One of the premiere issues for discussion on this Earth Day 2016 concerns the world’s forests, which have witnessed massive deterioration and deforestation over the past two decades (at an estimated rate of 50 soccer fields of forest lost every minute, every day, over the last 20 years).
As 1.3 billion people around the world rely on forests for their livelihood, there is growing recognition of the role that forests play in supporting sustainable development and in helping humanity meet the challenges posed by climate change.
“Forests are critically important to the stability of our planet’s vital systems. They help regulate our water supplies, sustain agricultural production and protect infrastructure,” says Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Managing Director at the World Bank Group, the development bank charged with providing loans and assistance to developing and transitioning countries and their peoples.
Indeed, forest management was a focal point of last week’s spring meetings of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and World Bank in Washington, D.C. “The World Bank seeks to make sustainable management of forests an integral part of the global agenda. They are a key pillar of our new climate change action plan. This is the momentum we are seeing for new and better pathway for forests,” says Indrawati.
And as world leaders gathered today in New York City to sign the Paris Agreement on climate change, those concerned about the health and vitality of the world’s forests put on a wait-and-see attitude concerning how the agreement might impact global investment in forests -especially the world’s tropical forests – as well as forest management policies over the coming decades.
The overarching goal of the Paris Agreement is to hold the global increase in average temperature at less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but while forests were formally recognized within the agreement for their part in combating climate change -in the form of a pledge by all parties to take action “in reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation,” the so-called REDD+ platform – this commitment did not form one of the binding elements of the agreement.
In his evaluation of the Paris Agreement, University of Melbourne ecologist Rod Keenan states that while the agreement should earn praise for including REDD+ prescriptions (a step up from the previous Kyoto Accord, where forest conservation in developing countries was not mentioned), he also contends that for those wishing to advance REDD+ ideals the road ahead will be a difficult journey, since the health of the world’s forests is inextricably tied to thorny issues such as poverty and development, agricultural production and the diversity of interests between governments, multinationals and various stakeholders.
“Forests are still seen by some as a relatively cheap and easy way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The reality is much more challenging. There have been relatively limited results from nearly half a century of international efforts to reduce tropical forest loss,” says Keenan. “Effective forest-based measures to meet the Paris objectives will need strongly supported and coordinated policy frameworks and solutions that mobilise and meet the needs of local actors across multiple-use landscapes.”
Despite the tough task ahead, many countries are ready to support the REDD+ platform. Norway, for example, is currently staked to an annual investment of $400 million (USD) in rainforest conservation. Tone Skogen, Norway’s State Secretary for Foreign Affairs argues that the Paris goal of a less than 2 degrees Celsius increase in temperature will not be reached without aggressive and ambitious action to help the world’s tropical forests. “We cannot succeed in fighting global warming unless we stop deforestation in the tropics,” says Skogen.