Exploring paths to forest conservation


Photo: CIFOR

Sustainable forest management, underpinned and incentivised by effectively policed sustainable, legal timber supply chains can help combat deforestation, said International Tropical Timber Organisation Executive Director Sheam Satkuru at COP28.

Meanwhile, it’s reported that deforestation in Brazil halved in 2023, falling to its lowest level since 2018. At the same time, research continues into what the best tools are for ensuring sustainable forest management and effective governance to maintain forest areas. One recent study shows that the granting of legal ‘titles’ to industrial logging concessions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has little effect, whereas another concludes that certification in South America is effective in the battle against deforestation.

At the High-level Dialogue of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF) at COP28, Ms Satkuru said sustainable timber harvesting provides forest owners with a financial incentive to maintain their forests. But it requires robust, verifiable information on the legality and sustainability of the wood products in the marketplace. “Such information is important because it enables consumers to support the efforts of timber suppliers who are managing their forests legally and sustainably,” she said, adding that timber suppliers also needed sufficient compensation for their commitment to sustainability. “Sustainable forestry costs money, and consumers need to be informed that rewarding legal and sustainable timber is essential for retaining forests, along with their rich biodiversity and all the other forest values.” Ms Satkuru said sustainable forestry and legal and sustainable timber supply chains must also be complemented by cutting subsidies for competing land uses. “If we disincentivize forestry by incentivizing competing land-use sectors we will be at the losing end,” she said. She also highlighted other financial mechanisms that should be employed, and steps taken to reinforce the foundations of sustainable forest management. These included carbon financing, payments for ecosystem services, and the development of sustainable business models for non-timber forest products, many of which have global markets.

According to a report by Reuters, Brazil’s authorities are attributing the sharp fall in deforestation in the country last year to a crackdown on illegal logging by environmental policing agency Ibama, following the election of President Lula da Silva. Satellite data from Brazilian space agency INPE showed 5,153 km2 of forest were cleared in 2023, a reduction of 49.9% on 2022. The Environment Ministry put this down to ‘decisive’ inspection efforts by Ibama, reporting that the number of ‘notices of infraction’ it issued against illegal logging rose 106% over the year. “This is the first step towards achieving the goal of zero deforestation by 2030,” it stated.

Among efforts in the DRC to combat forest loss has been a supposed stronger policing framework of forestry, including ‘titling’ of industrial logging concessions, established in 2002. The impact of this has been investigated by CIFOR, which looked at levels of forest loss inside and outside 55 industrial logging concessions granted titles in 2011 and 2014. The conclusion was that there was little difference. CIFOR’s analysis showed that forests near human settlements are at as much risk of deforestation outside of the concessions as within them. This suggests industrial loggers have so far failed to control encroachment of informal farmers, loggers, and miners into their grounds. “Concession titling without strict environmental safeguards has a low impact on deforestation and forest degradation,” says CIFOR.

But research by Pushpendra Rani and Erin Sills, respectively of the Universities of Illinois and North Carolina State, concludes that FSC certification can be effective in its objective to maintain forest.  They studied the impacts of certification in the Brazilian states of Pará and Rondônia. The conclusion was that the effects were ‘heterogenous’ across areas of differing biophysical, governance and market characteristics, but that ‘oversight of sustainable forest management, even when entirely voluntary, can reduce deforestation’. “Of course, timber harvest also affects the quality of the forest, but we contend that in the context of the [pre-President Lula] surge of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, the primary issue is whether forest remains standing,” state the researchers.