Forests for a Living Planet

Forests are the lungs of our Earth, yet we are losing them at an alarming rate.

We need to take a solutions-oriented, integrated and local-to-global approach to tackle the causes of deforestation and degradation. We need efforts that are geared towards halting deforestation and forest degradation around the world, from rainforests to temperate forests. This article endeavors to highlight the key benefits of securing our forests and also highlight some amazing work being done by organisations like WWF, FSC and inspiring leaders like Alistair Monument in conserving our forests.

Forests are the planet’s lungs. Home to people and wildlife. Engines of green economies. Forests are essential to life on Earth. They are home to amazing animals and plants – almost nine out of ten species found on land live in forests. They lock up vast amounts of carbon and release oxygen. Forests make rainfall and filter freshwater. They provide substinence, fuelwood and medicines. Forests have been at the heart of key organisations like that of WWF’s work for half a century, and we are proud of some of their accomplishments to protect these amazing ecosystems, the biodiveristy that they harbor, and the communities that have called these forests homes for centuries.

They have fought for the creation of national parks and other protected areas, helped bring more attention to responsible harvesting and trade of timber products and have helped increase transparency and continual improvement in forest markets; and we’re working to tackle new threats, like the destruction of forests for bioenergy. There’s much to celebrate. But forests still face major threats. As more wood is used for energy, more land is cleared for agriculture, new roads bring settlers and industry beyond today frontiers and climate change causes extreme weather events, forests will come under pressure like never before.

Forests for Life

Organisations like WWF combines cutting edge science, new perspectives from partners and our decades of on-the-ground experience to help tackle some of the biggest challenges and stickiest issues in conservation. We know no organization can save forests alone. That’s why organisations like WWF work in close cooperation and coordination with other stakeholders to trigger new thinking and innovative solutions to tackle the vast resource challenges facing a world of over seven billion people. So, what is required to achieve?

1. Increase protected areas and bring more forests under improved management.

2. Halting deforestation, particularly in deforestation fronts.

3. Restoring degraded forest landscapes.

Bold and innovative solutions are needed to make responsible forest management valuable for those who are best positioned to protect forests — local communities.

Forest conservation begins with people, be it consumers using wood products or communities living in them. While there has been success over the past 25 years working with big companies, and on the global commodities that drive forest loss, we must urgently develop mechanisms to engage communities and smallholders to improve natural resource management in a way that brings about both conservation and delivers economic benefits. Consumer demand for all types of commodities, including forest products, is expected to triple by 2050. Meanwhile, the rate of deforestation has risen in tropical countries and forest degradation — which threatens the viability of forests’ ecological functions for wildlife and people — is occurring at an even larger scale.

It is time to innovate and expand the development of approaches that are focused on forest-dependent people, particularly communities and Smallholders who are often ignored in the global marketplace but who have a critical role to play in more efficiently and sustainably using the resources they have the rights to, and depend upon.

For 25 years, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has been the benchmark for sustainable forestry. With its multi-stakeholder approach and democratic structure, FSC provides a platform to local groups that are often marginalised in forest management discussions. Organisations like FSC plays an important role by helping increase the value of forest resources for local communities and it is critical to bring tools that allow them to benefit from managing their forests sustainably. This is already happening in places like Vietnam, where supply chains linked to multi-nationals demanding FSC product are helping support smallholders with certification assessment and training costs, or in New Guinea, where community forestry is opening up new economic opportunities for locals. These examples demonstrate that when local communities are equipped with the right tools and given responsibility to manage their natural resources, they can protect those resources in a way that sustains both their economic livelihoods and natural resources in the long term. Taking action to create a better FSC for people, expanding its work with smallholders requires simplifying FSC processes and taking an outcome-oriented approach.

It will also be critical for organisations like FSC to explore new and innovative solutions such as in South Africa, where a national FSC standard is under development using risk-based approaches to create impact in the local context. We need more such efforts with input from communities and a diverse group of stakeholders to find what works and can be replicated, to enable better forest management, more equitable resource governance and benefit sharing, and deliver safeguards for the environment.

The world is at a critical juncture for conservation — we’re consuming as if we had 1.6 Earths at our disposal, and the impact of climate change is wreaking havoc on human social and economic wellbeing. We need to support organisations like FSC and WWF so that it can demonstrate real positive impact for both people and wildlife, and that we see it as a key platform to address challenges in forest management. We need to act, with tangible action, leadership and the implementation of the bold changes and there by embark on a Global Strategic Plan to ensure that it can be effective for the people and communities that live and work in the world’s forests.

V Prakash – Sustainable Luxury Advocate