Deforestation fire, Amazon, Brasil, 2022; by Rui Ribeiro

Green growth: sustainable land and ecosystem management

K4P Alliances aim to contribute to green growth and green structural transformations together with sustainable land management and forest preservation in Africa and Latin America. Analysis shows that this must be accomplished in a way enhancing human well-being together with the conservation and sustainable use of ecosystems[1] . This includes a full range of ecosystems, from those relatively undisturbed, such as natural forest, to landscapes with mixed patterns of land use, as well as to ecosystems intensively managed and modified by humans, such as agricultural territories.

The ultimate goal is to help developing projects oriented to foster and use ecosystem services that contribute to promote resilient economies and that enhance sustainable human wellbeing in the Global South[2] .

It should be noted that green structural transformation is increasingly understood as combining green growth and structural economic transformation strategies, which encompass critical steps in the development process of many regions in the Global South, including the least developed counties[3] . This includes actions to enhance the preference of increasing resources use and reducing waste production with balancing these processes with nature and conservation, as well as by increasing the capacity to fix and, above all, sequester CO2. In addition, it includes:

  • the stimulus of nature-based solutions, for example in agriculture and in forest management, as well as in the economic valorization of natural products;
  • the stimulus to in situ and ex-situ preservation of ecosystems and biodiversity through studies that quantify patterns of biological diversity and foster the maintenance and expansion of preserved areas and conservation of biodiversity.

Moving towards carbon neutrality will greatly depend on the way we will be able to guarantee adequate use of digital tools and remote sensing for sustainable land management in the Global South, in that all relevant stakeholders have access and are equipped with adequate systems for sustainable water, land and integrated forest management. First of all, it is widely known that carbon neutrality necessarily requires keeping the tropical forests standing. This involves civil protection services, environmental, agriculture and forest regional services and their delegations, forest guards, farmers, agri-food companies and advisory services as well as other public and private land users and actors (including municipalities and land governance institutions, as well as firms and individual landowners).

Such efforts have been attempted worldwide[4] in close cooperation with local authorities in land use planning, forest management, fire prevention and land register in order to contribute to:

  1. Characterizing and monitoring forest biodiversity. This is because there is still much we don’t know about the tropical forests biodiversity (the so-called biodiversity shotfalls), particularly the Amazonia rainforest. So, fostering basic research aimed to characterize tropical biodiversity at its multiple components and taxonomic groups (e.g., field expeditions to sampling gaps and remote areas to inventory biological diversity across taxonomic groups, taxonomy studies, species descriptions, biological collections, etc), is a priority focus;
  2. decreasing the likelihood of extreme and severe fire events;
  3. support forest fire risk governance and management mechanisms to minimize the impact of forest fires;
  4. monitor fuel management efforts in wildland/rural-urban interfaces, as well as in forest areas, undertake risk assessment and support real-time fire risk monitoring and exposure of highly sensitive areas; and
  5. support law enforcement operations towards the compliance of fuel management regulation around building and critical infrastructures and support a flexible tasking of surveillance and suppression resources considering risk and uncertainty, while encapsulating intra-spatial and temporal variability.

The debate on greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation in agriculture is to a great extent focused on livestock, especially on ruminant production. 61% of global contributions of GHG emissions is currently associated with livestock production to beef production. However, there is a lack of field measurements regarding the importance of ruminant livestock farms in Latin America, northern Africa, as well as Mediterranean regions and other territories mostly based on extensive grazing, at least in a way to facilitate estimates of soil organic carbon stocks. There is also a very low number of life cycle assessments (LCA) for livestock production in relation to the high percentage of GHG emissions associated with livestock. In addition, the estimation of environmental impacts in highly diverse and complex systems, such as extensive grassland-based livestock systems, is a complicated task and requires estimations for specific systems and regions.

