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The Apex of Forest Conservation

When your sustainable forestry work is already winning over the hearts and minds of communities and timber companies throughout Asia and the Pacific, it’s nice to have the ear of China’s president as well.

The first-ever Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Meeting for Ministers Responsible for Forestry — which convened Chinese president Hu Jintao and forestry policymakers in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People in September 2011 — was big, both for the Conservancy and for global efforts to make forestry healthier and greener. Bill Ginn, the Conservancy’s chief conservation officer, was given the rare honor of addressing the meeting as an NGO representative, and he outlined how our partnerships and projects are creating a new future for an entire region’s forests.

One ohe world’s last, best opportunities to stave off catastrophic climate change — namely, the tropical forests of Asia — took the spotlight at the meeting. But Ginn stressed that, through concerted action, the situation needn’t look so dire.

“There are options that might enable APEC economies to achieve an even greater goal,” he said, “not only to expand forest cover but also to improve forest ecosystem quality, help forests to mitigate and adapt to climate change and ensure that forests can continue to help meet the changing socio-economic development needsof the Asia Pacific economic region.”

Why APEC Matters

APEC unites a coalition of 21 Pacific economies — including the U.S., Canada and Mexico — behind the goal of shared economic progress. Together, those 21 economies include more than half of the globe’s 4 billion hectares of forest and a significant portion of the world’s timber products, and APEC is committed to making the processes that create and export those products more sustainable.

In 2007, an APEC meeting in Australia produced the Sydney Declaration, an aspirational environmental agreement. One of its goals: increasing forest cover, APEC-wide, by 200,000 square kilometers by 2020.

It was an important gesture, because rampant, unplanned deforestation has traditionally been very profitable. When business as usual is the wholesale destruction of the world’s forests — not to mention their ability to regulate our climate — something has to change.

Speaking Out

This was a point of emphasis in Ginn’s speech. “Forests will continue to be degraded and converted to other uses, undermining social, economic, environmental and climate change objectives, unless the financial and political incentives which drive land management decisions are radically changed,” he said.

Thankfully, those changes are starting to happen: incentives for greener forest management are becoming more powerful. As Ginn pointed out, new timber laws in countries like Indonesia and the U.S. are putting pressure on the timber trade to transparently source legal lumber. Plus, new forest carbon initiatives — like REDD+ — that recognize the role of forests in stabilizing climate change are driving money toward the preservation of forests.

He encouraged leaders not only to strengthen these incentives in their countries but to foster intelligent planning and forest land management that increases and enhances healthy forest cover not just through moneymaking plantations but with sustainably managed natural production forests that provide economic and ecological benefits locally and globally. By changing conditions at the canopy, Ginn said, APEC governments can create new hope on the ground for the region’s forests.

Riding the Raft

Of course, new policies need to link up with actions on the forest floor in order to be effective. The Conservancy-led, USAID-funded Responsible Asia Forestry and Trade (RAFT) program exists to help make those crucial connections, translating opportunities and intentions into forestry that is more sustainable —  both economically and ecologically — across Asia and the Pacific. This has led to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification of nearly 3.2 million acres of tropical forest with 5 million more on the way.

RAFT is sending this message loud and clear to forestry stakeholders from all over the region through a series of events, like Asia Pacific Forestry Week 2011, also in Beijing. The UN-organized convention brings together more than 1000 participants from government, business and conservation and development organizations  to tackle the biggest issues facing the forests of Asia and the Pacific and to celebrate 2011, the International Year of Forests. “Over five years, RAFT partners have achieved and learned so much,” says Asia Pacific Forest Program Director and RAFT Head Jack Hurd. “Events like Asia Pacific Forestry Week are important opportunities to share our lessons and tools, in order to replicate and expand our achievements over an even larger area.”

Momentum is building, as evidenced by Ginn’s speech and the powerful audience that’s increasingly interested in sustainable forest management. Through events like APEC’s recent forestry meeting and Asia Pacific Forestry Week 2011, the region is proving that forest conservation is a fast-growing industry. It’s time for all of us to buy in.

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