Disappearing Forests? Actions to Save the World's Trees

Article excerpt

Halting deforestation will require the cooperation and coordination of the world's governments, businesses, and civil society. Networks of activists are now slowing the destruction of forest areas, promoting sustainable farming and ranching practices, and restoring forest cover wherever possible. These efforts will not only benefit both human and forest well-being; but also help mitigate climate change.

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AS THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANCE ARE FELT ACROSS THE globe, Earth-conscious innovators pursue a list of technological wonders to offset our species' carbon footprint: geoengineering, alternative energy, hybrid vehicles, etc. Each techno-fix shows some potential for success, and each might have a role to play in years to come.

But let's not forget one design feat that is fully within our means to deploy here and now: more trees.

The efforts of governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations everywhere have begun to curb deforestation and bring some hitherto-destroyed forest areas back to life. As their efforts gain ground--and they can, with more support from citizens and communities worldwide--those trees will naturally reduce atmospheric carbon and boost both the planet's health and ours.

Global Forest Health Today

Brazil hit a milestone in 2012: Forest loss that year, at 4,500 square kilometers, was the lowest since 1988--and a steep drop-off from the 27,000 square kilometers of forest cover that the country lost in 2004.

Depletion of the Amazon's forest cover had been widespread in the twentieth century as Brazil developed economically: The cleared forests made way for logging, cattle ranching, and farming of cash crops such as soybeans. Then, starting in the late 1980s, the government initiated measures to halt deforestation; more recently, it committed to bringing deforestation down to less than a fifth of the 2004 level by 2020. As of 2013, it is almost 80% there.

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Conservationists keep pushing for the forests' viability over the long term. Deforestation continues, even if it is drastically reduced and no longer has the tacit acceptance of government and business leaders.

"The situation is not stable yet. We have to consider we have a lot of achievements and good results, but we still have high rates of deforestation," says Luis Fernando Guedes Pinto, certification manager for IMAFLORA, a Brazilian environmental conservation nonprofit that partners with the Rainforest Alliance. "We still need many interventions that can lead to improvements in farming and forest management."

Concerns over Brazil's Amazon rain forests, which shrank by about 18% in the last century due to deforestation, have been growing steadily in Brazil and worldwide: The Amazon is home to between one-third and one-half of the world's remaining tropical forest land.

Another large share of world rainforest cover lies in Africa. Unfortunately it is in even more trouble. Impoverished African families and communities struggle to scratch out livelihoods from the land, as they have for generations, by foraging for wood to use as fuel and by clearing forests to make way for small-scale farming.

While Africans' efforts to survive are indisputably justified, the toll on the continent's natural resources is steep: Forests in Africa are being cleared nearly three times faster than the global average, according to the Forest Philanthropy Action Network (FPAN). Ghana and Nigeria each have only around 5% of the forest cover that they had 75 years ago. Particularly severe deforestation is also taking place in Liberia, Kenya, Uganda, and areas of Cameroon, Sudan, and Ethiopia.

FPAN names small-scale agriculture as a principal contributing cause. Fuel needs are another cause, since communities comb their neighboring forests for wood chips and branches that they can feed to their wood-burning stoves. …