Climate change is now known to be a key threat to achieving sustainable development and poverty reduction targets, as well as attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), in Africa. Climate change is altering rainfall patterns, water availability, and sea levels; it is increasing droughts and the frequency of bushfires, and increasingly impacting on human health, agricultural productivity, forests and biodiversity. In this way, climate change will negatively affect the social, economic and environmental dimensions of human livelihoods in Africa.
While forests are negatively impacted by climate change, forests, in turn, have the potential to play a pivotal role in climate change mitigation and adaptation, and in providing ecosystem services that increase the resilience of rural communities who depend on them. To provide a framework for addressing these issues, the African Forest Forum has initiated a Climate Change Programme that comprises several projects, including the “Africa forests, people and climate change project”.
The main objectives of the present study were to:

Evaluate the implementation challenges and opportunities of policies, strategies and
plans by SADC and COMESA on forestry and climate change;
Assess the role and extent of participation of women, youth and vulnerable groups in forest-based climate change programmes and plans of SADC and COMESA; and
Identify and describe measures, approaches and incentives to increase the role of and benefit to women, youth and vulnerable groups in forest- based climate change programmes and plans of SADC and COMESA.

The above objectives were achieved through a literature study that reviewed official documents on policies, strategies and plans of COMESA and SADC. Secondly, primary data were collected through an empirical study that involved face to face interviews with relevant SADC and COMESA officials. For the data collection a trip to SADC in Gaborone, Botswana and another to COMESA in Lusaka, Zambia were undertaken, spending three days in each country. Furthermore, data for objectives 2 and 3 were collected through a questionnaire emailed to all COMESA and SADC member states. The qualitative data were analyzed by synthesis of documents and responses were presented into three sections according to specific objectives.
The COMESA Climate Initiative of 2008 has made marked progress in the following areas: political commitment, Africa Climate Change Solution, an Africa position on climate change, search for scientific evidence on climate change, partnership with AMCEN, advocacy and mobilization, special focus on CSOs, support to Climate Smart Agriculture, CA Study tours, support to women in up-scaling Climate Smart Agriculture, COMESA Carbon Fund, Forest Strategy, promotion of renewable energy, and support beyond COMESA. On the Forestry Strategy, which was approved in 2009, an action plan to implement the strategy was developed for the period of 2010 to 2012, but things have not gone according to plan; as a result, little has been achieved. Bottlenecks include poor technical capacity and lack of financial resources for implementation. As a result, there is no functional coordinating mechanism for the COMESA Forestry Strategy yet. The SADC secretariat launched the SADC Forest Protocol in 2002, and subsequently a
SADC Forestry Strategy (2010-2020) which captures a reasonable number of Articles in the protocol. Significant progress has been made in strategy implementation, so far, including the following programmes:

A SADC Support Programme on REDD+ (Approved, 2010);
A SADC Regional Fire Management Programme (Approved, 2010, no regional project yet);
FLEGT (still under development, yet to go for approval);
TFC (under development, no regional projects yet);and
regional Project on forests and carbon monitoring systems (based at the SADC Secretariat-4 Pilot countries-Malawi, Zambia, Botswana and Mozambique).

A monitoring tool for national level programmes has been designed and circulated to member states, though responses are not forthcoming, probably due to lack of capacity and funding for research.
Comprehensive policies, strategies, action plans, programmes and projects have been initiated by the SADC and COMESA Secretariats. Corresponding national programmes and projects are already underway in some member states. However the following conclusions can be drawn:
There are numerous challenges to implementation of forest and climate change policies and programmes in the SADC and COMESA regions; there is a lack of emphasis on integration for decision making towards the common goals of sustainable forest management, climate change mitigation and adaptation for
sustainable livelihoods; there are contradictions and conflicts, as well as incompatibilities and unrealised synergies between national forest and climate change related policies and programmes in the SADC and COMESA regions;

there is a lack of adequate and effective integrated national institutional frameworks for policy and strategy implementation in the member states;
implementation is mainly sectoral rather than multi-sectoral or multidisciplinary. Poor technical capacities to direct policy and programme implementation have slowed down progress;
stakeholders lack capacity to effectively participate in forest and climate change programmes;
involvement of women, youth and vulnerable groups in forest-based climate change programmes and projects at local, national and regional levels remains a major challenge in the region, and
lack of sustained financing for the effective implementation of forest and climate change policies, strategies and programmes is a major constraint.

Furthermore, collaboration and regional integration in forest and climate change programmes are still at their infancy and this has resulted in poor exchange programmes in terms of expertise. There is a gap between the SADC and COMESA Secretariats yet they are implementing similar regional programmes. But the COMESA-SADC-EAC Tripartite is expected to drastically improve the situation. In addition there is a tendency for member states to invest more resources and time in the implementation of national policies as compared to SADC and COMESA regional forest and climate change policies and programmes.
Key recommendations
Seeing that there are multiple implementation challenges in SADC and COMESA forest and climate change programmes, AFF at the strategy level may assist SADC and COMESA Secretariats through the following strategic actions:

Providing assistance on innovative ways for involving stakeholders in all the stages of development and implementation of forest and climate change programmes.
Designing suitable programmes and projects that would enhance the capacity of forestry and climate change stakeholders in participating in the relevant forest based climate change programmes.
Contributing to guide policy and programme reviews, analysis, harmonization and alignment. This would enhance the strategic planning processes, so as to enable national forest and climate change focal points to integrate regional programmes in national priorities. Ultimately, this would bridge the gap that currently exists between the SADC and COMESA Secretariats in terms of collaboration at the strategy level.
Helping to develop, solicit funding for, and implement specific programmes and projects geared towards improvement of national and regional institutional frameworks. Furthermore, AFF may advise SADC and COMESA Secretariats on contemporary and innovative sustainable financing mechanisms for successful national and regional forest and climate change programmes.
Facilitating seminars, workshops and conferences where strategic partners and alliances meet to share development lessons on forest and climate change issues, in order to strengthen capacity building and skills development, as well as learning, knowledge generation and information management among stakeholders.
Providing guidelines for promoting gender mainstreaming and youth participation in forest-based climate change programmes. Direct use of the existing AFF Gender Policy should facilitate this process.