03/21/2013 12:45 pm ET Updated May 21, 2013

5 Key Changes That Will Secure the Future of Our Forests


Deforestation destroys ecosystems and increases carbon emissions. The cause of deforestation is twofold: over-consumption and a failure of governance.

The way to protect forests is a holistic approach. It starts with the simple premise that we must use limited (and slow to regenerate) resources in a way that respects their limits. Putting this premise into action requires changes in consumption patterns, more efficient use of resources and improvements in governance. Five key changes would help protect forests for all:

Forests should be valued in a way that maintains their ecological integrity.

Forests are ecosystems with their own inherent value and this should be reflected in the laws governing extractive industries such as forestry, mining, agriculture and water use. The benefits from resilient forest ecosystems will accrue to current and future generations. But the direct beneficiaries should be the 1.4 billion people in forest-dependent communities whose rights need to be better reflected in law. The valuation of ecosystem functions should draw on forest peoples' knowledge and ecologically sound science, be incorporated into economic policy, and then translated into law so that it can guide the actions of business, governments and communities.

Governments, local communities and indigenous people need to work together to protect forests.

People living in and around major forests need to be empowered to shape the laws and policies that protect forests and forest resources. Laws to control deforestation will only work if all stakeholders cooperate to achieve change. Without such joint action, benefits will continue to accrue in the wrong hands and the economic, social and environmental value of forests will continue to be eroded.

Bioenergy must not contribute to deforestation and ecosystem degradation.

Burning trees and plants for bioenergy is often considered better for the environment than burning fossil fuels. But bioenergy emissions can match those from fossil fuels, and it is not easy to guarantee that plant stocks used to produce bioenergy will be replaced and regrown. Policies should promote bioenergy only where it delivers real emission reductions compared to fossil fuels and it does not cause deforestation or damage to ecosystems.

The ban on illegal timber in EU markets needs to be robustly enforced.

The EU Timber Regulation took effect on March 3, 2013. If properly enforced, the new law should stop illegally harvested timber being sold in the EU. For effective enforcement, national authorities must be adequately resourced and in communication with the European Commission, their national counterparts across the EU and other organizations (including civil society) charged with making the law work effectively and transparently around the world.

Government buyers should shun products causing deforestation and use their buying power to make supply chains more sustainable.

We need to ensure our growing demand for timber and products known to cause deforestation, such as palm oil, soy and beef, does not wreak havoc on global forests. The public sector is in a powerful position to set an example by using its buying power to generate demand for sustainable products. In turn this should stimulate suppliers to pay greater attention to the beginning of their supply chains. We need greater awareness of how to use the power of public purchasing to achieve environmental benefits. And we need then to apply the lessons we learn about one commodity to others, so that we develop broad portfolios of sustainable products to meet both government and consumer needs.