Interview with Josefina Braña-Varela, WWF Forest and Climate | WWF
Interview with Josefina Braña-Varela, WWF Forest and Climate

Posted on 12 November 2018

If you have participated in one of our webinars on global forest and climate policy, you’ve already learned from Josefina Braña-Varela’s expertise.
If you have participated in one of our webinars on global forest and climate policy, you’ve already learned from Josefina Braña-Varela’s expertise. We sat down with her to get a snapshot of her involvement in the sector and what she thinks about where it’s going.

What is your role at WWF?  
I am the Senior Director for Forest and Climate. In that role, I lead WWF’s Forest and Climate team, which works to build a world where stronger national and landscape-level action to conserve and restore forests ensures the key role of forests in averting the worst impacts of climate change, safeguarding livelihoods, and protecting invaluable natural habitats. 

My job is to ensure that we are supporting countries, companies, and civil society to develop and implement increasingly ambitious and scientifically-robust commitments to keep forests standing, permanently reducing forest emissions while benefitting people and biodiversity. In order to achieve this, I engage actively in global policy negotiations, discussions, and initiatives; but I also work on the ground empowering key agents of change (such as Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities or subnational and national governments) in a variety of geographies, such as Colombia, DRC, Guyana, Indonesia, Nepal, and Peru.

What are you currently working on?
This year I spent a considerable amount of time aiming to bring the efforts and actions of state and non-state actors closer together, aligned towards the same common climate goal: getting onto a 1.5-degree world pathway. 

Earlier this year, we saw the beginning of very important and strong movement from non-state actors – such as cities, subnational governments, businesses, investors, Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities – all of whom are standing up to do their share in tackling climate change. The Global Climate Action Summit, the first summit focusing on non-state action, took place in September in California, and we got to see a groundswell of ongoing efforts coming from different sectors and stakeholders getting ready to contribute at a greater scale. 

WWF was asked to coordinate the Forest and Land segment for the summit and I was part of the team working together to showcase the important contribution that this sector can bring in the fight against climate change. Now, I’m getting ready to bridge these conversations to the ones that will take place in the next UNFCCC Conference of the Parties, COP24, in Katowice, Poland.

How did you get involved in this kind of conservation work?
I grew up in Mexico City, and during my childhood me and my family often looked for any opportunity to escape from the noise, the pollution, and the fast-paced life of one of the largest cities of the world. We did so by visiting nearby forests during the weekends. From a very early age I valued nature and all the services it provides us with, and I believe this set me on to my professional pathway. 

But it was later on, during my undergraduate studies, where I found amazing people who inspired me and taught me how to channel all that love for nature into action to change the behavior of people and nations. After obtaining my degree in International Relations, with a specialization in environment and sustainable development, I pursued a master’s degree in Environmental Policy, in order to be able to connect the global with the local and vice versa. 

The importance of forests and the role they play in climate mitigation and adaptation has been highlighted in prominent ways in the last few years, from Article 5 of the Paris Agreement to corporate deforestation-free commitments to GCAS. What advice do you have for people who have been focused on other aspects of the climate conversation who want to bring forests into their work?
The first step is to understand why taking action in this sector is key. The way we use land for food, forestry, and other purposes contributes almost a quarter (24%) of our total annual greenhouse gas emissions. That’s the second largest source of climate pollution after energy.  But trees also pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and keep it rooted in the ground. When we slash, burn, and cut down forests and mangroves, drain wetlands, convert grasslands, or till soil, the greenhouse gases that cause climate change escape from the land back the atmosphere and heat the planet. And we also reduce the ability of forests and land to absorb those emissions overall. So, there’s plenty of work to do, both in reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and in restoring forest landscapes and conserving the forests that are still standing.

Whether you are a concerned citizen, a private sector company, an investor, or a representative from a city or subnational government you can help by making a conscious decision to cut waste, reduce excess consumption, and improve efficiency in our food systems, while also taking action to conserve our natural lands, habitats, and soils. Every effort counts and if we are all in, we can deliver up to 30% of the climate solutions needed by 2030 to tackle the climate crisis and help implement the Paris Agreement. 

Activist burnout and feeling overwhelmed by the threat of climate change converge in the climate space. How do you find inspiration/motivation when a good portion of your job involves drawing attention to deforestation and the impacts of climate change?
I try to keep my eyes on what’s important despite the complexities of the sector. Stopping deforestation and forest degradation is not only crucial for climate, but also for people’s livelihoods and for nature. I also try to connect with nature as much as I can because it helps me recharge my battery and maintain my focus. I try to be outside as much as I can in general, whether is a visit to a nearby park or forest over the weekend, as I did when I was a child. Sometimes I get lucky and I get to visit the mountains or the rainforest.

Do you have a favorite forest fact?
Well, there are so many forest facts that come into my mind. The obvious one is that forests are the lungs of our planet, as I implied before. Forests are also a key source of medicines (around 25% of the medicines we use come from rainforest plants), although only around 1% of plants have been studied to understand their medicinal properties. 

But my current favorite fact is one that has to do with people: in recent years, the scientific community has produced different studies that confirm that some of the best protected forests in the world are those where there is presence of indigenous peoples - these areas present a lower deforestation rate in comparison to other areas. Now, do you know how tall the tallest tree in the world is? Something for you to research in your free time!
Josefina Braña-Varela, WWF Senior Director for Forest and Climate