Getting to the roots of deforestation

On the eve of COP16, the Global Forest Coalition has released a new report: “Getting to the Roots. The underlying causes of deforestation and forest degradation, and drivers of forest restoration”. The report will be formally launched next Wednesday in Cancun.

This report summarizes the findings of the Global Forest Coalition’s three year global program of workshops investigating the underlying causes of deforestation and forest degradation, and the incentives and other underlying causes underpinning successful forest conservation and restoration initiatives by Indigenous Peoples and local communities. These events involved over 1,750 people from 24 different countries, coming from Indigenous Peoples Organizations (IPOs), local communities, civil society organizations, government and academia. The resulting national reports are rich in detail and diversity, yet show that there is a remarkable commonality of understanding and analysis, both of the underlying causes of deforestation, and of what it really takes to conserve and restore forests.

Measures to address deforestation and forest degradation are most unlikely to succeed if they do not address the real underlying causes of forest loss. These include an excessive demand for wood, which was identified as a key underlying cause in many countries. Current policies to promote wood-based bio-energy will increase this demand even further.

Spiraling demand for land for plantations and other forms of agriculture, and tense disputes and uncertainty over who owns various areas of land and forest are another important root cause. Here again, current climate mitigation policies add to the problem rather than addressing it, by promoting the expansion of agrofuels, bio-energy and monoculture tree plantations which increases demand for land. Similarly governments are failing to address the rapidly increasing global demand for meat and dairy products which is triggering expansion of the agricultural frontier for the production of animal feedstocks.

Forest loss is often brought about by of the development of infrastructure and mining, and urbanization and industrialization projects supported by bilateral and multilateral donors. Redirecting these financial flows would benefit forests and forest peoples much more than pumping millions of dollars, euros and krone into protected areas that people are frequently excluded from. In general, it was found that a great deal of forest loss was down to deliberate government policies and/or governments’ failure to develop, implement and enforce proper forest policies. Entrenched corruption is still a major driver of forest loss in many countries.

The lack of alternative economic opportunities was also considered to be an important underlying cause of forest loss in several countries, and it was felt that there should be a far better integration of forest and social policies, especially with respect to the Millennium Development Goals. Climate change was identified as an increasingly important driver of forest loss too.

Last but not least, neo-liberal economic policies and trade liberalization were seen as a root cause underpinning many of the factors above, and many felt that what was really needed was a change to the system itself: the entire concept of unlimited growth on a limited planet needs to be challenged if forests are to survive.

Happily this report also provides an overview of the underlying causes of forest conservation and restoration. That is, those incentives – in the broadest sense of the word – that have motivated people in so many places to conserve and restore their forests. It shows why forest management involving and led by Indigenous Peoples and forest-dependent communities offers a successful way out of the current dilemma. Indigenous Peoples are especially motivated, since their whole lives, culture and identity are bound up with Mother Earth, and they feel a deep sense of responsibility for forests in a way that others do not. In many countries it can easily be observed that the remaining forested areas coincide with Indigenous territories.

An inspiring conclusion in this respect is that addressing the underlying causes of forest loss does not require a huge financial investment, but rather a redirection of the financial flows that currently support bio-energy, large-scale tree plantations, mining and other destructive projects. The workshops concluded that forests can be saved and restored by providing lower levels of stable but well-targeted support for integrated programs that respect Indigenous territories and community conserved areas, foster and promote cultural values and knowledge systems, raise awareness where necessary of the importance of forests for water and livelihoods, and offer alternative livelihood opportunities were needed.

Yet this is not how governments are planning to deploy climate finance at present. At the moment REDD funds are targeted at promoting exorbitantly expensive and financially unsustainable payments for environmental services schemes that risk undermining the very value systems that have made forest conservation a success in so many communities.

On the eve of the UN Year of Forests, the Global Forest Coalition hopes that this report will help to inspire and focus policy debates about one of the most important challenges of our time: halting deforestation and forest degradation and restoring our forests. We hope it will change the course of the REDD debate, by prompting all involved in negotiations and related discussions to reconsider just what really needs to be done to protect and restore the world’s forests.

The full report can be downloaded from:

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