Ensuring a deforestation-free future means curbing global warming, conserving wildlife and plant diversity, and providing a livelihood for aboriginal forest dwellers.
June 22, 2020, marked the fourth anniversary of the World Rainforest Day. This initiative was launched by the Rainforest Partnership in 2017, as a means to bring a better understanding of the significance of rainforests and their ecosystems for the planet. According to the non-profit, the occurrence represents a "collaborative effort to raise awareness and encourage action to protect the world's rainforests."
Tropical rainforests have a crucial role on our planet, providing oxygen, water, and storage of greenhouse gases, offer a home to the highest concentrations of species on the planet, and sustaining the livelihoods of indigenous tribes. Despite the critical importance of these incredible repositories of life for maintaining the ecological balance on earth, deforestation remains one of humanity's most urgent matters. In fact, deforestation and the degradation of forests accounts for around 15% of greenhouse gas emissions.
Since the 1980s, primary tropical rainforests such as the Amazon, the Guinean Forests of West Africa, Australia's Daintree Rainforest, Indonesia's and many more, have been threatened by the interests of logging and mining companies, and industrial agricultural practices such as plantations, monocropping, and intensive animal farming.
Despite the pledges of the many countries who signed the New York Declaration on Forests at the United Nations in 2014 - which required countries to reduce by half the rate of deforestation by 2020 and rehabilitate 150 million hectares of land - the rate of lost trees has increased by 43%. Of this percentage, 4.3 million hectares of primary and irreplaceable tropical primary forests are being lost each year. The declaration was supposed to stop deforestation by 2030, but the goal seems as distant as ever.
Yet, among the disastrous consequences of loss of primary tropical rainforests, several countries are striving to solve the issue, showing some promising signs of improvement. For example, in 2019, Indonesia reduced its losses by 5%, reducing deforestation for the third year in a row. The same happened in Colombia. Ghana managed to reduced primary forest loss by 50% compared to 2016, and Cote d'Ivoire cut its forest loss by around 75% compared to 2014.
All of this was achieved through several initiatives driven by the public and private sectors, and it seems like the critical issue of deforestation is being placed higher on international and local agendas. Undoubtedly, companies and corporations should be at the forefront of the battle against deforestation, and more players are committing to "zero deforestation" accountability practices.
According to the World Resources Insitute, in the last five years, several companies and market giants have been pledging to adopt measures to curb forest loss and create fairer supply chains. This is great news. In fact, according to a report from the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, only a few commodities such as pulp and paper, beef and other animal products, palm oil, and soy, account for more than 70% of the deforestation of tropical forests.
Yet, although the terms "zero deforestation" and "zero net deforestation sound similar, they refer to different practices. The World Resources Institute's website claims that "Zero deforestation means no forest areas are cleared or converted, while zero net deforestation allows for the clearance or conversion of forests in one area as long as an equal area is replanted elsewhere." This lack of consensus makes the presence of grey areas possible, and replanting equal areas of forest does not ensure quality.
Still, initiatives such as the IDH Traceability Working Group and the High Carbon Stock Approach can greatly aid these commitments to corporate self-accountability. The IDH Traceability Working Group has had an incredible impact in the past few years. In Kenya's South West Mau Forest, for example, the group was able to achieve a series of important milestones, such as bringing together multiple stakeholders to protect the forest, securing private sector investment, Set-up an aerial surveillance system, and raise the surrounding communities' awareness on forest protection.
Also, tools like Global Forest Watch Commodities can greatly support monitoring these companies' supply chains and being more transparent about how their products are produced, how, and by whom. Third-party certifications like those obtained through the Forest Stewardship Council can be a good start for companies of any size, committed to curbing deforestation.
Smaller actors in the private sector can make a difference, too. For example, in Colombia, Campesinos, ranchers, and other small agricultural realities are cooperating with institutions and businesses both locally and internationally to address deforestation. In Kenya, instead, a young entrepreneur managed to design a human waste bioreactor that transforms human waste into energy by connecting to sewage systems. Currently, the process is generating power for around 15.000 Kenyans. Yet, if adopted by more people, it could have far-reaching effects.
On the public sector front, instead, some exciting initiatives have been taking place. Governmental and voluntary regulatory tools have been successfully implemented by public institutions and enterprises across the board. CITES licenses for the protection of endangered flora wildlife - along with similar initiatives - have been quite successful.
The Forest Law Enforcement, Government and Trade program's (FLEGT) aim is to reduce illegal logging by pushing for sustainable and legal forestry practices and trade. Other initiatives such as the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), instead, have been beneficial in aiding and protecting indigenous peoples and forest dwellers from the effects of deforestation, while mitigating climate change.
In Nigeria, one of the countries with the highest deforestation rates, the UNREDD+ Programme has provided significant support for the country's ambitious efforts in forest conservation. Particularly, a Community Based REDD+ project is being hosted in Cross River State, which represents more than half of Nigeria's remaining primary tropical forests. The program has been successful in improving rural livelihoods, the implementation of climate-smart approaches, and forest management, benefiting 21 communities.
With REDD+, Ecuador has become a pioneering force in the fight against deforestation and climate change, and the country now covers a leadership position in curbing deforestation and forest degradation and deforestation. The country reported a 48.6% reduction in deforestation rates during the last twenty years.
Individuals have responsibilities, too, in the battle against deforestation. In fact, several things can be done on a personal level, mainly consisting of lifestyle changes. The most powerful environmental and anti-deforestation weapon in any citizen's arsenal is undoubtedly that of adopting a plant-based diet. Intensive animal farming is, in fact, the main driver behind deforestation in many tropical forests, such as the Brazilian Amazon. The impact of cutting meat and dairy out of one's diet is very profound.
With data at hand, it is easy to see how big of an impact anti-deforestation policies an effort can have. Companies, businesses, and states need to implement more regulations to protect these delicate natural ecosystems on which life depends. In the meantime, citizens can have a say and bring about change: consumer choices, voting, and education can make a great difference in the battle against deforestation.