"A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the
air and giving fresh strength to our people."
– Franklin D. Roosevelt
With the future of the world’s forests being intrinsically linked to our livelihoods, deforestation
continues to be a worrying trend in countries all around the globe. The Worldwide Fund for
Nature states that each minute a forest area equivalent to 27 soccer fields is lost (WWF
2018). In particular, the deforestation rates in tropical regions, which contain the great
majority of terrestrial animal and plant species, are alarming.
Despite different international attempts to address the issue, states have failed to reach a
binding international agreement on deforestation. The regional variation of deforestation and
the continuing North-South conflict of diverging interests between developed and developing
countries seem to complicate the efforts to arrive at a global solution. Due to timber
production as well as the use of forest areas for agricultural purposes, human settlement,
and mining operations, forests’ economic value often overlaps with the forest protection
In response to the absence of international governance, the search for alternatives has led to
the emergence of private governance schemes. In the 1990s, the focus of NGOs and
businesses was put on establishing positive labelling for sustainable harvested timber; with
the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an alliance of NGOs, unions, and companies, as the
first private forestry regime.
However, such private governance initiatives have been criticized due to the limited
effectiveness of the standards on the ground, also as only a small portion of all timber
production is traded internationally and the biggest driver of deforestation continues to be the
agricultural use of forest areas. Moreover, the North-South gap persists – while the FSC
covers a lot of forest area globally speaking, it has not succeeded in developing countries.
One thus needs to be careful in evaluating the growth of private governance schemes.
While such private initiatives hence only provide a limited source of governance in tropical
forests, it has been repeatedly argued that the reduction of deforestation constitutes the
fastest and cheapest way to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and fight climate
change (e.g. Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, 2006).
The good news is that all countries worldwide pledged at the 2015 United Nations Climate
Change Conference in Paris to reduce emissions and keep global temperature rises to well
below 2o C. In doing so, they recognized that this would not be possible without halting or at
least decreasing tropical deforestation. The developing countries who share the world’s
tropical forests acknowledged their contribution and promised to replant trees, restore
degraded forest lands, and tackle illegal forestry. At the same time, these pledges are mostly
conditional on rich countries financial and technical help. Developed countries promised to
raise money to help developing countries reduce their emissions – it is planned that some of
that money is invested in tropical forest protection.
In the course of recent climate negotiations, different initiatives have been developed which
provide incentives for developed countries to pay developing countries to protect their forests
and the carbon within them in order to offset their own GHG emissions. Although such
initiatives are not without their problems, the objective is to mobilize funding for developing
countries. Various developed countries have promised to provide money for such initiatives.
Until Paris, the prospects of reducing and halting tropical deforestation were considered to be
unlikely or even impossible. Tackling deforestation remains a very difficult task, but political
and financial mechanisms have now been created to incentivise the different stakeholders to
take action. By integrating forestry protection into climate action, the awareness and
effectiveness of global forestry politics can be improved.
Climate change and deforestation are both global environmental issues which will require an
unprecedented level of innovation, cooperation, and sacrifice and should not be treated
independently from each other. Now it is time to make sure that governments do not duck
their responsibilities and to hold them accountable to their pledges. This is beyond
international politics. It is about empowering communities and enhancing the understanding
of the catastrophic consequences of deforestation as well as the benefits of linking
deforestation more closely to the international climate regime.
By Earth Restoration Service Blog Writer Theresa Stoll
Images from Wikimedia Commons