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The Root of the Matter
Thoughts from FSC’s Director General

Is your morning coffee hurting the forest?

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The risks of losing forests are huge for the planet, but did you know that illegal logging is only part of the problem? There are legal practices, along with modern agricultural methods, that also need to be addressed. FSC Director General, Kim Carstensen gives a new angle on global deforestation…

The commitments from the COP21 summit were not perfect, but I was very happy to see the strong agreement that forests are critical to mitigating climate change.

It should be common knowledge that the more forests we lose, the worse it is for the planet. According to the latest research, deforestation is responsible for around 8 per cent of global emissions, and if you add the effect of forest being degraded from their natural state, the global effects are devastating.

But what may be less well known is that deforestation is not just about illegal activity in tropical countries. Your daily habits could actually be adding to the problem.

The problem of ‘Legal Deforestation’

To understand the realities of deforestation, it’s important to understand exactly what the term means. Too often I just hear deforestation described as cutting down trees. You cut a tree, and the forest is gone. This can very well be the case, and we see many examples of that around the world, but there are many ways of cutting trees without destroying the forest.

The real problem does not come from cutting the trees, it comes from not making sure the forest is responsibly managed both before and after the cutting. FSC’s focus is on making sure that FSC certified forests stay as well-managed forests. In this way they do not contribute to emissions from deforestation.

But too often, trees are cleared and not replaced with new trees, either to become degraded land, possibly handed over for cattle rearing, or to be replaced with fast-growing crops like coffee or soy. It is when trees are cut, and the forest is not replaced, that the real impact of deforestation is felt.

You might think that deforestation must be illegal, but in many cases, these activities are perfectly legal. We see these examples of ‘legal deforestation’ in many countries around the world. Unfortunately, it is a big trend globally, no doubt due to the increased demand for products like palm oil, beef and coffee. In Brazil, for example, legal deforestation has risen by 16 per cent since 2014.

Left uncontrolled, this will be a devastating blow to the world’s carbon emissions objectives. This is why it is important to hold the world’s countries to the commitments made in Paris; reducing emissions through deforestation and forest degradation is vitally important.

We all know that keeping forests (or restoring them) by planting trees or by allowing them to re-grow naturally is a very efficient way to store carbon. By continuing to destroy forests trees, we release more harmful gas into our atmosphere.

This doesn’t mean Forests and Farmlands can’t coexist

Of course, the world still needs agriculture, and a growing world population will need more food. Some of this farming will need to take place in areas that could also hold forests. Fortunately, it is completely possible to increase the available area for both forests and agriculture. In the Tropics, this requires a mix of forest restoration and plantation establishment on areas of degraded lands. We just need to agree on the approach.

For example, a new agreement by the Brazilian Coalition on Climate, Forests and Agriculture has pledged to restore 12 million hectares of forest by 2030, which will be used for both protection of native trees and also sustainable farming. These kinds of ventures help create eco-friendly forestry and agriculture systems that will be of benefit to the entire world.

We hope to see this model become more common around the world in the coming years, because we need to find and make useful the lands we have already destroyed - rather than destroying even more. It depends on greater awareness of good forest management, and a conscious choice by consumers to choose products bearing the FSC label, proving they have come from sustainably run forests.

If we are able to achieve this, you’ll soon be able to enjoy your cup of coffee without worrying if it has cost the earth to make.


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About Kim

Kim Carstensen
Kim Carstensen

Kim is the Director General of the Forest Stewardship Council, a position he has held since October 2012. He was selected to succeed Andre de Freitas with the unanimous support of the FSC Board of Directors, who recognised that Kim’s proven track record as a global leader within the environment and development sectors makes him extremely well-suited to consolidate FSC’s position as a global leader in responsible forest certification.

Copyright: Kim’s image (black/white) with thanks to Morten Holtum.

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