Let’s Make Some Progress at RIO+20 !
In June 2012, political leaders of all countries will meet in Rio de Janeiro to evaluate progress with sustainable development and discuss new initiatives to address the most important question humanity has to answer: how can we survive? How can we survive as rapidly increasing global population while granting everyone, also the billions that today still live in poverty, the undeniable right for a decent life, for prosperity, within the context of a planet with a limited and already overstressed supporting capacity? How can we turn the tide of faster and faster depletion of the natural resources and carrying capacity of our planet due to the unsustainable lifestyles of a growing part of the world’s population?
I am sure the conference will come with some answers. But that is not enough. There is no further time to lose, and answers need to be followed by determined action by the global society. Unfortunately we do not see the same determination and enthusiasm the Earth Summit, also in Rio, triggered twenty years ago. That gave birth to the Conventions on Climate Change, Biodiversity, Desertification, the Global Environmental Facility and other good tools. It was a summit that definitely put sustainable development on the agenda, to not disappear again. But the Rio inheritance has proven not sufficient to ensure survival and much more needs to be done.
Being fatalistic is not an option. We have to use every opportunity to turn the trends. Rio+20 will hopefully put greening the economy strongly on the political agenda. And I welcome the role of UNEP as a driver in making this concept tangible, including with its clear focus on combining environmental objectives with social purposes, in particular poverty eradication. Greening the economy is essential indeed to deal with the growing tension between the global resource use and the capacity of the planet to sustain such use over a longer term. And unavoidably this economic transition needs to be led by social justice and equity motives, otherwise it will fail.
UNEP rightly says: “Forests are a foundation of the green economy, sustaining a wide range of sectors and livelihoods”. And: “Short-term liquidation of forest assets for limited private gains threatens this foundation, and needs to be halted”. This message is particularly urgent for the tropical and subtropical areas of the world. Halting deforestation and forest degradation is urgent, because the world’s forests have to play a key role in a green economy: for carbon sequestration and storage, for resilience against climate change, for maintenance of ecosystems for water supply, purification, flood prevention, but also for providing timber for sustainable building construction, bio-mass for energy production, and a growing variety of other, food and non-food, resources. And for sustaining the livelihoods of the 1,6 billion people that depend on the forests.
UNEP describes certification of sustainable forest management, such as FSC, as a relevant contribution to shift the trends. However, it finds that needs to be applied at a much greater scope, in particular in the tropical and sub-tropical areas. It concludes that “There are reasons for optimism, but greening the forest sector requires a sustained effort. Various standards and certification schemes have provided a sound basis for practising sustainable forest management, but their widespread uptake requires a strong mandate and consistent policies and markets.”
As FSC we agree with this analysis, and know from experience that forest certification in the tropical and sub-tropical areas can make a huge difference in environmental, social and definitely also economic terms, but also that the hurdles are definitely higher than in other parts of the world. It is a pity UNEP did not go further in pointing out what the “strong mandate and consistent policies and markets” should look like, and how you get there.
In response, FSC has submitted to the preparatory process for Rio+20 a proposal that all governments pledge, in Rio, “concrete and systematic support and promotion of multi stakeholder managed forest certification systems, in all parts of the world, with particular emphasis on tropical rainforests”. The pledges should include measures on the ground, including supporting legislation, favourable conditions for balanced multi-stakeholder governed certification schemes such as FSC, financing education and training, and setting the example with certification of state owned forests. On the markets, governments would systematically apply green public procurement and ensure that ecolabel criteria only refer to certified products and services. Business can play an important role in convincing governments of the need for such pledges, by setting the right example and by making the business case for credible certification as a key tool to move towards the green economy.
FSC promotes certification of forest management globally, and with success, covering currently some 148 million ha (is 3% of all forests on the planet, or 12% of all production forests). FSC certified forests ensure maintenance of ecosystems and biodiversity, and improvement where relevant, but also ensure the social and traditional rights of the local population as well as the workers, guarantee conformity with national and international relevant laws. And FSC does more than that: it also provides a market for timber and timber products originating from such forests, through its successful certification scheme of (already more than 20.000) companies working in the supply chain till the end consumer.
However, we must admit, so far we have been more successful in the temperate and boreal forest zones than in the tropics and sub-tropics. There are many reasons for that, which I cannot summarize properly in this article. But it is clear we need to concentrate our attention now to the tropical and sub-tropical areas. Just look at the most recent FAO statistics. In the temperate and boreal forest zones forest cover is increasing or stable (which is not necessarily the same as stable biodiversity characteristics, by the way!). In the tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world however, deforestation is not slowing down in the last 20 years, despite of all the attention, the support programmes etc. Every year we continue to lose 1% of the tropical forest cover! Every year! And these are the richest biotopes on the planet, with many still undiscovered aspects. They form the livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people. They are major players in the global climate machinery.
FSC has so far certified 18 million hectares of tropical forests. Where we do this we face challenges, but we also see the big difference we make for the local population, nature, and the chance for tropical timber to be trusted by northern consumers. We are convinced that certification is an important tool to combine protection of the natural values with bringing economic and social progress in the region. Provided that certification is done as FSC requires: with guaranteed balanced multi-stakeholder involvement in decision making, a robust verification scheme and regular evaluations.
Our proposal looks at governments as providers of legal and physical infrastructure, as guardians and promoters of civil society action, as donors, as consumers and as providers of objective information to consumers about environmental and social impacts of product and service choices. In this way, all governments in the world can take part in their pledge, with specific roles depending on which countries they serve.
I would like to underline the role of procurement in this initiative. With UNEP I agree that procurement can be a main driving force for greening the economy, as it creates a clear signal to timber producers that moving to responsible forest management ensures returns. We see the power of it, both in the private and the public sector. In Western-Europe, several strong examples exist. In the Netherlands, currently a third of timber used in public construction projects comes from certified forests, and the aim is to go to 100%. In the UK, from 2015 only “sustainable timber” will be accepted for public construction. In Belgium, local authorities give premiums to private timber users when they use FSC certified timber in their houses. LEED, a US private green construction criteria system, is on its way to cover 25% of all construction in the country, with FSC as the only recognised certificate (even though this is now under attack by those who want to weaken the requirements). Also in the use of paper (books, packaging, receipts, train-tickets, newspapers), FSC certified paper is taking off. In Denmark for example more than 80% of the newspapers are certified. In fact, demand is so high that supply is a limiting factor. Certified tropical timber producers would have a real opportunity here!
We hope that governments as well as civil society organisations see the point of our initiative and give their active support, so that Rio+20 could give a major boost to effective certification processes in the tropical and sub-tropical areas as a contribution to the transition to a green economy globally that we so desperately need.
FAO State of the World’s Forests http://www.fao.org/forestry/sofo/en/
The opinions expressed in these articles are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of UNEP