By Evan Notman, Juliann Aukema

For many developing countries, the greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions is from land use. USAID works with partner countries on low emission development strategies, policies and frameworks to mitigate this by promoting sustainable management of forests, agriculture and other lands in ways that also improve livelihoods and increase carbon storage. USAID’s sustainable landscapes programs are part of the larger U.S. Government flagship program Enhancing Capacity for Low Emissions Development Strategies.


This infographic from the USAID Climate Action Review 2010-2016 report (p. 13) showcases results from the EC-LEDS program, of which Sustainable Landscapes programs are an integral part.

Over the past few years, as emphasis on reducing emissions from land use has increased, USAID expanded its sustainable landscapes programs beyond forests into wetlands, peatlands and agriculture lands. In 2015, these programs around the world led to almost 50 million tons of carbon dioxide being reduced, sequestered or avoided. USAID continues to strengthen sustainable landscapes programs by reflecting on and incorporating lessons learned, such as these:

  • A methodical, whole-of-government approach to low-emission development can lead to more cost-effective approaches.
  • Communities respond to incentives, such as securing land tenure, to reduce deforestation and protect forests.
  • Building the capacity of those with the responsibility for or opportunity to safeguard forests is crucial.
  • Community engagement is labor-intensive yet critical to success.
  • Other high-carbon ecosystems, beyond upland forests, provide important opportunities for climate change mitigation.  For example, mangroves and peatlands store vast amounts of carbon.

These lessons can also be helpful for USAID’s implementing partners and other organizations working to reduce emissions from the land sector.

Some of USAID’s most significant achievements in promoting sustainable land use include:

  1. Providing access to satellite data and supporting applied research to improve the mapping and monitoring of forests, forest carbon, deforestation and other land use. In India, USAID developed mForest, a mobile phone app that four states’ departments and communities use to gather information about the condition of forests. USAID’s support of the U.S. government SilvaCarbon program helped Peruvian ministries use new analytical techniques with LANDSAT satellite data to accurately track forest change.

  2. Creating laws, policies and programs that reward good stewardship of forests and other landscapes and that are understood and supported by local communities. In Indonesia, USAID helped improve governance in eight landscapes, which led to the development of conservation management plans. Through public-private partnerships such as the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, USAID builds on private sector investment and commitment to reduce deforestation from large-scale agricultural production.

  3. Establishing projects that produced tangible development benefits, immediate GHG emissions reductions or additional carbon storage while informing policies considered in capital cities. USAID’s Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment, operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Republic of Congo, supported local interventions that helped reduce or avoid 14.5 million tons of emissions. In Guatemala, USAID helped launch a third-party-certified REDD+ program which supported the sustainable production and marketing of forest products that generated more than $42 million for local communities and created more than 2,000 full time jobs.

See additional examples of related achievements detailed in the report.
With most developing countries embracing sustainable land use as part of their development goals, the potential for improving the health of forests and other lands at broad scales is significant. USAID will continue to use cutting-edge science, data and tools to help countries reduce land sector emissions while recognizing that public finance for REDD+ and other public sector payments for environmental services will not be sufficient. Engaging private sector actors who are already investing in land use is critical to finding ways to harvest or use natural resources both profitably and sustainably. 

The USAID Climate Action Review: 2010-2016 highlights the achievements of USAID and its partners since the launch of the US Global Climate Change Initiative in 2010. The report describes the evolution of USAID’s approaches, summarizes major achievements, distills lessons learned and shares examples from adaptation, clean energy, sustainable landscapes, and climate change integration activities in over 40 countries.

Strategic Objective
Sustainable Landscapes, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation & Forest Degradation (REDD+), Monitoring and Evaluation, Mitigation, Low Emission Development, Land Use, Land Tenure, Forestry, Emissions, Carbon, Biodiversity
Latin America & Caribbean, Global, Asia, Africa

Evan Notman

Evan Notman is the team leader for Sustainable Landscapes in USAID's Global Climate Change Office.

Juliann Aukema

Juliann Aukema is a Climate Change Specialist with the Sustainable Landscapes team in USAID's Global Climate Change Office. With broad conservation-oriented interests, her applied research has included climate change vulnerability, adaptation, and mitigation, ecosystem services, invasive forest pests, conservation planning, forest management, and big data. Her Ph.D. is in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Arizona.

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