The Silent Agony of Mother Earth
Humankind is the biggest ever predator of natural resources
World’s forests are being degraded and lost at a staggering rate of 3.3 million hectares per year. While their steady destruction in many Asian countries continues apace, deforestation of the world’s largest tropical forest – the Amazon – increased 29 per cent from last year’s numbers. And some of the most precious ecosystems in Africa are threatened by oil, gas and mineral exploration and exploitation.
These are some of the facts that have been repeatedly heralded by the scientific community and the world’s most authoritative voices, who remind us that globally, 1.3 billion people are estimated to be “forest peoples”, who depend almost entirely on them for their livelihoods.
Patrick Durst, the senior Forestry officer at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, on May 15 added to this figure that 28 per cent of the total income of households living in or near forests come from forest and environmental income.
According to FAO’s Global Forest Resource Assessment in 2015, forests continue to be lost in many countries of the Asia-Pacific region, including Sri Lanka. Moreover, the degradation of forest quality further decreases the forests’ capacity to provide goods and services necessary for human survival. These losses will be more acutely felt as the demand for forest products steadily rises in the future.
While most countries in the Asia-Pacific region continue to struggle to respond to forest loss, some are taking positive action, says the assessment, adding that through reforestation programmes, China and Viet Nam are actually increasing the amount of forested land. And the government of Sri Lanka has announced plans to increase the country’s forest cover by as much as 35 per cent.
Meanwhile, “the world’s ancient forests are in crisis–a staggering 80 per cent have already been destroyed or degraded and much of what remains is under threat from illegal and destructive logging.”
Believe it or not, these estimates are anything but new or even recent—they were advanced around 9 years ago by a major independent global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace.
In fact, Greenpeace had already on 30 January 2008 reported that illegal logging was having a devastating impact on the world’s forests.
Its effects include deforestation, the loss of biodiversity and fuelling climate change, the group noted, adding that this creates “social conflict with indigenous and local populations and leads to violence, crime and human rights abuses.”
According to Greenpeace, it is estimated that some 1.6 billion people worldwide depend on forests for their livelihood and 60 million indigenous peoples depend on forests for their subsistence.
Amazon Deforestation Now
Barely six months ago, the very same global campaigning organisation reported that Amazon deforestation had increased 29 per cent from the numbers released for last year, according to data released by the Brazilian government on 31 November 2016.
“Brazil is losing control over the destruction of its forests because of poor policy decisions and may now have difficulty reaching its climate agreement targets, “ Greenpeace said on Dec. 1, 2016.
Data from the Deforestation Monitoring Program for the Legal Amazon indicated that 7989 km² of forest in the Amazon was destroyed between August 2015 and July 2016, the conservationist organisation reported.
“This is the second consecutive year deforestation in the world’s largest tropical forest has increased, a direct result of the government’s lack of ambition in dealing with the challenge of curbing forest loss. It is the first time in 12 years there have been increases in deforestation two years in a row.”
Cristiane Mazzetti, Greenpeace Amazon Campaigner, warned that the increase in deforestation rates can be linked to signals from Brazil’s government that it will tolerate the destruction of the Amazon.
“In recent years, public environmental protection policies in Brazil have weakened. For example, very few protected areas and Indigenous Lands have been created, and a new Forest Code was approved in 2012 that gives amnesty to those who committed illegal deforestation.”
According to Greenpeace, deforestation is responsible for approximately 40 per cent of Brazil’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
“With forest loss on the rise again, the country could find it difficult to fulfil its commitments under the Paris Agreement, recently signed and ratified by Brazil… It is estimated that the deforestation of 7989km² has released the equivalent of 586 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere—the same amount as eight years of emissions from all of the cars in Brazil.”
The illegal harvesting of timber, expansion of agribusiness and the conversion of forests into pasture are a few of the major drivers of deforestation, Mazzetti explained, adding that building large infrastructure projects, like hydroelectric plants, also stimulates land grabbing and speculation, leading to even more deforestation.
For his part, Kofi Annan, former UN secretary general and current chair of the Africa Progress Panel (APP), recently warned against the destruction of forests, which provide clean air and water, and local communities with food, shelter and livelihoods.
“Each day more forests are cleared, driven by multiple activities, from agriculture to infrastructure development, to the growing demand for wood and forest products, often made worse by illegal logging,” he said.
In his keynote address at the ‘Forests for the Future – New Forests for Africa’ conference in Accra, Ghana on 16 March, Kofi Annan said, “some of the world’s most precious ecosystems, such as the Virunga National Park in the Congo Basin, are threatened by oil, gas and mineral exploration and exploitation”.
