Did you know that by the end of 2020, we will for the first time ever have a national-level estimate of the economic value of Lebanon’s forest ecosystem services? And that, by 2021, Lebanon plans to be one of the few (or possibly the only) countries in the region who will be piloting payment for ecosystem services? These breakthroughs in forest information and conservation approaches in the Arab region are being led by the Lebanon Reforestation Initiative (LRI), a Lebanese NGO that aims at conserving and expanding Lebanon’s forests through a community-based approach and public-private partnerships. In addition, LRI also aims at empowering communities to advocate to better manage their forest resources.
As part of the USAID-funded “Livelihoods in Forestry” project, LRI has just embarked on a major study to map, describe and value the importance of Lebanon’s forest ecosystem services for human wellbeing. The next step will be to use the resulting information on forest costs, benefits and returns to inform the design and piloting of innovative for conservation incentives and finance, such as payments for ecosystem services.
The valuation study was announced on the 2nd of April at the Sixth Mediterranean Forest Week during the joint side event on the 2nd of April 2019, organized in partnership between LRI and the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The Sixth Mediterranean Forest Week that was hosted during the first week of April 2019 in Brummana, Lebanon by the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture highlighted the important role Mediterranean forests can play in helping to mitigate climate change and implement the Paris Agreement. During the pre-mentioned side event entitled “Exploring Tools and Opportunities to Strengthen Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation through Landscape Management”.
Four panelists shared case studies of how reforestation and protected area management have been used to strengthen climate adaptation and mitigation, and explored the considerable economic and environmental opportunities that can come from investing in nature-based climate solutions.
The first two panelists – Husam Al Awaidat of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) in Jordan, and Mr. Imed Oueslati, the Director of Boukornine Ben Arous National Park in Tunisia, presented examples of climate change mitigation and adaptation measures within protected area management in both Jordan and Tunisia, respectively as part of their projects funded by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. Mr. Al Awaidat talked about adaptation through fire management in Dibben Forest Reserve in Jordan, and described RSCN’s efforts at climate mitigation through the creation of a network of protected areas, and the reduction of deforestation and forest degradation. Mr. Oueslati focused on the role of Boukornine Ben Arous National Park in reducing the local, national and even global impacts of climate change.
From LRI, Eliane Charbel, the Climate Change and Ecosystem Services Senior Specialist presented an example of how reforestation can help achieve Lebanon’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) as part of the Paris Agreement. She highlighted the importance of monitoring the transition to new ecosystems created through reforestation using remote sensing to better understand the changes in carbon sequestration, a service provided by a forest. She also stressed on the importance of valuing this service as well as all other services in monetary terms to attract funding for reforestation projects.
Finally, Lucy Emerton, Director of the Environment Management Group, emphasized the important of making a strong and convincing economic case for investing in forests as ‘natural climate mitigation and adaptation infrastructure’ in the region. She emphasized the important role of economic valuation but also underlined that, however high the value of forest ecosystem services is demonstrated to be on paper, this means little unless it translates into real changes in the economic conditions and opportunities that forest land and resource users face in the real world.
There is also need to ‘capture’ these values as incentives and finance for forest restoration and conservation – such as through payments for ecosystem services. Moving forward, LRI aims to take these ideas and approaches a step further by assessing and valuing the economic consequences of land use/land cover change on ecosystem services, specifically focusing on the effects of reforestation and forest conservation on different stakeholders, sectors and levels of scale. The ultimate aim is to create a model that can be used to make the case for decision making in forest conservation and expansion, and point to concrete instruments and interventions to support them. The ecosystem services team at LRI, which consists of Eliane Charbel and Leticia Rahal, will be working closely with Lucy Emerton over the next two years to not only provide an economic assessment of forest ecosystem services in Lebanon but also to develop a nationwide forest-based payment for ecosystem services scheme. Therefore, keep your eyes open for a model that you might want to replicate in your country!