WCFSD launches ‘blueprint to solve global forest crisis’

We can satisfy the world's material needs from forests without jeopardizing their ecological services, said the World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development, a group initiated by former top world leaders, in its new report "Our Forests... Our Future." After holding hearings on five continents, the Commission concludes that by changing the way we value and manage our forests both development and forests can be sustained.

From Siberia to Haiti, the world’s forests are today exploited far beyond their ability to reproduce. Nearly 75 percent of West Africa’s tropical forests have been lost since 1950. Thailand lost a third of its forests in just 10 years, during the 1980’s. Forests face an even shakier future with the global population expected to grow 50 percent in the next half century.

“The report is leaving nobody in any doubt that there is a forest crisis. The loss of millions of hectares of forest cover every year is serious because of the ecological services forests provide: for the hydrological cycle, for soil conservation, for biological diversity and for its control of weather patterns,” said Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP. “Most importantly, the report offers a way out of this crisis. It specifies reforms needed from abandoning subsidies and tax incentives that provoke forest destruction to more openness in timber allocation procedures and landscape planning,” he said.

“Fixing the forest crisis is basically a matter of politics,” said Ola Ullsten, Co-Chairman of the Commission and a former Swedish Prime Minister. “It is about governments assuming their mandate to protect their natural resources – including forests – for the long term benefit of their citizens.”

The Commission advocates “a set of global, national and local level arrangements to involve people in all decisions concerning their forests” called Forestrust, with four components:

  • Forest Watch – A network connecting ordinary citizens with decision makers. Forest Watch would also gather, analyze and disseminate information on forests.
  • Forest Management Council – An institution to standardize sustainable practices including eco-labeling of forest products and certification.
  • Forest Ombudsman – A network of officials to identify and pass objective non advocacy judgements on corruption, inequity and abuse in forest operations.
  • Forest Award – A way to recognize and reward good performance in sustainable forest management.

The Report also challenges the handful of countries with some 85 % of the world’s forests to exercise leadership through a Forest Security Council, modeled partly on the G8 summits but also involving the science, business and NGO communities.

“There is clear link between degraded forests and poverty.” said Dr. Emil Salim Co-Chairman of the Commission and a former Indonesian Minister of Environment and Population. “We estimate that one billion of the world’s poorest people in about 30 heavily deforested countries would be alleviated from poverty if given government support for managing neighboring public forest land and sharing the benefits within their communities.”

Today, virtually the only economic value officially assigned to forests is in timber. The report suggests the introduction of a Forest Capital Index. Such a measure would take into account forests as the largest reservoir for plants and animals on land, their role in maintaining supplies of clean water, in creating and retaining soil, in contributing to the productivity of fisheries and agriculture, and even helping to regulate climate.

The Forest Capital Index would permit decision makers to evaluate progress in sustaining forest capital in each country, facilitate a global framework to estimate the value of eco-system services provided by forests and create the basis for market mechanisms to compensate developing countries for ecological services.

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