Forests are the Flags of Nature

by Terence Jeyaretnam

They say forests are the flags of nature - when the flag falls, you know that it is the end of the race.  2011 marks the International Year of Forests, as a consequence of a resolution adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, re-affirming amongst other commitments, to the Non-legally Binding Authoritative Statement of Principles for a Global Consensus on the Management, Conservation and Sustainable Development of All Types of Forests.

Forests have been in continual decline since the dawn of human civilization, but there is still some 31% of the world’s total land area that has forest cover, and the livelihoods of over $1.6 billion people depend on forests (including 300 million people living in forests), with trade production from forests estimated to be over USD$327 billion in 2004.  Over 80% of our planet’s terrestrial biodiversity rests in forests.

Australia has about 4 per cent of the world’s forests on 5 per cent of the world’s land area, and has one of the best managed forestry sectors in the world.  It has 149 million hectares of forest.  Of this, 147 million hectares is native forest, dominated by eucalypt (79%) and acacia (7%) forest types, and 1.82 million hectares is plantations.  Australia’s forestry and wood manufacturing sector employs nearly 76,000 people, many in regional areas, and generates around $7 billion worth of income annually.

More recently, with a global focus on climate change, protecting forests for the carbon they sequester and hold has elevated the issue of forest conservation further.  The recent UN climate talks in Cancun had a significant focus on forest conservation, with, for example Brazil, committing to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 36 to 39 percent from business as usual by 2020, primarily from eliminating deforestation in the Amazon – work has already proved this is achievable with such forest loss cut by three quarters since 2004 in Brazil.  The other avenue they say will be no-till agriculture, which keeps more carbon in the soil, with over 150,000 square kilometers to be rehabilitated over the next decade.

The Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) proposed as part of the emissions trading scheme in Australia would also allow for such initiatives to be rewarded locally, and forests to be valued more realistically for what they are worth to society and the planet.  As an old Greek proverb says, a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in, and perhaps our society will plant trees, the positive impact on the planet from this they shall never see.  If you are interested in participating in events in Australia such as a visit by globally renowned Dr. Jane Goodall to celebrate the International Year of Forests in Australia, visit internationalyearofforests.com.au.

Terence Jeyaretnam is a Director of Net Balance (terence@netbalance.com),
one of the world’s leading sustainability advisory firms.
Terence is based in Melbourne.