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Market-driven forest protection fights neither poverty nor deforestation

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A hill in Indonesia has been cleared for maize production and new forest areas are being lost. In the south of the island of Sulawesi, rainforest is being cleared in national parks to be replaced by palm oil and paper plantations. Deforestation in Indonesia increased in 2023 by 27 percent from the previous year. Photo: Yusuf Wahil / AP / NTB

Of NTB | 07.05.2024 05:34:02

Weather: The most comprehensive study ever of forest conservation states that trade and finance-driven initiatives have made “limited” progress in stopping deforestation and that in some cases it contributes to increased economic inequality.

The report gathers knowledge from studies and fieldwork from over 15,000 researchers in 20 countries under the auspices of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), according to the AFP news agency.

– The facts do not support the claims that many put forward about market-driven measures such as win-win and triple win for the environment, economy, climate and people, says co-author Maria Brockhaus at the University of Helsinki.

She writes in an email that the research shows that poverty and deforestation are persistent in areas where the use of market mechanisms has been the prevailing policy over several decades.

One of the main authors, Constance McDermott from the University of Oxford, says that this hardly applies to all individual private projects.

– But it is difficult to say that they have been a resounding success, she says.

– Progressive small steps towards change are much better for creating a new policy, than going for the big idea at any given time that preoccupies the world’s forest managers, the report says.

It refers to figures from the UN Food Organisation, FAO, which estimates that the annual loss of forests in the world decreased from 13 million hectares per year in 2010 to 10 million hectares in 2020.

In Malaysia, indigenous groups were promised better living conditions by a foreign company that established a plantation on their land. The original inhabitants saw none of the profits from the plantation.

– Both cases show that the profit is extracted elsewhere, while the burden of loss of forest and property is taken locally, says Maria Brockhaus.

At the same time, prosperous countries introduce green trade policies, such as when the EU links imports to deforestation. It may look good in Brussels, but does not take into account the negative effects, according to lead author Constance McDermott.

– There is no accountability if the measures do not work, or if farmers are driven from the land as a result of forest protection. In any case, people in Great Britain or Germany do not notice anything when they eat chocolate, she says.

Kenyan President William Ruto sees carbon sequestration in Africa as a possible gold mine that could bring in many billions of dollars in the future. But there is growing concern over how much of this revenue will go to poor communities.

According to Maria Brockhaus, a market-based approach can be tempting for decision-makers, but hardly a good solution if we do not take into account the challenges of economic inequality in forest management.

– We are in favor of a radical change in how we think, she says.

The authors advocate a “radical restructuring” of increasingly popular market-adapted approaches in forest protection. The privatized measures are marketed as more effective in saving forests, important for slowing down global warming and for providing an increased standard of living in developing countries.

“The mechanisms follow the goal of economic growth with financial players and shareholders who are often more interested in short-term profit rather than long-term fair and sustainable forest management,” the report states.

The report argues for taking small steps over time with clear goals.

The report refers to one example from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Here, a project worth 120 million dollars has led to the local population being shut out of the forest while the forest industry cuts down on foot.

Large companies will increasingly resort to green credits to meet their zero emission targets. The green credits are bought from projects, often in developing countries, which reduce or prevent greenhouse gas emissions. Examples could be the protection of rainforests or peat bogs that bind CO2.

(© NTB)

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