Forests offer incredible impetus to the fight against climate change. “Forest restoration and reforestation in Africa can contribute to the global effort to tackle climate change and accelerate progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Annan, adding that “forest restoration of 350 million hectares could generate 170 billion dollars per year in net benefits from watershed protection, improved crop yields and forest products”.
In its 2014 report, Grain, Fish, Money: Financing Africa’s Green and Blue Revolutions , the Africa Progress Panel argued that effective protection, management and mobilisation of Africa’s vast forest resources are needed to support transformative growth.
The Panel estimated that Africa lost 12.4 billion Euros (17 billion dollars) to illegal exports of timber in 2011. Killing the Earth’s Lungs… for Fuel
In fact, humankind is the biggest ever predator of natural resources.
Now learn that every 60 seconds humans cut down 15 hectares of trees primarily for food or energy production. And that as much as 45,000 hectares of rainforest are cleared for every million kilos of beef exported from South America.
Should these figures not be enough, Monique Barbut, the executive-secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), also drew world’s attention to the fact that “when we take away the forest it is not just the trees that go… The entire ecosystem begins to fall apart… with dire consequences for us all…”
Barbut, who provided these and other figures on the occasion of this year’s International Day of Forests –marked under the theme “Forestry and Energy”— also reminded that deforestation and forest degradation are responsible for over 17 per cent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions.
UNCCD’s chief is far from the only expert to sound the alarm–the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that up to seven per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans come from the production and use of fuel-wood and charcoal.
This happens largely due to unsustainable forest management and inefficient charcoal manufacture and fuel-wood combustion, according to The Charcoal Transition report published on the Day (March 21). Right – but the other relevant fact is that for more than two billion people worldwide, wood fuel means a cooked meal, boiled water for safe drinking, and a warm dwelling, as this specialised body’s director-general José Graziano da Silva timely recalled
Poor People in Rural Areas
This is especially important for poor people in rural areas of developing countries, where wood is often the only energy source available.
Regions with the greatest incidence of poverty, most notably in Sub-Saharan Africa and low income households in Asia, are also the most dependent on fuel-wood: “Nearly 90 per cent of all fuel wood and charcoal use takes place in developing countries, where forests are often the only energy source available to the rural poor,” said Manoel Sobral Filho, Director of the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat.
However, much of the current production of wood fuel is “unsustainable,” contributing significantly to the degradation of forests and soils and the emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, said Graziano da Silva. “In many regions the conversion to charcoal is often done using rudimentary and polluting methods.”
He urged countries to reverse these negative trends in wood energy production and use. “We need, for instance, to adopt improved technologies for energy conversion.” Currently the organisation he leads while is participating in several programmes to deliver fuel-efficient stoves, especially for poor people in Latin America and Africa.
In conflict and famine-struck South Sudan, the organisation and partners have already distributed more than 30,000 improved stoves. For his part, Fiji’s president, Jioji Konousi Konrote, stressed, “We need to turn our attention to scaling up the transfer of renewable energy technologies, particularly for forest biomass, in order to ensure that developing countries are making use of these technologies and keep pace with growing energy demands in a sustainable manner.”
The government of Fiji is poised to assume the presidency of the next Conference of Parties of the UN Climate Agreement scheduled to take place in in Bonn, Germany, in November.
1 in 3 People Wood-Fuel Dependent
The challenge is huge knowing that more than 2.4 billion people –about one-third of the world’s population– still rely on the traditional use of wood-fuel for cooking, and many small enterprises use fuel-wood and charcoal as the main energy carriers for various purposes such as baking, tea processing and brickmaking.
Of all the wood used as fuel worldwide, about 17 per cent is converted to charcoal, according to The Charcoal Transition report. The point is when charcoal is produced using inefficient technologies and unsustainable resources, the emission of greenhouse gases can be as high as 9 kg carbon dioxide equivalent per 1 kg charcoal produced.
The report highlights that in the absence of realistic and renewable alternatives to charcoal in the near future, in particular, in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and South America, greening the charcoal value chain and applying sustainable forest management practices are essential for mitigating climate change while maintaining the access of households to renewable energy.
Changing the way wood is sourced and charcoal is made offers a high potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it says, adding that a shift from traditional ovens or stoves to highly efficient modern kilns could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent. At the end-use level, a transition from traditional stoves to improved state-of-the-art stoves could reduce emissions by around 60 per cent.
“Wood based energy accounts for 27 per cent of the total primary energy supply in Africa, 13 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean and 5 per cent in Asia and Oceania,” according to FAO estimates.
Forests continue to be under threat from unsustainable use, environmental degradation, rapid urbanisation, population growth, and the impacts of climate change. Between 2010 and 2015, global forest area saw a net decrease of 3.3 million hectares per year.