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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

Forests & Rio+20, “Success” or “Failure”?

The Rio+20 U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development just recently ended, and this year the UN admitted nearly three times the number of people who attended the Earth Summit in 1992 (45,381 vs. 17,000 passes). Passes were issued to more than 10,000 delegates, about 100 heads of state, 4,000 media members and 9,816 NGOs. Thousands more observers attended the conference and the “Dialog Days” held in the run up to the arrival of the world leaders.

In contrast with the last meetings about environmental issues, Rio+20 produced a synthesized document (53 pages) entitled “The Future We Want”. Although the document discusses each natural resource sector in relation to the new controversial concepts of “The Green Economy” and “Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”, it was relatively lacking in deep discussion about the role of forests in sustainable development, or at least more in depth than its treatment at Rio 92.

Forests cover over 31% of the global landmass, provide large and uncountable benefits for livelihoods and maintain ecological systems that are essential for all life – including human life – on Earth. They are home to over half of all land-based species of plants and animals, as well as millions of indigenous peoples and forest communities who depend on them for their survival. Unfortunately, they were only mentioned in four paragraphs of the current RIO+20 draft text, and only then in vague references to biodiversity and conservation. Such indifference is truly worrying, given that during the last 20 years 300 million hectares of forest area were lost (that’s an area larger than Argentina). Not to mention the 36 % increase in CO2 emissions, population growth of 26%, and 12 % loss of global biodiversity that was also recorded for that time period.

Strategies for the conservation and management of forests like REDD+ were only briefly mentioned in the text as “conservation alternatives”, rather than the critical initiatives against deforestation and forest ecosystem degradation that they really are. The meager text reads:

“We note the importance of ongoing initiatives such as reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries.”

The outcome document’s section on forests specifically calls for urgent implementation of the Non-Legally Binding Instrument on All Types of Forests (NLBI) adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007. The purpose of the instrument is to strengthen political commitment to action on implementing sustainable forest management and achieving internationally agreed-upon development goals. However, the concept is an old one; it was dealt with in previous meetings but has yet to see strong adoption rates.

“There was some progress in the early stages of the agreement, but because of lack of long-term commitment by countries, the progress has slowed” said Louis Verchot, the principal scientist at Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Before we think about converting forests into a green-business option, it’s important to first give priority to the restoration of critical ecosystems that during the last decades were totally or partially exploited, mainly by private sector companies from developed countries. The total implementation and acceptance by all UN member states of “Common but Differentiated Responsibilities” (CBDR) references is an ideal way to reduce the equality gap in environmental commitments between developed, developing and undeveloped countries. The last idea is shared by indigenous peoples, who affirmed in their Rio+20 declaration that self determination is the basis for “Buen Vivir/ living well” and that it can only be realised through secure land rights, territorial management and the the building of vibrant community economies. Forest lands must be rehabilitated and social inequalities addressed before the forest sector can be useful as a money-making endeavor.

Finally, Rio+20 was about more than negotiated outcomes.  The participants inspired a new generation of leaders and civil society activists. They integrated new concepts. They set agendas. They left a legacy that, thankfully, can’t be defined neatly as “success” or “failure.”

Among the hundreds of agreements in Rio+20, a summary of those that dealt with forests is as follows:

– U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the U.S. would partner with 400 companies to eliminate deforestation in their supply chains and would provide $20 million in grants for clean energy projects in Africa;

– Kimberly-Clark Corp, the paper products giant that owns brands Kleenex and Huggies, has announced their commitment to cut the amount of wood fibre it uses from natural forests by 50% by 2025;

– The Brazilian state of Pará, in the Amazon, committed to achieve a net-zero deforestation increase of tree cover by 2020;

– Indonesia’s President, Dr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, heralded the new approach, announcing that the country had passed a law to permanently conserve 35% of its tropical rain forests and that 3.2 billion trees had been planted in the past 2 years;

– Colombia will create new programs to reduce deforestation and increase significantly its 1.2 million hectare Chiribiquete National Park to enhance protection of the Colombian Amazon basin.

Terra-i Makes Big Strides in Tracking Deforestation

The Terra-i platform was officially launched at Rio+20. A favorable response was received from the Rio+20 attendees and others users who immediately signed in to our website and social media networks (Twitter, Facebook and Youtube). Distinguished mentions of the tool were made by The New York Times, The Huffington Post UK, ScienceDaily and Discovery press releases.

More detailed information is available on the post “Terra-i: Strong response to tool’s launch during Rio+20”.

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