Skip to main content
Read page text

l a m y t h e A g e n c y/A

A grizzly bear mother and cubs in Canada’s northern boreal forest. The boreal makes up 30 per cent of global forest cover and is severely threatened by climate change and resource extraction. R o o M

Stumped: a young boy surveys the remains of giant conifers on a mistshrouded inlet in the US Pacific northwest.

l a m y

M a r r i o t t /A

J o h n E

continue destroying forests as long as they can show a certificate that someone elsewhere has planted trees or protected some forest of at least the same size as one they converted into pasture or monoculture plantation.’9

But planting trees does not necessarily make a forest. Just ask the Mbyá Guaraní people in the Argentine province of Misiones who saw their native lapachos and timbós replaced by an endless expanse of foreign pine trees.

Now, they lament, ‘our land, which once filled our lives with joy, is a desert of pine trees... where silence reigns because there are no animals, birds or fish.’10

The other ‘game changer’ that the UN and the business community endorse goes by the unwieldy acronym REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). The idea is to use market forces to arrest deforestation in what is really an elaborate carbon-offset scheme. It seems simple enough – rich countries pay poor countries not to cut down their forests. Save the trees, save the CO2. Countries (or companies) providing the funds can claim credit for the emissions saved and eventually those credits can be traded in a global carbon market.

But there are a few barriers en route. One is that market-led schemes tend to spiral into greed-driven free-for-alls. We’ve seen what convoluted investment vehicles the deepthinkers on Wall Street can invent. The 2008 global recession was triggered by such chicanery and the wreckage is still with us. But more to the point: the scheme is an elaborate solution that ignores the core problem.

We need to stop burning fossil fuels. Forests without people With REDD, rich countries can continue to pump out carbon as long as they can pay poor countries not to cut their trees.

More critically, it’s communities who depend on the forest for their livelihoods that tend to get the sharp end of the stick. As journalist Sam Knight argued in his meticulous exposé of REDD in Papua New Guinea: ‘When money and trees mix, it is normally local people who get screwed.’11

An NGO study of 24 projects across a range of countries – including Mozambique, Peru, Nigeria and Kenya – found that communities in REDD project areas are ‘subjected to restrictions on forest use which interfere with their ways of life and livelihoods and reinforces the idea that a well-conserved forest is a forest without people.’12

And that would be a mistake. Because our idealized notion of forests as pristine wilderness separate from human culture is pure invention. Human life has always been deeply intertwined with forests. Millions of people today depend on forests for their most basic needs. And it’s those communities that are best placed to protect and defend them. Recent research supports this claim. Deforestation rates in community-managed forests are consistently lower – up to six times lower in forests where local people have legal rights.13 In the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala, where indigenous communities manage about a quarter of the two-million hectare reserve, deforestation is a scant 0.02 per cent. In Peru it’s the opposite. There, the government has allowed resource companies to trample on indigenous rights. Concessions cover 75 per cent of the jungle and deforestation is rampant.

Kenya is another country where community forestry is making a difference. Critical upland watersheds were denuded as trees were burned to make charcoal, leading to a dramatic reduction in rainfall and widespread drought. That set alarm bells ringing and eventually led to the creation of community forestry associations to reclaim and manage the barren hillsides. Today, forest cover is increasing and so are the rains.

According to Simon Gitau, warden of Mount Kenya National Park: ‘People who used to be poachers and illegal loggers are now defending the forests.’14

So should we all. People need forests. But so do the creatures we share the earth with and so does the planet. That’s why it’s urgent we both protect and nurture them. n

1 On the Edge, the State and Fate of the World’s Tropical Rainforests, Claude Martin, (Greystone Books, Vancouver/ Berkeley, 2015)  2 The Guardian,  3 National Academy of Sciences,  4 NPR,   5 Saving the World’s Deciduous Forests, Robert A Askins, (Yale University Press, New Haven/ London, 2014)  6 Global Forest Watch,  7 Fern,  8 Dogwood Alliance,  9 World Rainforest Movement,  10 World Rainforest Movement,  11 The Guardian,  12 World Rainforest Movement,  13 World Resources Institute,  14 Yale Environment 360,

New I nter nat io nalist ● April 2016 ● 15

My Bookmarks

    Skip to main content