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Rainforest scientists urge UN to correct “serious loophole” by changing its definition of ‘forest’

The Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) has released a resolution urging the UN to change its definition for ‘forest’, before the controversial definition undermines conservation efforts, biodiversity preservation, carbon sequestration, and the nascent REDD (Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and forest Degradation).

Currently, the UN definition of ‘forest’ doesn’t designate between a natural forest ecosystem and a monoculture plantation, such as palm oil or pulp and paper. In addition, the definition allows degraded or partially-logged forests to still be considered ‘forest’ so long as they have the requisite canopy cover.

Calling the definition a “serious loophole”, ATBC recommends the UN “clarify natural forest definitions on a biome basis (such as ‘cool-temperate’, ‘wet tropical’, and ‘peat-swamp forest’) to reflect the wide-ranging differences in carbon and biodiversity values of these different biomes, while clearly distinguishing between native forests and those dominated by tree monocultures and non-native species.”

The resolution points out that if the definition remains unchanged, nations could take advantage of it in REDD programs by claiming carbon funds for monoculture plantations or partially-logged forests, landscapes which have emitted significant greenhouse gases due to forest clearing and suffered a loss in biodiversity.

The organization “strongly recommends that developing and developed nations immediately implement these new forest definitions to ensure that they are incorporated in ongoing and future REDD negotiations.”

ATBC is the world’s largest professional society devoted to studying and conserving tropical forests with thousands of members spanning over 100 nations.

ATBC argues that this palm oil plantation (beginning with seedlings) in Sumatra should not be considered a ‘forest’ since it is a monoculture made up of non-native species. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler .

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