RECOFTC’s Manager for Strategic Communications, Prabha Chandran, is blogging from Asia-Pacific Forestry Week (APFW) in Beijing.
Sandwiched between the iconic Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium and the post-modern Ice Cube that guards the swimming pool in the Olympic village, is the National Convention Center, where some 1,500 experts from the forestry sector have gathered to deliberate the “New Challenges and New Opportunities” in this International Year of Forests.
The favorite adjective this morning was “complex.” It featured in the opening Plenary session presentations by both Jan McAlpine, head of United Nations Forum on Forests, and Dr Andrew Steer, World Bank Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change. How complex? “Of the 6.5 billion dollars in the Climate Investment Fund managed by the World Bank, only US$ 300 million – less than one percent – is invested in forests,” says Andrew Steer. ”You’re competing with sectors like renewable energy and transport, and even if forests emit more green house gases than every plane, train or car in the world, they are still attracting much less investment.”
Part of the complexity is that effective forest programs need coordination and support from multiple sectors, be it agriculture, labor, environment, water, mining, or others. Second, designing successful reforestation and green development programs is also ‘slow’ – another turn off when it comes to competing for green funds. For instance, it took 20 years to reforest China’s Loess plateau, turning thousands of kilometers of barren land into green, fertile, and productive forest and agricultural land. Slow it maybe, but the bountiful, long term results have inspired Rwanda to embark on a 25 year reforestation program from border to border.
So there is some good news too: “The forest sector can be proud because it figured out how to get markets to work for sustainability before the others,” says Steer. In just 10 years after the East Asia Ministerial Conference on Forest Law Enforcement Governance in Bali, “it has become economically attractive to log timber legally.” Today, the WWF site lists a host of global companies – from timber to paper and cocoa – which carry certificates guaranteeing their products are the result of a green supply chain. It’s a phenomenon that’s rapidly catching on with industry, too, as they seek to limit emissions in compliance with looming environmental regulations. This brand of “green growth” – where environmentally sustainable growth is inspired by market decisions – is a pioneering contribution of the forest sector.
So, in the run-up to Rio+ 20, what should the narrative be when it comes to forests? Andrew prescribes a five-fold path:
- Remember, we are in the business of reducing poverty and creating jobs. Although we have seen a historic decline in poverty from 42% to 16% in the last two decades, there will still be a billion poor people in 2015 and most if them live in rural areas. As forest professionals, we should be concerned about reducing poverty, creating jobs for the 1.4 billion people dependent on forests of which 300-400 million are highly dependent on forests.
- As consumption patterns change, forests are under greater threat. Demand for paper, for instance, is growing three times faster in the developing world. What companies and countries do in big developing countries like China and India will determine sustainability.
- Don’t let REDD live in a world of its own: the distribution of trees is changing, and separating forests from agriculture leaves us with a definition that is too narrow. To be effective, REDD needs to embedded in rural green growth. So the question for Durban is: should agriculture be included in climate adaptation and mitigation? It releases 12 % of global green house gases but positive interventions could lead to higher yields and more sequestration of carbon.
- Spending international funding effectively on rehabilitation is another challenge again because it involves so many stakeholders. The new money coming in for REDD must be used efficiently. We are good at having long discussions, but how necessary are they?
- Changing landscapes present their own special challenges. In 20 years the landscape of the small Indonesian province of Riau has changed. What used to be primary forests is now 60% covered by land use permits. The challenge now is to sustain growth at 6 percent while still reducing emissions, a challenge Indonesian president Yudhoyono is determined to undertake.
While addressing challenges related to forests may be ‘complex,’ there is always an opportunity for forests and forestry. Such an opportunity comes when we put people at the center. This is the essence of the theme of the International Year of the Forests: ‘Celebrating Forests for People.’