Published: Dec. 4, 2023 By

During the first day of the 28th United Nations Climate Change conference (COP28) in Dubai, several rich, industrialized nations pledged a combined total of more than $400 million to help poor, vulnerable nations hit by climate disasters.

The agreement came after a historic decision at last year’s COP in Egypt to establish a “loss and damage” fund following difficult and lengthy negotiations.  

Colleen Scanlan Lyons, an associate research professor with the Environment and Society Program at the Institute of Behavioral Science (IBS) at CU Boulder and acting director of IBS’s Center for the Governance of Natural Resources, will take the stage at COP28 on Dec. 5. She will be joined by governors, Indigenous leaders and other partners to announce a call for more flexible, agile and rapid climate financing for subnational actors—meaning states and provinces—around the world.

Scanlan Lyons is one of two project directors for the Governors’ Climate and Forests (GCF) Task Force, a network of states and provinces collaborating to promote forest conservation and low emissions development. The GCF Task Force Secretariat was originally set up at CU Boulder in 2009 and is now jointly housed with the University of California Los Angeles. Scanlan Lyons shares her take on the importance of forests, and how directly funding states and provinces is critical as COP gets underway.

Colleen Lyons

Colleen Scanlan Lyons

Why is forest conservation critical for climate change? 

In addition to all the other benefits forests provide, they help slow the rate of climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it. Critical global climate sinks, like the Amazon Forest, are looming dangerously close to “the tipping point” beyond which they will stop absorbing carbon and instead, serve as sources of carbon emissions. As a global community, we can’t afford to lose these forests. 

Can you briefly describe what GCF does and what is its mission? 

The GCF Task Force was founded 15 years ago by then-California Gov. Schwarzenegger with governors from the U.S., Brazil and Indonesia, and it is now the world’s largest subnational governmental network, composed of states, provinces and regions from 11 countries that are dedicated to promoting tropical forest conservation and sustainable, low-emissions development. 

With the GCF Task Force, we work to find ways to keep tropical forests standing while generating benefits for the people within these regions. Examples of this range from income generation activities such as collecting, processing and marketing Brazil nuts, to ecotourism, to payments for ecosystem services and carbon market efforts that reach across entire states and provinces.  

What’s your plan at COP28?

COP is an opportunity for us all to come together, to share knowledge, to network, to learn from each other, and to get mobilized around a common agenda.

During this year’s COP, the leaders of the GCF Task Force plan to announce a call to action for more climate financing for subnational actors. We are hoping to let people know that the GCF Task Force will do the hard work of keeping forests standing, but we need adequate funding support, capacity building and technical assistance to make that possible. And GCF Task Force states and provinces on the frontlines of climate battles need this support now.

Why is climate financing important?

There have been many big, international commitments but it can be difficult to track how much has been spent and actually made it to the ground. A lot of times, funding is caught in bureaucracies and is hard to unlock. Meanwhile, state and provincial leaders and the people they represent face hard environmental, economic and social realities, and make hard decisions about these realities every day.

Financial support plays a very important role in this because you need money to de-risk longer-term investment, to build, for example, supply chains that extend from deep inside forested regions to the rest of the world. These are expensive and expansive places. They need funding for forest product processing plants and technological innovation to add value to these products, for transportation and marketing as supply chains are built, for job training and the like. 

In a place like Amazonas, the largest state in the Brazilian Amazon, the governor recently said to me, “The price for keeping 97% of our forests standing is 50% poverty.” Unless the people who are living in these tropical forest jurisdictions experience benefits from keeping their forests standing, they will be forced to make the tough choices of: “Do I feed my family, or do I keep these trees alive? Do I get my kid to school, or do I keep these trees alive?”

Why is the GCF Task Force focusing on working at state and provincial levels?

We believe that subnational governors, which include state and provincial authorities, as well as business leaders, local community and Indigenous leaders and NGOs that are in these states and provinces, play a crucial role in policy innovation and implementation. They possess the local-level knowledge that is critical for solving intractable climate challenges. They know the challenges local communities experience, and where and how support can be most effectively implemented. Subnational governmental actors, and their partners, are where the rubber hits the road in our climate challenges.  

Subnational authorities can also reach across multiple municipalities or jurisdictions to gain collective bargaining power during negotiations. If the nine Brazilian Amazonian states, which account for one-third of all Brazilian states, go to the national government together for negotiations, then the national government will really listen.