“Directing agro-industrial activities towards savannah is good for #forests but has a real commercial cost! Is promoting zero deforestation commodities the answer?”
This tweet was written from the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) during a discussion on Land-Use planning that CAFI had organised following the Oslo Tropical Forest Forum last month.
The forum is hosted by the Norwegian Government and gathers government officials, civil society and company representatives, international organisations and academics to exchange experiences and new ideas for advancing REDD+, or the United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.
The opening of the forum this year was marked by two circumstances; REDD+ is ten years old and tree cover loss is on the rise.
Despite the opportune moment to rethink the approach of REDD+, the dominating philosophy – as the tweet captures – remains to address deforestation, but not provoke the established political and economic interests fuelling it.
The forests need us to think differently.
A Technical Puzzle?
For too long deforestation has been seen as a technical puzzle.
The question has not been whether or not to chop forests, but how. The right to exploit remains unquestioned while companies rush to defend the relative sustainability of their business vis-a-vis their competitors.
As the puzzle is growing in size and complexity, it becomes clear that addressing deforestation above all requires political will and leadership. It is time to abandon the idea that the world’s rainforest will be saved by technocrats, it is a political undertaking.
After ten years and billions of dollars spent on REDD+, tree cover loss is on the rise.
Halting and reversing this trend is crucial in order to sustain ecosystem-services for hundreds of millions of people, maintain the planet’s biodiversity and avoid a worst-case climate change scenario.
Deforestation is a political undertaking
Above all, it is about power and inequality, as the scramble for land and natural resources pushes the frontiers of economic exploitation into new areas.
At a time the world is facing the sixth mass extinction of species and dramatic warming of our planet, political leaders must be held accountable internationally if the world’s most biodiverse and carbon-rich areas are being destroyed under their leadership.
Carrot yes, but sticks too!
While donors should continue to support tropical forest countries, it seems increasingly clear that forest destruction must also be addressed in moral terms. Governments who are immorally facilitating further destruction should be held accountable for their actions by the international community.
It is time to abandon the idea that the world’s rainforest will be saved by technocrats, it is a political undertaking.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, this becomes clear. Historically, logging has been the first industrial activity to penetrate untouched forest areas through logging roads, which in turn facilitates the intrusion of additional industries such as plantation, mining and oil exploration, as well as illegal logging, slash and burn agriculture and poaching, bringing about a cascade of destruction.
Currently, the country’s minister of environment Amy Ambatobe is on a rampage selling off the country’s natural resources for narrow interests in the run-up to national elections scheduled for December.
Plans are floating to declassify the national parks of Virunga and Salonga in order to allow oil exploration. The minister is pushing to lift the country’s moratorium on logging concessions that was put in place sixteen years ago amid the lack of proper governance capacity to control the logging sector in the wake of the civil war.
Meanwhile, the DRC Minister of Environment has illegally awarded three logging concessions to the two Chinese companies SOMIFOR and FODECO and requested permission to auction off fourteen more. The awarding of the logging concessions led CAFI to stop the funding of new projects in the country.
The above shows that the Government is neither ready nor willing to control the logging sector.
This is a crucial and often underestimated point in time for the Congo Basin forests. The international community, notably donors who are supporting forest countries in addressing deforestation, should broaden their approach.
Whilst paying for reduced deforestation incentivises forest countries to address deforestation, advocating for consequences of irresponsible policies could be the stick that accompanies the carrot and force about needed change in the interest of humanity.
Sophisticated technical planning brings limited protection for forests as long as the political priority is to maximise short-term profit.
Scrutinizing the supply chain of commodities coming from forest countries, such as palm oil, soy, timber and rubber, should be another priority.
An economic and moral obligation
Technical solutions and carrots from international donors have become the expectations of forest countries.
A colleague once described the channelling of resources to protect the forests as a sandwich where too much is directed to the middle layer of consultants, companies, bureaus, NGOs and international agencies. While forest communities on the ground receive a disproportionate amount of international support, the top political level lacks the political will to drive change.
The CAFI-forum on Land-Use Planning illustrates this. Six Central African countries sent bureaucrats to Oslo to spend one day discussing basic technical aspects of Land-Use Planning. Whilst forward-looking Land-Use Planning is key to good governance of forested areas, it is the political priorities – the content in the plans – that determines how these areas are used and whether deforestation can be halted and reversed. Sophisticated technical planning brings limited protection for forests as long as the political priority is to maximise short-term profit.
While forest communities on the ground receive a disproportionate amount of international support, the top political level lacks the political will to drive change.
Facilitating for short-term interests erodes the conditions for sustainable living and long-term well-being of the people in forest countries and the world. That is as economically irresponsible as it is morally unjust.
Without pressure from the international community and the amplified voices of those dependent on forests, tropical forest governments will continue to prioritise the interests of multinational companies that seek short-term profit in exploiting forest land and resources.
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