‘Lungs of the Earth’: New research sheds light on use of forests to alleviate poverty
Bella Laufenberg | Friday, November 19, 2021
Representatives and leaders from around the world have recently convened for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) to participate in discussions regarding climate change and environmental policy.
Notre Dame associate professor of environmental policy for the Keough School of Global Affairs, Daniel Miller, leads a group called the Forests and Livelihoods: Assessment, Research and Engagement Network (FLARE) that follows the agreements at COP26 with a watchful eye.
FLARE, which Miller has been involved with since its conception during his time as a Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan, is an international network of environmental allies that work with and research the socioeconomic impacts of the environment.
Miller said the group is lively and passionate about their contributions to sustainable environmental change.
“The work that we do seeks to inform, for example, this Glasgow pledge by 137 world leaders to end and reverse deforestation by 2030,” Miller said. “The FLARE network, including myself, will help contribute to doing that in a way that is fair and sustainable in different countries around the world.”
The Glasgow pledge is one of the main agreements to come out of COP26. More than 100 countries have pledged to end and reverse deforestation by 2030 — affecting approximately 85% of the world’s forests, according to The New York Times.
“Preserving forests and other ecosystems can and should play an important role in meeting our ambitious climate goals,” U.S. President Joe Biden said regarding this new agreement. “The United States is going to lead by our example at home and support other forested nations and developing countries.”
Miller said he was impressed by the emphasis on forests during COP26.
“What was interesting for me this year is that forests were featured much more than they have been in previous COPs,” Miller said. “Forests are interesting, because they both contribute to the climate problem by them being cut down and burned… but they’re also a critical element in addressing climate change.”
FLARE was created to help nations balance on the delicate line of sustainably protecting the environment, Miller explained.
“From the FLARE side, we’re interested in the effects of different forest policies on people’s livelihoods, and then, in turn, how livelihoods would affect the condition of forests,” he said. “Commonly we talk about policy instruments or policy tools that can be used to sustainably manage, conserve and restore forests.”
Recently, FLARE published a research assessment report called “Forests, Trees and the Eradication of Poverty: Potential and Limitations.“ Miller, who was the lead author on the report, explained that this publication, which is an updated version of a paper published in 2020, aimed to do a deep dive into the reality of the goal to end deforestation by 2030.
Miller said the report focused on the intersection between the goal to alleviate poverty and end deforestation and how those two goals could be accomplished together.
“We started from the first UN [United Nations] Sustainable Development Goal for 2030, which is to end poverty,” he said. “We said what is the role of forests and then trees outside of forests, so agroforestry systems, in meeting that goal, like how could trees and forests help end poverty.”
The group, Miller said, assessed literature and data pertaining to those topics to see if there could be a connection.
The report discovered that forests and trees are often overlooked as a source of income for impoverished communities and can sometimes contribute up to 25% of a family’s income throughout the year — whether that be from cutting down and selling timber or collecting valuable produce, Miller said.
Although forests do hold potential for generating more income, Miller said, cutting down forests cannot be the only solution and it must be done sustainably.
“We could possibly get rid of poverty by cutting down the world’s forests, selling all the timber, but then we would be in a really tough spot because we wouldn’t have those resources anymore, and it would totally exacerbate health and well-being issues,” he said. “Sustainable, lasting poverty reduction has to include forests and other natural resources, but we’ve got to be smart about how we do that.”