New report from Prince of Wales International Sustainability Unit highlights vulnerability of world’s rainforests
The latest climate science demonstrates how important forests are for the mitigation of global climate change.
The potential for greenhouse gas emissions mitigation from reducing deforestation, reducing degradation and pursuing forest landscape restoration is highly significant.
Together, doing just these three things could play a major role in our efforts to meet the global obligation of keeping climate change to beneath a 2C rise in average global temperatures.
And we can act on forests now, therefore buying much-needed time to enable the global transformation to a low carbon economy that places our cities and landscapes within a truly resilient and sustainable system.
But forests are not just about the climate change challenge, however vital and pressing that may be.
They are also home to many thousands of indigenous and tribal peoples, some of whom remain uncontacted, such as in the Colombian Amazon which I had the privilege to visit last year and to the countless other species with whom they have lived in a symbiotic relationship for thousands of years.
There is a remarkable correlation between indigenous reserves and tropical forest conservation.
Many millions more people depend directly on forests for their well-being and livelihoods.
The report references recent illuminating work on the biodiversity and ecological interactions of tropical forests; on the role of forests in regional and global water cycles, on which so much of our food security in turn depends; and on how forests enhance our adaptive capacity and resilience and also reduce the risk of disasters.
For all these reasons, and for the intrinsic value of forests which we have a duty to recognize and respect, there is a strong onus upon us to act.
Fortunately, and despite the scale of the challenges before us, the report also shows that there is growing local and international agreement on the action required to protect forests.
This is just as well for we are, in effect, consuming the forests and, with them, the planet’s ability to survive the blight of climate change.
Each and every one of us has a vital role to play, whether as consumers, investors, managers or as those who are charged to agree and implement policies.
And, equally, every country and institution has a role to play in addressing its forest footprint and the causes of forest loss, whether driven by biofuels policy, illegal deforestation and degradation, increasing global demand for beef, soya, leather, pulp and paper, sugar and wood, or mining, roads and infrastructure.
Ultimately, of course, there is a need to consume much less and to tread more lightly on the face of this planet; it is, after all, the only one we have, but we still perversely persist on including it in our throwaway society.
This year’s multilateral political settlement, culminating in the Sustainable Development Goals and at the UNFCCC in Paris in December, should lay the groundwork for that transformation to happen.
For the world’s forests, and all of the world’s people who depend upon them (particularly many of the poorest people on Earth), this is perhaps the best opportunity toensure the protection of the forests and therefore provide our species with a recognizable future.
It is, in think, becoming gradually understood that we need to treat the Earth as if it were a patient. It is one, I fear, that is in an increasingly critical condition and which requires intensive care.
Given that the forests are in effect the planet’s lungs, destroying them can surely only be an act of insane irresponsibility. It is not, after all, that we lack the technology, the money or the ability to safeguard their survival and, therefore, our own.
Will, therefore, humanity, at the last, prove itself equal to the challenge and find the determination and the will to implement the solutions to this problem, from which , of course, many other positive benefits will arise?
For, in the memorable words of Mahatma Gandhi: “What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.”
This text is an extract from Tropical Forests: a review, published by the Prince of Wales’ International Sustainability Unit.