Show support for forests on the International Day of Forests

My father used to sing "Hutanku Tak Akan Hilang", which means "My Forests Will Stay" in Indonesian, and I inherited my passion for forests from him. Today (21 March) marks International Day of Forests, but it is unacceptable that even with an annual day to reflect on these environments - and the species within them - that they continue to be lost at unprecedented rates.

Show support for forests on the International Day of Forests

This is part of a larger trend visible across the world, spanning different ecosystems. With increasing industrialisation and globalization over the last 100 years, a toxic mix of habitat loss, pollution and climate change has put our natural world - and the vital services we derive from it - at increasing risk. Scientists warn we may be approaching the sixth mass extinction. The severity of this point should not lead us to despair but to action.

Experts warn that this extinction – known as the Anthropocene extinction - is different from the five that went before, because it is the only mass extinction to be brought about by a single species – humans. There is little doubt that it is humans – our consumption of natural resources, the expansion of our own habitat and our exploitation of technology – that has driven many species to the brink of extinction. This extinction is advancing at the fastest rate recorded in history. Without action, the World Wildlife Fund has estimated that more than two thirds of the world's wildlife could be wiped out by the end of the decade.

So is there anything to be done? Humans are the cause, but can we also be part of the solution? I believe we can – but this is dependent on our ability and our willingness to fundamentally transform our relationship with the natural world. Forests are critical ecosystems that support biodiversity, but also serve a host of other functions including supplying clean water, running nutrient cycles essential for agriculture, providing a barrier against fire and pests and providing livelihoods for forest communities. Yet deforestation has been putting all of this at risk.

In recent years, the fight against deforestation is one example of how humans can be part of the solution. Through NGO advocacy, government commitment, consumer demand for products that don’t contribute to deforestation and the hard work of producer organizations, entire supply chains have been transformed. This in turn has had indelible effects on land use decisions in emerging economies, and thus on protecting rich forest habitats that are home to some of the world’s most endangered species. One mechanism that is assisting stakeholders in achieving ‘zero deforestation’ is the High Carbon Stock Approach, which allows us to identify land of high ecological or biological value and further understand how we can most effectively restore what has been lost, protect what remains, and still achieve prosperity for all.  With a full understanding of the forest, we gain clarity on what areas require conservation, restoration, and which areas can be used for production to maximize returns for the people that live and work in and around the forests. 

When we think about what is possible in halting the sixth extinction, we also need to be realistic. We probably cannot restore 100% of the biodiversity that has already been lost, we’re not talking about bringing back the Tasmanian tigers. We also need to match restoration goals with people’s fundamental needs. We need to explore more integrated production-protection-inclusivity models that allow all species to thrive – human, animal, and plant species alike. 

Sumatran tiger-friendly land-use planning can be used as an example of how we find solutions to these competing priorities. If zero deforestation is adopted, we can help tiger populations to recover, even in areas that were previously decimated, as prey in undergrowth-rich plantation areas start to come back, and we work with communities to reduce human-animal conflict. With the natural forest or the high carbon stock areas protected as tiger habitat, what we need now is to create animal corridors to connect important forest habitat blocks and provide education to combat illegal poaching.

Ultimately, it is the communities living in forests who are able to make the greatest contribution. They and the forest exist in a symbiotic relationship – if these communities flourish, forests will too. Which is why forest conservation has to be about working with these communities to address their challenges such as poverty and food security, and to to help them to protect the forests from degradation. Working with many experts in the field, for the last year I have been trying to promote and create a model for a community-based agro-ecology programs as one of the solutions.

So while this sixth mass extinction may be unique in that it’s been brought about by humans, let us also make it the first great extinction to be avoided. In order to ensure that is the case, we need to raise awareness about the key role that forests and ecosystems play in providing a home to thousands of species, supplying clean water, running nutrient cycles essential for agriculture, providing a buffer against natural disasters, and in providing a livelihood for some of the world’s poorest. All people everywhere are connected to forests in some way.

So, on this International Day of Forests, why don't you show your support for forests and their multiple functions by taking a minute from the sneezing hedgehogs and cucumber fearing cats clogging your newsfeed, to post your forest selfie to show your love to the world's forests. By doing this we will help to raise awareness of the importance of forests and the role of humans in safeguarding their future. It’s more important than ever to ensure that "My forests will stay".

Aida Greenbury is the Managing Director of Sustainability for Asia Pulp & Paper Group (APP),  Co-Chair of High Carbon Stock Approach Steering Group (highcarbonstock.org) and Chair of Private Sector Roundtable at Asia Pacific Rainforest Partnership (https://www.asiapacificrainforestpartnership.org)

Aida Greenbury, zero-deforestation expert

Topics: Climate change
Tags: agriculture | Biodiversity | disasters | Ecology | education | Fire | Food & drink | planning | technology | water
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