WASHINGTON, D. C. – The importance of forests is known to any biologist or environmentalist–they are among the most biologically rich terrestrial habitats and provide an irreplaceable source of carbon sequestration. In the plethora of variables vying for attention on global development agendas, forests are too often lost in the crowd. However, the resulting poaching, logging and dumping strip them not only of the plants and animals which live there, but deprive local people of the resources they rely on. The joint United Nations panel Technical Support Team (TST) has now published a report insisting that forestry concerns be placed highly in the upcoming U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but it is unclear whether more prominent forums, such as ECOSOC, will heed the call.
The Economic and Social Council often pay lip service to environmental concerns, but has generally made such concerns subsidiary to economic issues. Following the recent Rio+20 forum, ECOSOC has committed to giving environmental issues a stronger presence in its debates and decision-making. This encouraging step is in itself meaningless unless ECOSOC is able to demonstrate to its constituents the importance of forestry in economics and society as a whole. As ECOSOC member states are not bound to heed any decision the council reaches, it is only by persuasively conveying the findings of the TST that action will be taken to conserve the world’s forests.
Independent organizations such as the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) have attempted to take action of their own. CIFOR enacted Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) in 2008 to clarify land rights in and around forests and to construct an incentive mechanism to persuade countries to conserve. Thus far, the results have been limited.
If the U.N. can but move to a truly sustainable perspective with its SDGs and shift its focus from jobs and economics to the people underlying them and the environment in which those people exist, as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s rhetoric suggests it is amenable to, organizations like CIFOR will have a powerful partner in the attempt to sway governments. The clout of facts is on their side. Furthermore, an agenda of conservation and reforestation meshes seamlessly with the recently strengthened agenda on smart urban planning backed by Ban.
The hand-and-glove fit of these and a multitude of other issues is far from coincidental. Good decisions beget good decisions in the development sector. Urban sprawl, pollution, ineffective agriculture, poverty, crime, corruption and so on constitute a self-perpetuating cycle, of which the poverty trap is one manifestation. However, by the same mechanism, fixing a basic problem–like deforestation–will in turn encourage other facets of the situation to improve; while it will not have major economic effects, the resources people can forage for in forests will allow them to stretch their money farther, making their poverty more bearable and lessening slightly the temptation to turn to crime for supplemental income. The U.N. seem to realize this and now shoulder the burden of convincing the governments and corporations who hold the real power on the global stage.
– Alex Pusateri
Sources: Center for International Forestry Research, International Institute for Sustainability and Development, United Nations, Global Policy
Photo: Thomas Riecken