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How We Can Make Progress on Forests During Rio+20

When it comes to the fate of forests, Rio+20 and the official negotiations risk becoming a side event. Instead, the main show is playing out in countless boardrooms, communities, parliaments, and villages around the world. From Brazil to Bangladesh, Canada to Cambodia, these organizations have made dramatic progress with efforts to reverse forest decline.

Of course, much remains to be done: globally, forests continue to decline at the rate of about 13 million hectares each year, according to the United Nations. But many successes help illuminate a path forward.

Forest Conservation Success Stories

  • Brazil achieved what some have called the greatest contribution to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, more-than-halving the rates of forest loss in the Amazon over the past decade. Brazilian institutions, such as IBAMA and the Federal Police, working with local NGOs like Imazon, have made dramatic improvements on monitoring forest crime and targeting enforcement efforts. This despite recent concerns, which WRI shares, about revisions to Brazil’s Forest Code that could lead to increased forest clearing.

  • Canadian forest products companies, environmental campaigners, first nations, and provincial government agencies worked together over a similar time period to commit to the Canadian Boreal Forests Agreement, which helps conserve and manage more than 70 million hectares of forest. The agreement has enabled companies to get back to the business of managing forest land rather than fighting with environmentalists. It’s also helped safeguard one of the world’s greatest mammal migration routes for the majestic woodland caribou.

  • IKEA, the world’s largest furniture retailer, took advantage of detailed satellite data on the location of large, intact natural forests in Russia and elsewhere. It overhauled its procurement policies and supply chain management system to ensure that furniture sold in all of its stores comes from responsibly managed forests. Many other global firms are now working on implementing similar systems.

  • In Mexico, Indonesia, Thailand, India, and many other countries, local communities have shown that they can be the most effective forest stewards so long as they have the authority to do so as well as support from markets. The community-managed ejido system in Mexico, for example, now covers hundreds of thousands of hectares, and management has been certified to the highest international standards.

  • In Niger, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, and across sub-Saharan Africa, villagers—often with far-sighted encouragement from government agencies—have regreened millions of hectares of semi-desert. As a result, they have more food to eat, more water to drink, and higher incomes, ensuring that their families are healthier and better educated.

  • And last year, Indonesia announced a moratorium on new forest-clearing licenses in much of the country’s remaining forests. Officials also committed to shift much future oil palm development onto already cleared or degraded land rather than clearing more forests to develop the plantations.

Progress Can Be Made at Rio+20

The question for Rio is: How can international agreements and actions help advance these local efforts?

Advances are possible at Rio on three critical issues:

  1. Governments can promote improved access to information and decision-making through a Rio-mandated, global convention to strengthen the public’s rights of access to information, participation, and justice. These essential rights would greatly increase citizens’ abilities to protect the environment and their livelihoods. Greater access to quality information about proposed development and investments is so important to improving forest management and governance that WRI is developing Global Forest Watch 2.0, an interactive web-based system that will track that state of forests globally in near-real-time. WRI will offer a sneak peek of this powerful new tool in four presentations at Rio with partners Google, Imazon, Center for Global Development, and the University of Maryland.

  2. The gathering can help build awareness of the benefits of transitioning to a “green economy” in terms of finance, policy changes, technologies, and land use practices. The striking example of regreening success in Niger and beyond (mentioned above), with dramatic economic and human well-being benefits like increased food security and rural incomes, stands out as one that should be better understood and replicated.

  3. “Energy for all” has emerged as one of the most concrete areas for partnership galvanized by the Rio meetings. What is often forgotten is that the majority of the poor get most of their energy from woodfuel. In doing so, they must often endure hard labor to gather the wood and are exposed to chronic lung disease from wood smoke inhalation, leading to thousands of deaths a year. Women and children bear the brunt of these burdens. Access to clean energy would greatly improve the quality of lives of millions, as well as reduce pressure on threatened forest resources.

Advances on transparency, how we define economic progress, and energy access would help move the UN-sponsored Rio process closer to center stage and boost efforts to better manage forests globally.

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