Monday, May 20, 2024

New Report Emphasizes the Social Imperative of Forest Conservation

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A cautionary report highlights the risks of reducing forests to mere carbon sinks, signaling a troubling trend termed ‘climatization.’

  • The increasing urgency surrounding climate change has led to what experts term the ‘climatization’ of forests, a phenomenon that erodes their significance as intricate ecosystems and vital contributors to social welfare.
  • Policymakers have a significant opportunity to bolster long-term, community-driven alternatives to market-centric forest governance, which remains largely untapped.
  • Ensuring an accurate assessment of forest governance requires prioritizing equity and justice, moving beyond a sole reliance on deforestation rates to gauge progress.

In the new report launched today at the 19th Session of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF19), experts call for an urgent global shift away from valuing forests solely for their carbon sequestration abilities — a practice that diminishes their ecological and social significance. The report, entitled “International Forest Governance: A Critical Review of Trends, Drawbacks, and New Approaches,” synthesizes crucial developments in international forest governance since 2010. It emphasizes the pressing need for policymakers to prioritize long-term, locally driven alternatives to market-based forest governance, rather than solely focusing on deforestation rates.

A forest in clouds.
Photo courtesy Marita Kavelashvili

“The current ‘playing field’ for international forest governance is more crowded and fragmented than ever before, with a plethora of new actors and instruments,” Dr. Nelson Grima, Deputy Coordinator of IUFRO SciPol, said in a statement accompanying the report. “The challenge now is to strengthen and coordinate forest policy to address power asymmetries between the different actors,” he says, stressing the increasing urgency of the climate crisis, which has influenced the commodification of forests for their carbon sequestration potential. “This has led to the rise of new markets for carbon and biodiversity that often focus on short-term economic gains over long-term sustainability and justice. Finance that includes philanthropic and community-led mechanisms offer a just alternative, but so far, have played a limited role.”

According to Prof. Constance McDermott from the University of Oxford, lead author of the report, a market-based approaches to forest governance such as forest carbon trading and zero-deforestation supply chains are becoming an increasingly popular pathway for forest governance and finance. But, she warns, they risk “perpetuating inequalities and producing perverse effects” on sustainable forest management. “Non-market-based mechanisms such as state regulation and community-led initiatives offer important alternative pathways for just forest governance,” McDermott said.

Indigenous person looks at river.
Photo courtesy Deb Dowd

Prof. Franklin Obeng-Odoom of the University of Helsinki also emphasized the need to prioritize social inclusion and environmental justice in forest governance efforts. “Regardless of the finance sources, the underlying common ground must be to pursue social inclusion, redress social-environmental injustice, protect the land rights of resource-dependent communities, and support the transition towards a more just ecological future,” he said. “As pressures mount on governments and corporate actors to demonstrate urgent action to solve the climate crisis has spurred a ‘Target Olympics’ of far-reaching targets such as zero deforestation or net biodiversity gain. Yet, measuring forest governance success using deforestation rates alone offers a restricted picture, excluding the interconnectedness between humanity and nature.”

The report notes that amid mounting pressure to address the climate crisis, there has been a proliferation of ambitious targets like zero deforestation. However, relying solely on deforestation rates as a measure of success overlooks the broader ecological and social dimensions of forest governance. “Ambitious and reductionist pledges must be a thing of the past,” said Prof. Daniela Kleinschmit from Freiburg University. “We are too late in the game to use win-win narratives and not include the social dependencies and impacts to best understand our forests. Measuring governance has mainly been related to the deforestation rate as the main indicator. However, forests provide many goods and services essential for people, which is why the effectiveness of international forest governance should also be measured against these needs.”

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