THE LATEST latest official report on the state of the world’s forests, launched at September’s World Forestry Congress in Durban, is surprisingly upbeat. According to the UN Global Forest Resource Assessment, the rate at which forests are being cleared has been halved over the past 25 years. This is based on figures showing net annual rate of forest loss has slowed down from 0.18 per cent in the early 1990s to 0.08 per cent in the period from 2010-15. It notes that an increasing amount of forest areas have come under protection while more countries are improving forest management.
Graziano da Silva, Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, says in his foreword to the report, “FRA 2015 shows a very encouraging tendency towards a reduction in the rates of deforestation and carbon emissions from forests and increases in capacity for sustainable forest management.”
This all sounds positive, as does recent agreement under the UN Sustainable Development Goals for all deforestation to be halted by 2020. However the reported reduction in net deforestation rates masks the fact new forest cover includes so-called “planted forests” – commercial mono culture plantations with negligible biodiversity value and little worth for for local communities.
Slowing and halting deforestation is a key focus of the UN negotiations taking place this month for a global pact to limit greenhouse gas emissions in Paris in December. Globally deforestation accounts for 17 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions (and this does not take account the additional 14% of emissions form agriculture, much of which is indirectly related to forest clearance).
The problem is that when we look at policies on forests – and the wildlife and people which depend on them – there is little sign of a change in the direction of travel.
Mr da Silva (whose name means “of the forest” in Portuguese) makes no mention of the fact that the main drivers of deforestation are not being curbed – increasing consumption of meat, timber products and biofuels. It does not recognise the contradiction between attempting to curb deforestation while at the same supporting continuing unrestrained economic growth and consumption.
Neither does it address the conspicuous failure of UN negotiators to take proper account of the views of indigenous peoples and community-based organisations, the very people who we should be listening to most. As previously reported by ITF, this failure was compounded by the exclusion of community-based groups. African groups excluded from “elitist” World Forestry Congress
The Global Forest Coalition, which represents many of those organisations, warns that it is unlikely that this bold target will be met unless the UN adopts a genuinely transformative sustainable development agenda.
Its campaigns co-ordinator, Mary Louise Malig, compares humanity’s present plight to an ancient Greek tragedy. Like the ill-fated Trojans, we can see the fires on the horizon and what hell lies ahead – but prefer to look the other way.
She says the whole process has been captured by big corporations, oil companies and other extractive industries, who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
And she points out that individual countries’ emission targets are not under negotiation. Instead they will be making voluntary commitments which they may or may not implement.
However she believes if no agreement is reached in Paris, this should be viewed as an opportunity.
“It will create the space for a recuperation to the original goals of the climate convention to halt dangerous climate change by holding polluters to account,” she says.
“It would also create the space for community-driven solutions some of which are already in practice and are cooling the planet – from peasant agroecology and community-based sustainable energy solutions to community forest conservation.”