Why Aren't Forests On The Rio Agenda?

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Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono this week urged the international community to protect its forests, in the wake of forestry issues being sidelined at Rio+20 conference on sustainable development to be held later this month.

"Sustainable forestry is critical to our efforts at sustainable development as well as to our climate mitigation efforts," Yudhonoyo said. "Losing our tropical rainforests would constitute the ultimate national, global and planetary disaster."

Yudhonoyo, who takes a keen interest in environmental protection, gave his Wednesday address at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) headquarters in Bogor, West Java. He was commended by CIFOR director general Frances Seymour for Indonesia’s recent efforts to protect its forests.

Seymour cited Indonesia’s execution of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, made at the 1992 Earth Summit, that stipulates "environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level" and "states shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available".

"Indonesia has made enormous progress in realising the objectives of Principle 10 over the last 20 years, including with respect to the management of its vast forests," Seymour said.

She also referred to Indonesia’s role as host of the first Ministerial on Forest Law Enforcement and Governance to address the problem of illegal logging in September 2001.

Indonesia has the third largest tropical forest in the world, and as such is a key player in combatting climate change. Its forests are sites of great biodiversity, holding about 12 per cent of the world’s species of mammals and 16 per cent of the world’s reptile and amphibian species.

It also has the second largest growth of mangrove forests, which aside from its role as carbon stock, are the habitats for marine life and act as a barrier for communities against destructive storms. The country holds 50 percent of the world’s tropical peatlands that store great amounts of carbon.

Yet the Indonesian Forestry Ministry estimates that Indonesia has been losing between 1.6 million and 2.8 million hectares of forest every year  to illegal logging and land conversion over the past few years, as reported by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

"In the 1970s and 1980s … our forestry policy was to allow anyone to cut our forests so long as it gave benefits to development," Yudhoyono said.

"It seemed the logical thing to do back then. We had lots of forests; we had to reduce poverty; we needed to grow our economy. As a result, there was a time when we experienced very serious deforestation. Today, such a policy is no longer tenable … That’s why Indonesia has reversed course by committing to sustainable forestry."

In 2011, the country established a two-year moratorium on new forest concessions, and made forest-related maps publicly available for the first time. In May the same year, Indonesia became the first country in Asia to negotiate a Voluntary Partnership Agreement with the European Union to ensure the legal trade of timber.

The omission of forestry issues from the Rio+20 zero draft agenda’s (pdf) list of critical components has caused consternation among scientists at CIFOR.

The first Rio meeting, the 1992 Earth Summit, produced the "Non-Legally Binding Authoritative Statement of Principles for a Global Consensus on the Management, Conservation and Sustainable Development of All Types of Forests" document, which supported sustainable forest management to "meet the social, economic, ecological, cultural and spiritual needs of present and future generations.

Forests, which constitute 31 percent of the world’s land area, provide about one billion people with livelihoods. A Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) Poverty and Environment Network study found that forest income makes up almost one-quarter of total household income for people living in or near forests.

"The absence of forests from this year’s agenda is remarkable. The first Rio meeting put a very big emphasis on forests and subsequently set the stage for all major international environmental agreements, such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN Convention on Biodiversity," senior climate change scientist Louis Verchot wrote recently on the center’s Forest News blog.

"With forests only mentioned briefly in the text and in isolation to other key issues, will Rio+20 really help develop a future we want?"

New Matilda

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