moved away from either-or to an approach where the more you protect and expand forest cover, the more you achieve economic development.

Fiji’s Low Emission Development Strategy (LEDS) also has identified the potential that our forests have to offset carbon emissions.

Fiji’s political commitment to support forest conservation is also demonstrated when it successfully submitted the Emalu REDD+ national pilot site and the Colo-i-Suva Forest Park to be part of the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy. The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy raises awareness within the Commonwealth of the value of forests, including especially indigenous forests. The unique network of forest conservation projects brings collective credibility and integrity to individual Commonwealth initiatives. As part of this network, Fiji highlighted the role of REDD+ actions, including the ER program, in ensuring the long-term conservation of Fiji’s indigenous forests.

In Fiji’s submission to the UNFCCC Talanoa Dialogue’s third question “How do we get there”, the need to “Enhance National Carbon Sequestration” was identified as one of the key priorities to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 and there is the stated intention to identify more areas under the National REDD+ Program. This stems from the strategies outlined in the Ministry of Forestry’s strategic Development Plan (NDP) 2017-2036 where it clearly articulates the development of the ER program and where the stated targets in the forestry sector (increased reforested and forest conservation areas) will rely largely on the ER Program.

Forest Conservation in the Context of the ER Program

The Fijian Government is fully committed to promoting conservation to perpetually support basic needs for clean water and air, and thus enhance livelihoods for communities and all Fijians. Government is implementing the Emissions Reduction (ER) Program under the National REDD+ Program to protect and enhance Fiji’s forests and determine the value of carbon credits.

The four activities proposed within Fiji’s Forest ER Program include Sustainable Forest Management – through the Diameter Limit Table and selective logging practices, Sustainable Land Management or Climate Smart Agriculture, Forest Conservation & Tree Planting – community planting, and plantations establishment by the Fiji Hardwood Corporation Limited (FHCL) and Fiji Pine Limited (FPL), coupled with alternative livelihoods that will be of benefit to the communities who choose to participate.

With the Fiji ER Forest Program, it has been planned that through forest conservation, the country will be able to protect 9,500 hectares of not only forests but also the biodiversity which exists within.

Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Forestry, Pene Baleinabuli said Fiji has been losing an average of 4,000 hectares of forests per year, and while Government has initiated a national tree-planting campaign to plant 30 million trees in 15 years – a movement which has caught on exceptionally well with the communities and key stakeholders in the forestry sector who have collectively helped plant about 12 million trees since January 2019 when the then President of Fiji, Major-General (Ret’d) Jioji Konrote launched the initiative, it was crucial to explore further options to strengthen Fiji’s capacity and capabilities in managing its forests.

“The 30 million trees campaign is one of Fiji’s major strategies to address climate change, which is even more critical now as part of Fiji’s green recovery following the exacerbations caused by COVID-19 and the increasing number and strength of natural disasters.”

“There is an even greater and urgent need to press the re-set button and explore more options with development partners to enable Fiji to continue to do its part in addressing climate change, enhance biodiversity and ecosystem services, whilst also ensuring that its natural resources are sustainably harnessed to contribute to Fiji’s socio-economic development needs,” Mr. Baleinabuli said.

Individuals and organisations, including landowning units, farmers, women, youth, children, private sector, civil society, religious groups, academia and anyone interested in forest conservation, environmental protection and addressing climate change are encouraged to actively participate in Fiji’s Forest ER Program. For more information contact any nearest Forestry Office within your vicinity.