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Forests must be on the Rio+20 agenda

Food comes from forests: surely that’s worth talking about? Image: Cifor

The opinion piece below is extracted from a lengthier piece first published in The Conversation.

* According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, in some parts of Africa woodfuels account for almost 90 per cent of primary energy consumption.

* Scientists believe that deforestation across the Horn of Africa, particularly for firewood harvest, has been a major contributor to the pervasive drought in the region.

* Leaving forests out of the equation will only ensure that Rio+20’s problems do not get fully solved.

Ignoring forests won’t bring Rio+20’s ‘future we want’, by Louis Verchot1

Published on Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

In June 2012 around 40,000 participants are expected to attend one of the most important environmental gatherings in a generation – Rio+20. A draft agenda has been released, bearing the slogan “The Future We Want”. It identifies seven critical issues for new sustainable development goals that will be released in Rio: jobs, energy, cities, food, water, oceans and disasters.

But with forests only mentioned briefly in the text and in isolation to other key issues, will Rio+20 really help develop a future we want?

Forests make up 31 per cent of the world’s entire land mass. The resources they provide are essential to the daily livelihood of almost 1.6 billion people – more than a quarter of the world’s population.

They are key to many ecosystem services, including mitigating and adapting to climate change, influencing weather patterns, capturing and storing carbon, providing food and fuelwood for many poor and vulnerable communities, supporting biodiversity and generating employment.

The absence of forests from this year’s agenda is remarkable. The first Rio meeting put a very big emphasis on forests and subsequently set the stage for all major international environmental agreements, such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN Convention on Biodiversity.

While it is important that the Rio+20 meeting explore new ground and address the emerging problems of the 21st century, policymakers must recognise that forests are essential to all of the major challenges that are on the table for this meeting. For example, the program for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) has played a big role in international negotiations by helping to integrate forests into the solution to climate change. Through this mechanism, we now have serious prospects for progress that we have not had during the past two decades.

Research by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and others has shown that forests have instrumental but under-appreciated roles to play in all seven key areas to be discussed at Rio+20.

Read the rest of the article.

1  Louis Verchot is Leader of the Climate Change Mitigation Research at Centre for International Forestry Research

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