Nobody can get through the day without using a product that comes from a forest. With approximately 1.5 billion of the world's rural poor directly depending on forests for subsistence, a huge proportion of the world's population depends on forests for basic needs like food and fuel-wood.
Nobody can get through the day without using a product that comes from a forest. To a greater extent than most people realize, the paper we write on, the water that comes out of our taps, the medicine that heals us, the wood that builds our houses and furniture, all originate from forests. With approximately 1.5 billion of the world's rural poor directly depending on forests for subsistence, a huge proportion of the world's population depends on forests for basic needs like food and fuel-wood. Forests play a role in providing the fresh air we breathe and the habitat for endangered species. They also provide us with recreational opportunities, increasingly important in our complex world.
Yet, deforestation continues. We are losing 14.6 million hectares (56,000 square miles) of forests every year, almost four times the area of Switzerland. Irresponsible forest management, enhanced by poor governmental regulation and enforcement, and markets that reward illegal logging, are conspiring to quickly denude the world's most valuable and threatened forests. Once forests start to disappear, a host of environmental, social and economic ills usually follow. These ill effects touch us all in some way.
Indonesia's Sumatra Island is a good example. Pulp and paper companies are driving rampant and illegal clearance of the forests which contain the richest diversity of plants in the world. It's likely that plants not yet discovered will disappear along the way, as well as such endangered species as the Sumatran rhino and elephant, and the orang-utan.
When forests disappear, entire communities of people formerly living among the forests of Sumatra will also find themselves with no proper place to live and no decent way to make a living. Also, the distortion to global markets caused by trading in illegal, cheaply produced products results in disadvantages for responsible corporate citizens. Developing countries are losing US$15 billion in tax revenues annually due to illegal logging. To make matters worse, the demand for wood for reconstruction following last year’s tsunami is placing untenable demands on Sumatra's forests.
Similar threats to forests are evident in the Amazon and Congo Basins. Information released by the government of Brazil shows that deforestation of the irreplaceable forests of the Amazon due to factors such as agricultural conversion caused deforestation of 2.6 million hectares (roughly 10,000 square miles) in the past year, bringing the total deforested area of the Amazon to 17%. The recent UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) showed us that forests in critical regions are in serious decline due to mismanagement and will continue to disappear unless serious measures are taken.
But the battle against deforestation is not lost. Diverse organizations, environmentalists and corporations concerned with the state of world's forests are joining forces to reverse deforestation and poor forest management.
WWF, the global conservation organization, and the World Bank, for example, have helped Brazil’s government kick-start an initiative that established over 17 million hectares (69,000 square miles) of new forest protected areas, including national parks. The WWF/World Bank alliance also motivated partners to establish an important trust fund to effectively manage these protected areas in perpetuity.
Similarly, a summit among the leaders of the Congo Basin countries resulted in extraordinary cross-border cooperation on forest conservation and responsible management. This in turn led to the US State Department's US$53 million initiative to promote Congo forest conservation, which has already seen 3.5 million hectares (more than 13,000 square miles) of new protected areas established in the Congo Basin since the leaders first met in 1999.
In the wake of last December’s Asian tsunami, the weight of evidence provided by the MEA, as well as deforestation statistics from key forest regions, WWF and the World Bank recently pledged to unite in an effort to assist in reducing the rate of global deforestation by 10% by 2010, and to work with other public and private sector institutions to pursue ambitious targets on forest conservation
WWF studies show that if we want to save the world’s forests and continue to provide the world’s needs for forest products, we need a mix of forest protected areas and production forests that are properly managed through environmentally, commercially and socially viable certified management schemes.
Business leaders, governments and civil society organizations must play their part in realizing this vision.
Dr. Claude Martin is Director General of WWF International, based in Gland, Switzerland. Ian Johnson is Vice President of Sustainable Development at the World Bank based in Washington, DC, U.S.
Source: An ENN Commentary