Progress too slow on saving tropical forests: report
PARIS — All but seven percent of the world’s tropical forests are “managed poorly or not at all” despite efforts to boost sustainability, according to a major report released Tuesday.
Forces driving forest destruction across four continents — including rising food and fuel prices, and growing demand for timber — threaten to overwhelm future conservation efforts, warned the 420-page study by the Japan-based International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO), an intergovernmental agency group that promotes sustainable use of forests.
“Less than 10 percent of all forests are sustainably managed, and we expect deforestation to continue,” said Steven Johnson, ITTO’s communications director.
“The economic rationale is just so compelling. Revenue streams coming from standing forests just can’t compete against conversion to agriculture or biofuel crops, pasture land for livestock, or palm oil plantation,” he said by phone.
Tropical forests play an essential role in Earth’s carbon cycle, absorbing about a quarter of CO2 emissions generated by human activity.
Deforestation, which releases stored carbon, accounts for 10 to 20 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions globally.
Forests are also a lifeline for nearly a billion people around the world living at or close to subsistence.
The report, “Status of Tropical Forest Management 2011,” covers 33 countries and about 90 percent of global trade in tropical timber, and presents itself as the most comprehensive assessment of its kind ever conducted.
So-called “natural permanent tropical forest” currently stand at 761 million hectares (1,880 million acres) worldwide, it estimates, with just over half “production forest,” and the rest “protection forest.”
The good news is that the area under sustainable management has grown by 50 percent in five years to 53 million hectares (134 million acres), equivalent to the surface of Thailand or Spain.
But these gains must be stacked against the millions of hectares (acres) of tropical forests cleared each year for crops, pastures or development, the report cautioned.