Drones capable of replanting a billion trees each year: this is the project known as BioCarbon Engineering on which Lauren Fletcher is working. This former NASA engineer has made a disturbing observation: 26 billion trees are cut down each year, but only 15 billion are planted to replace them. Her aim is to fight against deforestation using these flying machines.
Technological innovation continues to prove its worth in the fight against the loss of forests. Another example is found in satellites that can now accurately measure the progress of deforestation to within a meter. The plentiful information they produce, notably compiled by the NGO Global Forest Watch in gigantic databases, now makes it possible to follow the state deforestation all over the world.
10% to 15% of annual greenhouse gas emissions
But these tools would be powerless without a voluntarist policy from public and private sectors. This is a sizeable issue. Deforestation, caused by the extension of cultivated areas by agrobusiness and small producers alike, is threatening the planet’s biodiversity and represents 10% to 15% of the annual greenhouse gas emissions linked with human activity. How can we fight this phenomenon? « There are no international agreements on forests, as there are with climate and biodiversity, and no transnational regulations, » says Alain Karsenty, a specialist in public policies and researcher at CIRAD (the French agricultural research center for international cooperation and development). « Nor are there any international bodies entirely dedicated to forests, which remain under the sovereignty of States. »
Nonetheless, several international set ups for fighting deforestation have been created, like FLEGT (Forest Law for Enforcement, Governance and Trade), introduced in Europe in the early 2000s in order to combat the illegal exploitation of forests and related trades. The most recent project to date is REDD+ (standing for « reduction of emissions due to deforestation and the degradation of forests »), which has been under negotiation for the last ten years, and is one of the recently-signed Paris agreements. Its mechanism involves financial encouragement for developing countries to reduce their deforestation and also protect and restore their forest carbon stocks. But its implementation still has to be consolidated.
So where can other solutions to remedy deforestation come from? In part, at least, « from the business world, » says Bastien Sachet, director of the NGO The Forest Trust. Under pressure from civil society, businesses have started up ambitious environmental programs involving their suppliers.
Zero deforestation policies
« Rather than relying on certification, major food companies have introduced their own zero deforestation supply policies (as with the case of palm oil). By taking an interest in the traceability of their raw materials, they have obtained the involvement of traders in main raw materials, which has created powerful leverage, » says the NGO manager. « But a plantation’s sustainability also depends on the territory, and the private sector needs to get governments on board. Forest conservation needs an effort of co-construction between NGOs, businesses and governments. »
Danone is committed to eliminate deforestation from its supply chain by 2020 and came out top in deforestation rankings. Indeed, on 11 February 2015, the Global Canopy Programme’s ‘Forest 500’ launched a ranking system for governments, companies and investors that are winning the commitment race to eliminate deforestation from commodity supply chains.
Of necessity, the fight against deforestation needs to follow several parallel routes. « There is no miracle solution that works for every territory, » says Alain Karsenty. « It requires a combination of different instruments from the public and private sectors – regulations, sanctions, inspection systems, investments, and so on. » For example, a country like Brazil has reduced the deforestation in Amazonia by deciding to apply federal rules… that have in fact been around for a long time.
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