Forests are often referred to as the lungs of our planet, absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing life sustaining oxygen. What is generally not realised is that they also contribute to and maintain many more of earth’s life sustaining systems, such as: water, carbon, nitrogen and nutrient cycles; watershed management; biodiversity; and soil health. Mans reliance on available biomass and resulting developmental paths is well documented; the forests of the world have sustained civilisations for millennia and conversely as the trees were felled so did nations fall.
The good news is that the rate at which modern man is degrading forests is showing signs of abatement: UNEP data (2011) indicates a decline in world forest area from 4.17 billion hectares in 1990 to 4.03 billion hectares in 2010; however, in the same period the worlds planted forests increased from 178 million to 264 million hectares; the annual net loss in forests, when accounting for reforestation and afforestation, between 1990 and 2000 was 8.3 million hectares, and 5.2 million hectares between 2000 and 2010; planted forests increased from 3.6 million to 4.9 million hectares per year during the same respective periods, thus forest conservation efforts and management strategies seem to be working and improving.
High rates of deforestation and forest degradation are attributed to population growth and consequent demand created for wood products -fuel, food and fibre – particularly from cash crops and cattle ranching. Competing land uses and related policy and governance failures are immediate causes of deforestation, driven by human aspirations - both public and private - to survive and thrive in this economic world. As this economic system prevails, and as such drives inequality, further depriving the poor and middle class, so will they be further marginalised and become increasingly reliant on the only resource available to them – forests. Efforts are underway to change this status quo; the “frontier approach” to natural resources is being substituted by an investment approach, with foundations in sustainability, driving human development index values while simultaneously conserving the environment.
Greening the forest sector - opportunity knocks and as such, being the resourceful and dominant species that we are, we take note and answer with the following initiatives: the development of sustainable forest management (SFM) criteria and indicators; increasing protected areas; reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD +); payment for environmental services (PES); and the “Global Forest Watch 2.0” initiative , enabling all citizens to participate in forest awareness and conservation. These initiatives are supported by forests governance and policy reform; tackling illegal logging; mobilising green investment; levelling the playing field through fiscal policy reforms and economic instruments; and improving on information related to the diversity of forest assets.
Stopping deforestation is a sound investment, with one study estimating climate benefits related to reducing deforestation by 50% exceeds the costs by a factor of three (UNDP, 2011). Realising that sustainable forest management results in profit leads me to believe that the future is bright, and leafier!!