Understanding the triangulation of new knowledge, institutional innovation and new observation methods will be critically relevant because:

  • Forests, shrubland and pastures can play different roles in the carbon cycle, from net emitters to net sinks of carbon, because forests sequester carbon by capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and transforming it into biomass through photosynthesis. Sequestered carbon is then accumulated in leaf’s, branch’s, trunks and roots in (biomass) deadwood, litter and in forest soils. The release of carbon from forest ecosystems results from natural processes (respiration and oxidation) and deliberate or unintended results of human activities (i.e., harvesting, fires, deforestation, soil mobilization);
  • Forests, shrubland and pastures and their role in the carbon cycle are affected by changing climatic conditions. Evolutions in rainfall and temperature can have either damaging or beneficial impacts on forest health and productivity, which are very complex to predict. Depending on circumstances, climate change will either reduce or increase carbon sequestration into forests, which causes uncertainty about the extent to which forests are able to contribute to climate change mitigation in the long term. Also, forest management activities have the potential to influence carbon sequestration by stimulating certain processes and mitigating impacts of negative factors;
  • As an example, forests, shrubland, pastures and natural lands ecosystems in the European Union play multiple significant roles, including carbon sequestration. It is estimated that the forest biomass in the EU27 countries contains 9.8 billion tons of carbon (tC). The total CO2 emissions of the EU27 countries in 2004 was 1.4 billion tons of carbon equivalent. This means that the amount of carbon emitted every year by the EU27 equals to nearly one-seventh of the carbon stored in the EU27 forests. As a result, the value placed on forests in the EU can be seen as a viable way of mitigating GHG emissions through carbon sinks and sequestration.

Overall, improved public services coupled with public-private interactions on sustainable land management depend on a responsible combination of specialized knowledge of land management with advanced digital systems integrating satellite imagery and the management of large data sources with advanced machine learning algorithms oriented to:

  1. Assure the monitoring of CO2 sequestrated in soil and vegetation through a very high-resolution database, aiming for a sustainable forest by contributing for an effective 55% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2030 and full carbon neutrality in 2050; and
  2. Promote a new market for very high-resolution (i.e., sub-metric) satellite-based Earth Observation systems fully integrated with advanced Information systems, through revised legal systems imposing that all municipalities and land governance institutions, as well as firms and individual land owners, are properly equipped with high-resolution, space-based fire prevention and sustainable land management tools.

One of the benefits of using digital systems would be to enable new business models that make it attractive for firms and land owners to participate in government-led land management efforts. But these goals can only be achieved through a concerted action oriented to promote:

  • The development and deployment of tools for the monitoring of forest-induced carbon credits and their corresponding monetization;
  • Advanced decentralized digital networks, information systems and Artificial Intelligence methodologies: on-line forecast/AI modelling of “fire risk level” with a capacity of 90% accuracy prediction over 3 days in advance and the necessary release of early warnings, together with on-line capacity for dynamic forecast of carbon cycle and the prediction of levels of carbon stock and sequestration into forests; Machine learning algorithms crossing information from different sources and types, to accelerate land identification;
  • High performance computing capacity: capacity for near real time weather forecast and massive calculations of soil parameters and levels of carbon sequestration;
  • Providing users with a decision support system that, through probabilistic risk modelling and scenario planning trade-off analysis, using the best available information (e.g., sub-metric resolution and near real-time data of weather conditions and land use and landcover) and processing capacity, allows practitioners to prioritize investment decisions regarding landscape planning and fuel management at national, regional and sub-regional scale. The core value of such a decision support tool, resides in using a quantitative wildfire exposure assessment to map, compare, and inform management priorities in vast areas;
  • Interoperability platforms that enable better land management by providing information from land owners but also from central administration (fostering the “once only” principle) and municipalities.

[1] It refers to the dynamic and complex relationships of plan, animal and microorganism communities and the nonliving environment interaction as a functional unit. See, for example, Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services [IPBES] (2019a). IPBES Conceptual Framework. Available online at: . See, also, the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment (2005), “Ecosystems and Human Well-Being Synthesis, The World Resources Institute, Washington.

[2] See, for example, Sangha et al (2022), “Ecosystem Services and Human Wellbeing-Based Approaches Can Help Transform Our Economies“, Front. Ecol. Evol., 15 April 2022.

[3] UNCTAD (2022), “The low carbon transition and its daunting implications for structural transformation - The Least Developed Countries Report 2022”, UNCATD.

[4] See, for example, the Copernicus/Sentinel missions of the European Space Agency (ESA), as well as the EC`s Joint Research Centre information system, particularly regarding farming and grazing systems.