Last chance for the world’s forests: Collaboration is the only way forward
This week, many of the world's leaders are gathered in Paris as part of the COP21 climate negotiations to discuss the role of forests within the broader climate debate.
This is a critical moment. We need them to agree a shared vision, matched by commitments, so that all of us – the industry, governments, civil society and consumers – can work together to halt and reverse the demise of the world’s precious forests.
That demise has been in the public eye in recent months as a result of forest fires in many parts of the world, which have been exacerbated by the one of the worst El Niño since 1950.
The destruction of land and the displacement of people and grave health problems which have affected many serves to highlight the need for an urgent, regional and multi-stakeholder approach to tackling this problem.
We must seize the opportunity of COP21 to implement strong policies which prevent recent events from repeating themselves. There are a number of areas which, as a forester turned sustainability professional, I hope those in Paris can focus on to help save the world’s forests…
A multi-stakeholder approach is the most effective way to protect natural landscapes. This is a philosophy we have adopted as part of our own work in Indonesia, and the development of public-private partnerships is a key way to address some of the fundamental issues we face in effectively managing land for economic development whilst ensuring sustainable land management.
When it comes to forest protection, a landscape approach is vital. Administrative boundaries – whether it be concessions, provinces, or countries – simply don’t matter. Forest conservation cannot be undertaken by individual actors but require all stakeholders in the landscape to work together. This means bringing together central and local government, companies operating in different sectors in the landscape from pulp and paper to palm oil to mining, civil society actors and local communities.
We must look for and learn from examples of best practice, and in that regard, the solutions being presented during COP21 will be invaluable.
Responsible peat management
One of our greatest challenges in the protection of forests is the implementation of processes to prevent the exploitation of peat. Peatlands provide a vital carbon sink and their protection will help to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The recent announcement by President Widodo committing Indonesia to better management of peatland, and a moratorium on new developments on peat, is certainly very welcome. The next target must be for all those operating in peatland areas to establish and share best practice in peatland management.
Access to finance
Finance is also an important part of the puzzle – by reforming the lending criteria for financial institutions, it is possible to use capital in order to drive positive changes along the forestry supply chain.
Companies, smallholders and individuals are all ultimately economic actors and as such they must be incentivised to protect forests. We must work towards a global system where trees are worth more standing than they are chopped down.
We fully support the development of initiatives such as REDD+ and the Green Climate Fund, but we must recognise that to date, these have failed to yield concrete results on the ground. Billions have been pledged, only a fraction has been spent, and that fraction has made too little difference in countries like Indonesia.
So we would urge governments in particular to look at their financing mechanisms for emerging economies and work out how we can put them to use in a transparent, accountable and effective way, including by working through the private sector.
COP21 is the last opportunity for the world to reach a legally binding agreement to tackle climate change. The protection of forests and peatlands need to feature in this agreement and in return, can make a major contribution to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.
Aida Greenbury is managing director of sustainability at Asia Pulp & Paper