Executive director of Greenpeace International Kumi Naidoo
Executive director of Greenpeace International Kumi Naidoo

Progress, but no complacency on deforestation

By KAMCILLA PILLAY Time of article published Sep 8, 2015

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“Cool water” needs to be poured over claims that deforestation is slowing down, say civil society groups.

The organisations reacted to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation’s (FAO) Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015, released at the XIV World Forestry Congress in Durban on Monday.

“Some 129 million hectares of forest – an area almost equivalent to the size of South Africa – have been lost since 1990… (but) over the past 25 years the rate of net global deforestation has slowed down by more than 50%,” said the FAO in a press briefing.

The organisation said in 1990 forest made up 31.6% of the world, and this had dropped to 30.6%.

“Planted forest” accounted for 7% and, they said, the annual rate of forest loss had slowed from 0.18% in the early 1990s to 0.08% from 2010 to 2015.

Africa had lost 2.8 million hectares during the same time period (2010 to 2015).

The group chalked the new statistics up to better forest management.

“(This) has improved dramatically over the last 25 years. (It) includes planning, knowledge sharing, legislation and policies,” said leader of the FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment Team, Kenneth MacDicken.

Forests director at World Wildlife Fund International Rod Taylor said nations were “nowhere near” stopping deforestation by 2020, as had been the aim of the parties gathered at the congress in previous years.

“(The assessment) confirms the huge loss of tropical forests over the last 25 years. WWF’s analysis shows that this trend will continue, with future losses… unless bold and urgent action is taken to address the drivers of deforestation.

“Without such action, up to 170 million hectares – an area the size of Germany, France, Spain and Portugal combined – will be wiped out in just 20 years.”

He said there was “no silver bullet” to halt forest loss and degradation.

“A suite of solutions – ranging from expanded protected areas to more sustainable consumption patterns – are needed to ensure that forests survive the ‘land squeeze’ created by the rush to supply humanity’s growing demand for food, energy and materials.”

Greenpeace head Kumi Naidoo also weighed in on the issue, saying: “Every two seconds, a football field-sized piece of forest is removed. Yet deforestation continues.”

Naidoo was addressing those gathered for the Civil Society Alternative Programme (CSAP) at the Kendra Hall.

He said governments and corporations needed to back up their words with action to achieve ambitious global targets to combat deforestation.

“(They) are saying the right things internationally about fighting forest destruction, but are not delivering action at home,” he said.

The Global Forest Coalition, a coalition of indigenous peoples and environmental activist movements from 50 different countries, also rejected the FAO’s findings.

It said in a statement that the assessment was misleading as it accepted monoculture tree plantations as “planted” forests, even though they formed a major threat to the world’s biodiversity.

“We don’t want a world without forests, nor one where plantations have replaced forest,” said Carolina Lagos, of the GFC member group VientoSur, from Chile.

“Forests have life, they are complex ecosystems. Monoculture plantations are dead zones, green deserts; they have only one species, there is no life in them. They are often sprayed with herbicides and can never fulfil the ecological function of forests – give us clean air, water, or food.”

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