The Politics of Global Forest Conservation
Posted: June 29, 2012
Was I surprised to read that at the recent Rio+20 Summit, forests fared poorly in outcomes? (read more here) It’s been 20 years since first Rio Earth Summit. That was a hallmark event in trying to build a global awareness for environmental issues and get governments to start working together across borders. We all know that ecosystems don’t obey political boundaries. The 1992 event accomplished some big ticket items: Agenda 21, a Convention on Biodiversity and a Framework for a Climate Change Convention. This latter one was a precursor to the IPCC and the Kyoto Protocol. The meeting also did a lot for forests. The Forest Principles were signed - it is the informal name given to the "Non-Legally Binding Authoritative Statement of Principles for a Global Consensus on the Management, Conservation and Sustainable Development of all Types of Forests.” The Forest Principles have led to 20 years of more discussion but if you think about it nothing substantial with teeth has been accomplished in terms of global actions to protect forests. Rio+20 are still talking about getting “urgent implementation of the Forest Principles”.
So why are forests ignored in sustainable development objectives at Rio+20? There are lots of reasons from inability of governments to commit resources, the public good nature of forests, issues of ownership and access to forests, etc.
What is important to know is that forests cover 1/3 of the worlds land area, provide home to hundreds of millions of people and probably double that number depend on forests for their livelihood. Forests were the breeding ground for the environmental and conservation movements. Late nineteenth and twentieth century concern over loss of forests led to serious discussion of the human impacts on the environment. Gifford Pinchot and Joseph Rothrock saw the massive deforestation in Pennsylvania around the turn of the twentieth century and along with Teddy Roosevelt helped lead and create the conservation movement and Forest Service. George Perkins Marsh wrote in the late nineteenth century about the loss of Europe’s forests in the book “Man and Nature.” These were precursors to the environmental movement we see today.
Sure, Pennsylvania forests are much better off than they were 100 years ago but as I have said in previous blog entries were have some major concerns on the horizon. The issue is that globally our forests are in danger.
Maybe I should not be surprised little was accomplished at Rio. Hopefully, sooner than later, policy makers will see the vital role forests play in a clean environment, moderating climate change and provide essential good and services to millions of people. But we talked about these issues 20 years ago, so can one be optimistic?