New Program Aims to Reduce Alarming Destruction of Global Forests by Ten Percent Annually

The World Bank and the World Wildlife Fund announced a five-year program Wednesday to reduce the destruction of forests by 10 percent annually in an attempt to combat the alarming disappearance of the world's trees.

UNITED NATIONS — The World Bank and the World Wildlife Fund announced a five-year program Wednesday to reduce the destruction of forests by 10 percent annually in an attempt to combat the alarming disappearance of the world's trees.

The two organizations, which established a Forest Alliance in 1998, said they will intensify their efforts to support new forest protected areas such as national parks, more effective management of already protected areas, and improved management of forests that are not yet protected.

"Ecologically and economically valuable forests in places like the boreal forests of Russia's Far East, the lowland forests of Sumatra (in Indonesia), and the rainforests of the Amazon and the Congo are disappearing quickly to forces such as illegal or poorly regulated logging and agricultural clearing," said Claude Marin, the World Wildlife Fund's director-general.

In the 1990s, the deforestation rate was estimated at more than 14 million hectares per year, but 5.2 million hectares (12.8 million acres) of forest were also gained through new planting and natural expansion -- leaving an annual net loss of 9.4 million hectares (23.2 million acres), according to a recent U.N. report.

World Bank studies estimate that US$15 billion (euro11.9 billion) in tax revenues is lost annually in developing countries due to illegal logging.


"This is money that governments in poor countries could have used for social services and health," Ian Johnson, the World Bank's vice president for sustainable development, said in a statement. "These practices need to be stopped."

The two organizations announced the five-year extension of the Forest Alliance on the sideline of the U.N. Forum on Forests, a two-week meeting of more than 300 government officials which is reviewing the effectiveness of work to save and protect forests.

"The overall goal of the extension of our alliance is to achieve a 10 percent annual net reduction of global deforestation by 2010, and then gradually turn the deforestation rate into a stabilization and an increase of forest area," Martin said.

Since 1998, the alliance said it has contributed to the establishment of 50 million hectares (123.5 million acres) of new protected areas, improved management for 70 million hectares (172.9 million acres) of protected areas, and responsible management of some 22 million hectares (54.3 million acres) of forests which are used commercially.

"The alliance has mobilized about US$50 million in direct investment and leveraged about US$300 million on long-term project finance for many of these projects -- and we are confident that we will be on a trajectory where we will further enhance these sort of contributions," Martin said.

"By 2010, we envisage to increase the protected areas coverage by another 25 million hectares and will have demonstrated improved management in another 75 million hectares," he said.

Ken Newcombe, the World Bank's senior manager for sustainable development, said the alliance wants to put 300 million hectares (741 million acres) under some form of improved forest management.

"We must reach out further," he said, stressing the importance of bringing in more countries, governments, and local communities which rely on forests.

Gabon's Deputy Environment Minister Alexandre Hugues Barro Chambrier urged the alliance to mobilize financing and continue supporting a treaty signed by seven Central African countries in February to help save the world's second largest rain forest in the Congo Basin.

Tachrir Fathoni, secretary of Indonesia's Forest Protection and Conservation Agency, said the government has used an assessment which was supported by the alliance to develop a new policy to prevent illegal logging and "protect our forests for present and future generations."

Tasso Rezende de Azevedo, director of Brazil's National Forest Program, called last year's deforestation rate in Brazil of about 2.6 million hectares (6.4 million acres) "almost unacceptable" -- but he said the increase was limited to just two states that focused on agribusiness rather than sustainable forestry.

Brazil has already added more than 17 million hectares (42 million acres) to the protected areas in the Amazon and will add an additional 5 million hectares (12.4 million acres) by the end of the year, Rezende said.

"Our target is to jump from 1.4 million hectares that we have under sustainably managed forests to about 15 million hectares," he said.

But Rezende complained that the World Bank disqualified Brazil's proposal for a loan to implement its national forest program saying "it was the highest risk possible." And he urged that much more be done to ensure that those people who use forests sustainably have greater access to markets, which is not the case at present.

Source: Associated Press