Rio+20 : Where we stand on forests!

June 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

Rio+20 tag
Rio+20 wrist tag

Arriving in Rio de Janeiro for the Rio+20, the biggest meeting to take place in 20 years to discuss the environmental, social and economic future of our planet, it is difficult to mistake that you have landed in the right place. Apart from the name of the city being the most obvious giveaway, the place is teeming with foreign delegates, world leaders and countless representatives from NGOs, corporations and concerned citizens from 176 different nations. Looking along the white sand beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema at any time day or night, business as usual is all around, scores of locals playing endless games of football, tourists taking in the sun and caipirinhas, but also the presence of Rio+20 is unmistakably everywhere you look. Extra soldiers line the streets with intimidatingly large guns to ensure the security for this summit. A huge metal scaffolding structure has been constructed over looking the sea displaying giant LED boards that flash Rio+20 messages as a constant reminder of what is happening and every 500 meters another enterprising local has sculpted a mini Rio+20 utopia out of the sand, complete with a tiny version of Christ the Redeemer (Rio’s iconic statue of Christ) to cash in on visitors taking photographs of their creative work.

Rio+20 sand sculpture
One of many Rio+20 sand sculpture along Copacabana beach

This United Nations conference wraps up today with the hope of providing new agreements on all aspects of sustainable development, from issues such as food and energy security, the human rights of local and indigenous peoples, resource depletion to oceans and water conservation. While representing Bloomtrigger our main focus was to find out where the world stands today on forests and to see what the picture is looking like for this vital global resource in the coming years and decades. As places go for discussing the issue of global deforestation there are few city more impacting than Rio, the beauty of this vibrant city is in every nook and side street, with nowhere more striking than with the contrast found when the towering forest covered mountains are confronted by the gradual invasion of the sprawling favelas (Brazilian slums). This mixture of uncontrolled population growth, ever increasing competition for land and the disparity between the rich and the poor can be seen to define both the great challenges facing the people of this city and equally the difficulties faced by the global community in managing our forests in the wider world.

Favela da Rocinha do Rio
Favela da Rocinha – a notorious slum in Rio

In many respects there is much to be positive about. Looking at the host country as an example, many Brazilians are keen to point out the successes of the past 20 years. In this BRIC country that has seen continued economic growth, with cities like Manaus boasting growth on level with China at around 9%, while also reporting a significant decrease in deforestation over the last 5 years. These reduced rates of deforestation are mainly due to the work of Marina Silva, the former Minister of Environment for Brazil; though it is not looking hopeful for these trends to continue with the new laws being pushed by the current government of Dilma Rousseff. There is a grave concern amongst Brazilians and the international community over the new changes to the Forest Code in Brazil, which will encourage deforestation, resulting in a huge step backwards. Speaking to Brazilians there is a great frustration that this is happening against the wishes of the people and just goes to show the power and influence of a handful of special interest groups, namely big agro-business and the latifundiários (Brazilian land barons who still own vast tracts of land throughout Brazil).

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon 1988-2011
Source: Mongabay, 2012

Renewed attention is being given to forestry carbon, with REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) being the top of the forestry agenda. This financial mechanism designed to provide a way to pay for the environmental services that forests provide is considered the best opportunity we have to protect forests around the world. After 7 years of stalling due to the political and practical challenges posed by REDD+, progresses are now being made on the ground. Pilot projects are proving that issues such as additionality, baselines and benefit sharing can be overcome. In recent years some projects have been certified by the Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS) and The Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standard (CCB) – (if you are not an expert on the forestry carbon jargon, basically forestry carbon projects need to be accredited by international standards like these for investors to have confidence that the carbon credits from these projects are of a high quality). Examples of these can be seen in the Amazon with the pioneering Juma project implemented by Fundação Amazonas Sustentável (FAS) and the Suruí project from Metareilá Association, which is also responsible for the first project to issue REDD+ credits under the VCS on the African continent in the Kenya’s Kasigau Corridor developed by Wildlife Works. The support for REDD+ was visible everywhere, quite literally in the case of a new campaign launched during Rio+20 called Code REDD by a group of leading institutions and corporations. Their objective is to create a momentum in the private sector to get behind REDD+ and start buying forestry carbon credits. They even took their message to the streets of Rio with a launch event in party district of Lapa, attracting large crowds with their video projections and DJs playing late into the night.

However despite all the progress being made by a relatively small number of individuals and organisations, it is sobering to hear the reports by scientists at the CIFOR 8th Roundtable event on forests. They remind us that approximately 12 million hectares of forest are being lost globally every year according to figures by the FAO. They are raising the alarm about the looming tipping points of the forests, the point of no return, when to much forest has been destroyed, triggering the collapse of the entire ecosystem. The main tipping points to watch are atmospheric temperature rises, where a global increase of 3.5% would have devastating consequence on the forest ecosystems and the other tipping point highlighted is when we loose more than 40% of the total forest area. We know that at present over 20% of the Amazon is gone, so further deforestation is a huge gamble with potentially fatal consequences.

The scientists are also indicating that the relationship between forests and water will play an increasingly important role for protecting forests in the coming years and that we should not only think about the relationship between forests and carbon. The global water cycle mapped by satellite imagery, clearly shows how water transpiration being generated by tropical forests is having a direct effect on rainfall and therefore agriculture in neighboring continents. Habitat lost in the Amazon directly effects the livelihoods of farmers and the food security around the world, not only the local inhabitants. Issues surrounding food security are typically subjects that people from all walks of life quickly get hot under the collar about and with water resources becoming ever scarcer, this will likely lead to increasing interest in forest protection on the individual and national level.

Satelite imagery showing global rainfall in relation to tropical forests.  Source : The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)

It is clear that the story of our forests is at the forefront in determining the economic, social and environmental prosperity of our future and everything is still to be won or lost in the coming decades. The urgency for funding for pioneering projects to conserve forests is great and the time to engage people to take action towards zero deforestation is now. So it goes without saying that we will continue to develop the bloomtrigger project to enable a simple, affordable and creative way for people to protect forests. In 2012 we are standing at a cross road and in the next 10 years we will undoubtedly witness great changes happen. Lets try to make the story for Rio+30 the world we want!

By James Sutton & Rosana Della Méa

To become a part of the bloomtrigger project and protect you own part of the Amazon rainforest in a creative way click here!

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