Are you concerned that it’s too late to save the world’s forests given the current rates of deforestation?
No. We can save most of what is left and restore a lot of what has gone. Policies and actions being implemented in a number of countries demonstrate how it is possible to halt and reverse historic trends. Look at what has happened in Brazil and Guyana, and how even in Indonesia with its complex set of circumstances you can see a change of approach and real ambition in politics and among companies to do things differently.
This is not to say we have all the solutions yet, or that they are being deployed everywhere, but compared with 20 years ago there is very different narrative in play. As the world draws confidence as to the fact that solutions actually do exist then I think we’re poised for a period of scaling up.
What are your favourite radical solutions? Is radical change the only answer now?
There are a number of things that are working. Some are linked with national laws while others are coming through new ways of managing supply chains. I don’t believe that these need to be particularly radical, they just need to be practical and based on the realisation that the world has every good reason to save the forests so as to gain a range of economic and social benefits, not just environmental ones.
If there is a radical dimension to all of this it comes down to the new context for forest conservation, which is really about seeing it as a means of advancing security and wellbeing. Another factor that will increasingly drive the implementation of agreed solutions is the availability of more real time data that reveals, for example, illegal incursions enabling rapid enforcement.
How do the deforestation threats differ in SE Asia, central Africa and S America? Is it possible to develop a universal approach?
There is no single solution, but there are some common themes. One relates to the importance of seeing the full value of intact forest, rather than simply the resources that can be taken from or beneath them, in the form of crops, timber and minerals. Another is linked with the need for rural development policies to be at the heart of solutions – not simply drawing lines on maps to denote areas that are “protected”.
One more common agenda will be linked to how it will be possible to increase food output while stabilising or increasing forested areas. A group of major companies has confirmed they have the means to do this, but it will require a joined up approach, for example integrating strategies to increase the productivity of smallholders, improve access to market and decrease waste post-harvest through better storage facilities.
Another effective route that can be scaled up is linked with the land rights of indigenous and other forest dwelling people. It’s not a panacea, nothing is, but in many cases it makes a positive difference, as has been graphically demonstrated in Brazil.
One more approach that crosses borders and that lends itself to different situations is through ‘payment for performance’ arrangements, as has been taken forward by Norway and Guyana whereby the richer country pledges to pay the developing one in relation to how effective they are in departing from historic rates of forest loss.
What do you think are the most pressing challenges around the high carbon stock approach?
The carbon dimensions of deforestation have been really important in placing forest conservation higher on the international agenda, but like everything else there are important qualifications as to how best to reflect that particular value into actions on the ground.