Invest more in forests, new Rio+20 report urges countriesBy RAY NALUYAGA in Nairobi | Tuesday, June 19 2012 at 17:00
The United Nations is calling for continued --but better--use of wood as a source of energy in a new report whose findings will be closely interrogated by environmental campaigners.
The Food and Agriculture Organization, a UN agency, says that with some 350 million of the world's poorest people depending on forests for their daily subsistence and long-term survival, clamping down outright on the harvesting of tree resources is likely to be a tough call for many governments.
But with deforestation a key concern for many countries, the State of the World’s Forests 2012 (SOFO 2012) report says that the key lies in pushing for the "sustainable" use of forestry resources.
The report will be presented at the Rio+20 summit that opens June 20 in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, where leaders from up to 130 countries are expected to sign a new agreement to put the world economy on a stronger growth path with an emphasis on a green economy, a challenge given rapidly growing populations.
According to the report, the world's forests have a major role to play in the transition to a greener economy.
"Despite sometimes having a poor reputation due to concerns over deforestation, wood products – if sourced from well-run forestry operations – can store carbon and are easily recycled," says the report.
Deriving energy from wood can offer a climate-neutral and socially equitable solution, says FAO, provided it is harvested from well managed forests, using appropriate methods, and undertaken together with reforestation and proper forest management.
However, FAO warns that governments have to ensure forests are sustainably managed in order for this to be achieved.
"Forests and trees on farms are a direct source of food, energy, and cash income for more than a billion of the world's poorest people,” said FAO’s Assistant Director-General for Forestry, Eduardo Rojas-Briales.
"Burning wood may be the oldest method by which humans acquire energy, but it is anything but obsolete,” said Mr Rojas-Briales.
He added that forests also trap carbon and mitigate climate change, maintain water and soil health, and prevent desertification.
The report notes that investments in wood-based enterprises can generate jobs, create assets and help revitalise the lives of millions of people in rural areas including the majority of Africans who depend on forests every day for their survival.
According to the report's predecessor, SOFO 2011, the estimated forest area in Africa was close to 675 million hectares, accounting for about 17 per cent of global forest area and 23 per cent of the total land area in the region.
At sub-regional level, Central Africa accounted for 37 per cent of the total forest area, southern Africa for 29 per cent, North Africa for 12 per cent, and East and West Africa for 11 per cent each.
There was a reduction in the rate of net forest loss in the continent , from 4.0 million hectares per year between 1990 and 2000 to 3.4 million hectares during the period 2000–2010.
A major difference was seen in parts of North Africa, where the net loss dropped from 590, 000 hectares per year to just 41,000.
The study say the reduction was mostly a result of Sudan’s recent efforts to gather annual data on actual changes taking place, which resulted in much lower figures for 2000–2010 than those estimated for 1990–2000 based on fairly old data.
The research highlights how forest-based industries around the world are innovating competitive new products and processes to substitute non-renewable materials, and by doing so are opening pathways towards low-carbon bio-economies.
Mr Rojas-Briales warned that as the search for renewable energy sources intensifies, the world must not overlook the considerable opportunities for forest biomass-based energy to emerge as a cleaner and greener alternative.
In addition, by both reducing deforestation and restoring lost forests on a large scale, significant amounts of carbon can be removed from the atmosphere, reducing the severity and impacts of climate change.
SOFO 2012 also notes that putting forests at the heart of a new, green economy will require, policies and programmes that give entrepreneurs incentives to pursue the sustainable utilization of forest resources.
According to the study, these include the removal of perverse incentives that result in deforestation, degradation and conversion of forests to other uses, as well as those promoting the use of non renewable raw materials like steel.
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