Conservation news

A living planet begins with thriving forests (commentary)

In my lifetime, global wildlife populations have seen an overall decline of more than half.

That’s a statement of such enormity that it’s hard to process.

The evidence comes from WWF’s recent Living Planet Report 2018, which shows that, on average, populations of mammals, fish, birds, amphibians, and reptiles declined by 60 percent between 1970 and 2014. And the trends are still going in the wrong direction. My children could be reading about many of these species — such as orangutans and Amur leopards — in history books if conservation actions are not ramped up.

One of the leading causes of this devastation is habitat degradation and loss. More often than not, that means deforestation or forest degradation. And this threatens wildlife and people alike. Forests are home to 8 out of 10 species found on land, and they also support the livelihoods of over 1 billion people. Yet we continue to damage and destroy our forests and the priceless biodiversity they contain.

This month marks one of the most important gatherings for conservationists — the 14th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP14). And in December, global leaders will convene at two important events, the Global Landscapes Forum and the UN Climate Change Conference, to discuss landscape-level conservation and climate solutions.

This is a critical moment in time to put nature and forests forefront on the global agenda. The Living Planet Report is a wake-up call from the frontline of science, and the frontline of our natural world. Small incremental changes and commitments on paper won’t cut it. We need a fundamental shift in the way we treat our one and only planet, a New Deal for Nature and People by 2020, to galvanize serious international action to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity, including efforts to stop the degradation and destruction of our forests.

This needs to include a two-pronged approach: one, halt deforestation in the world’s most at-risk forests; and two, start restoring forest landscapes — extending the habitat for countless precious species, as well as helping to mitigate climate change and secure food, water, and raw material supplies — to achieve our vision of a sustainable future for all.

The solutions need to come from across sectors — governments have to strengthen and implement policies, mobilize finance, and put plans into action if they are to make any meaningful progress against global targets; business leaders must go further by looking beyond their own supply chains to invest in sustainable solutions for conserving and restoring the forest landscapes they source from; and consumers have to do their bit by thinking about their consumption choices. That includes buying wood-based products from responsibly managed forests, avoiding palm oil linked to deforestation, and being aware of where food comes from, particularly meat and dairy, which are some of the biggest drivers of deforestation globally.

The solutions are in front of us. What we need now is will, innovation, and action.

Take, for example, Iddi Hamis Nyachenga from Tanzania, who has developed technology to recycle waste material into charcoal briquettes as an alternative source of energy to fuelwood, which is a leading cause of deforestation and forest degradation in Africa. Iddi, a WWF Africa Youth Ambassador, is also educating women and youth on the technology, which creates a new, more sustainable source of economic livelihood.

Or community farmers in Argentina, who have realized the harmful effects of deforestation and are now reforesting and managing their land sustainably so their future generations can experience the same beauty of forests that they did as children.

In Asia, where I live, there is a huge challenge to reconcile economic development and the increasing demand for food, energy, and water with nature conservation. But there are many inspiring examples of how the two can go hand in hand. In India, for example, communities in Kaziranga National Park have embraced culinary tourism, which has brought new sources of income while also facilitating forest conservation.

These, and many other cases around the world, show that it is possible to safeguard our forests while meeting the needs of human society. There is now an urgent need, likely our last chance, to all scale up these efforts towards a New Deal for Nature and People. We need to recognize that nature, including forests, are invaluable to people — and if we lose them, we stand to lose our own health and well-being.

The loss of nature over the last half-century is almost unimaginable. Let’s try to imagine (and create!) a future where we not only bring biodiversity back but see forests and nature thrive and ensure a living planet for all.

Asian rhino in Kaziranga National Park, India. Photo Credit: Richard Barrett/WWF-UK.

Alistair Monument is WWF’s Global Forest Practice Leader. He is based in Hong Kong.

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