Bamboo is a strategic resource for countries to reduce the effects of climate change
Including bamboo in climate change policies and rural development investments makes countries’ sustainable development goals more effective. Bamboo is a vast untapped strategic resource that countries in the world’s tropical and sub-tropical regions can use to better manage climate change, and provide beneficial ‘ecosystem services’ and new income sources for their rural populations.
In developing strategies, action plans and investment options to deal with climate change, countries and development agencies can include bamboo in the range of tested approaches available. This highly productive plant grows faster than trees, is extremely effective in sequestering carbon, and brings new livelihood options and income to communities and nations.
Two obstacles to bamboo’s more rapid development are the current lack of appreciation of its significant benefits by national policy makers; and the classification of this grass species under forestry regulations, curtailing wider beneficial use for frequent harvesting and trade.
Addressing and managing the effects of climate change are at the center of countries’ sustainable development agendas and their challenge for building green economies. Bamboo is a strategic resource that offers many countries a wealth of practical solutions to climate change. It contributes to mitigation, adaptation and development to climate change, is easy to adopt, and brings a multitude of benefits, which include:
- Absorbing and storing carbon
- Protecting and restoring degraded lands and watersheds
- Insulating environments against extremes of weather
- Providing low-cost, green housing and infrastructure
- Providing a range of biofuels
- Supplying a renewable, sustainable resource for generating incomes
- Increasing the sustainability, range and season of food sources.
In developing strategies, action plans and investment options today, countries and development agencies are building on decades of past experience in forestry, agriculture and natural resource management. A range of tested approaches is emerging. But few of these include bamboo. This highly productive plant grows faster than trees, is extremely effective in sequestering carbon, restores degraded landscapes in months as opposed to years, and brings new income and livelihood options to villages that have been hit by degraded soils and loss of vegetation.
‘Climate smart’ policy action and options
Bamboo alone will not solve the world’s climate change problems. But it is a perfect complement to land restoration and forestry strategies in the planet’s subtropical belt. Including bamboo in climate change mitigation, adaptation, and land restoration strategies makes national plans more effective and brings a range of ‘climate smart’ options to national and regional climate change strategies.
For this to happen, decision makers, environmental planners and development programs need to better understand the properties and benefits of this versatile plant, and how it adds value to current national and regional strategies. A global body of evidence is emerging on how bamboo sequesters carbon at a very rapid rate and how it rapidly rejuvenates degraded lands, returning soil fertility – as a first stage in longer-term agro-forestry and agricultural re-development.
Should all relevant countries to have a ‘bamboo strategy‘ for sustainable development and climate change? This is one approach. But it is clear that that the value of bamboo needs to be better recognized and valued by decision makers and planners. It should be explicitly included as a strategic resource that brings documented benefits to national climate change, environment and sustainable development strategies and for plans for developing agro-forestry and rural development. For all countries located in the world’s topical and sub-tropical agro-ecosystems bamboo, can bring direct environmental and financial benefits to populations.
The two obstacles to bamboo’s more rapid development are the current lack of appreciation by national policy makers managing forestry, environmental services and agriculture, of its potential. And the fact that – while it is biologically a grass species – it often falls under forestry regulations, curtailing beneficial use for frequent harvesting and trade.
Bamboo for climate change mitigation
Bamboo plays many roles in mitigating the effects of climate change. Its fast-growing and renewable stands sequester similar amounts of carbon to fast-growing tree species, and the many durable products made from bamboo act as locked-in carbon sinks. As an alternative to timber wood, using bamboo helps countries avoid further forest destruction and loss of forest sequestration, but also biodiversity loss and other long term, non reversible, damage. Bamboo helps avoid use of non-renewable fuels by offering an alternative, highly renewable source of biomass energy, both as a substitute for wood fuel and charcoal, and fossil fuels in power generation.
Bamboo is integral to many natural and agricultural ecosystems in and near the tropics. It is useful for restoring degraded lands as it thrives on poor soils and steep slopes that are unsuitable for other crops and is an effective pioneer crop for landscape restoration. The annual but selective harvesting required to maximize productivity of a bamboo stand means that a green canopy of bamboo is always maintained over the soil, and the substantive, expanding underground rhizome system helps bind the soil even more.
Bamboo for adaptation to climate change
Bamboo helps rural communities become less vulnerable to climate change when they include it in sustainable forestry and agroforestry systems. The plant’s rapid establishment and growth allow frequent harvesting, which limits exposure to disaster, and let farmers flexibly adapt their management and harvesting practises to new growing conditions as they emerge under climate change. Climate-smart bamboo housing and various forms of bamboo bioenergy help governments and communities build sustainability.
Bamboo is integral to many natural and agricultural ecosystems in and near the tropics. It is useful for restoring degraded lands for several reasons. It thrives on problem soils and steep slopes that are unsuitable for other crops. It is an effective windbreak, and its sturdy rhizomes and roots
regulate water flows and prevent erosion.
Bamboo is a versatile and rapidly renewable resource with a wide range of livelihood applications in traditional economies. Its economic role is likely to expand at an accelerating pace — both locally and in international trade — as other forest resources become increasingly strained under climate change, as the imperative to mitigate climate change enforces less dependence on fossil fuels and endangered forest resources, and as research discovers new applications. Bamboo integrates well into many mixed production system, providing forest products that farmers and foresters would otherwise have to source, often unsustainably, from fragile natural forests.
For more about our work on climate change, please read INBAR’s climate change policy here.