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Connecting forest health to climate action

October 20, 2020

Rocío Cóndor on a mountain ridge in Italy
Climbing the Ventasso Mountain and collecting high altitude plant flowers in the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Programme (MAP) Reserve Appennino Tosco-Emiliano, Emilia Romagna Region, Italy. Photo courtesy of Rocío Cóndor.

Rocío Cóndor is an FAO Forestry Officer working on the Enhanced Transparency Framework and coordinating the GEF-funded Capacity-building Initiative for Transparency work related to the forest sector, known as CBIT-Forest. In an interview, she reflected on the ways solid data can inform good decisions when it comes to sustainable forest management.

What does your work entail?

I work at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) where I support GEF-funded projects related to the Capacity-building Initiative for Transparency. This initiative helps developing countries track their progress toward meeting the Paris Agreement, with tools and training to report their greenhouse gas emissions, climate change impacts, and adaptation measures. It aims to build trust and confidence among countries in support of the global effort. My work relates to a global initiative to bolster forest data through improved collection, analysis, and sharing data that will help countries to address their own data needs as well as respond to international processes. Sustainable forest management can prevent and reduce land degradation, maintain land productivity, and reverse the adverse impacts of climate change on land degradation. Underpinning sustainable forest management is effective forest monitoring, and access to accurate and timely data is essential for this.

Is there a specific project you have worked on that is close to your heart?

Each country I’ve worked in teaches me something and helps me understand the specific challenges communities face in addressing climate change. One project that I keep close to my heart is the first national CBIT project that I was involved with. We helped enhance Cuba’s institutional and technical capacities in the agriculture and land-use sectors, and it was fantastic to work and learn so much about Cuba and its commitment to building capacities and meeting the Enhanced Transparency Framework of the Paris Agreement.

Some years later, I had the chance to travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to learn about the needs and gaps in data collection in the agriculture and forest sectors and help build a roadmap towards presenting the different reports to the UN Climate Change Convention. We identified opportunities for improvement, discussed the preparation of the country’s greenhouse gas inventory, and worked together on compiling that inventory. The government was committed to the work. I hope the country can get their first national CBIT project approved soon – we are working on that now.

How has the COVID-19 outbreak impacted your work and your approach to it?

Between March and May, I was supposed to travel and run face-to-face workshops in Guatemala, Honduras, Thailand, Laos, Uganda, and Cote d’Ivoire, all of which are pilot countries for CBIT-Forest. The pandemic required us to pivot to virtual meetings and working sessions, first in Latin America and the Caribbean, followed by Africa, and then Asia. We also needed to find innovative ways to share knowledge and skills. In July, we launched our first e-learning course on the importance of forest-related data collection to support national political decision-making. Subsequent webinars focused on case studies on forests and transparency from Costa Rica and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and we also used digital platforms to share new products, including good practice guidance and tools to help countries carry out comprehensive capacity assessments related to forest monitoring. In some cases, virtual meetings have been challenging due to poor Internet connections or a lack of electricity. In other circumstances, we managed to connect hundreds of attendees across all regions, including a larger representation of women than we have seen in past face-to-face events.

The pandemic has also reinforced the importance of solid data to make informed decisions. We need improved data availability and access, combined with transparency, to catalyze collaborative solutions to the climate crisis. COVID-19 has increased awareness about the power of data sharing, and the importance of having open databases follow standards to minimize misuse and misinterpretation. Our support in forest monitoring aims to strengthen data openness standards while solving conflicts with data protection and confidentiality. Open and transparent data is at the core of the CBIT-Forest program.

Now I just need to find a balance between the demands of developing technical products for my project, participating in virtual meetings across different time zones, and parenting my children who play around me and sometimes pop into my video calls!

Meeting REDD+/ National Forest Monitoring cluster retreat in Rome, Rocío together with her colleagues from the Latin America and the Caribbean team (April 2018).
At a REDD+/ National Forest Monitoring cluster retreat in Rome, Rocío together with her colleagues from the Latin America and the Caribbean team (April 2018). Photo courtesy of Rocío Cóndor

How did you get started working on environmental issues?

I studied biology and environmental protection at the Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina in Lima, Peru. After graduating, I earned a fellowship which took me to the Netherlands to get a Master of Science in environmental management at Wageningen University. Later, I obtained a Ph.D. in Forest Ecology at the Universitá degli Studi della Tuscia in Viterbo, Italy. In my first job, I dealt with environmental issues related to renewable energy, sustainable transportation, and wastewater projects. I also learned about climate change and its impacts. That was 20 years ago and I’ve been working in this field ever since.

Global environmental challenges can be overwhelming. What makes you optimistic?

I hope that my children will love nature as much as I do, so they will contribute to the global effort to address environmental problems in whatever capacity they choose. If each of us shares our own talents we will be able to make a difference. I also hope that forestry students get involved and contribute their skills and ideas, and we have already brought young students into our first webinar. We hope to have them join upcoming online courses.

On a personal level, I’ve spoken to young and aspiring foresters to share my experience with them. A few months ago, I spoke with an American student who wanted to learn more about the project and my professional experience. He found the split focus between institutional development and technical capacity to be quite interesting. Many students, as I used to be, are still trying to figure out what they want to do and how to contribute with their professional careers. It was a pleasure and privilege to meet him virtually, learn about his interests, and share my experience with him to help guide his professional development.

Do you have advice for a young person who wants to pursue a career in conservation?

Study, be curious, network, and believe in what you do. Love nature and be active in the movement to #BuildBackBetter. We need youth power and we need to invest in developing the skills that will contribute to environmental protection.