March 21 is International Day of Forests – The theme of the 2017 International Day of Forests celebration is “Forests and Energy” to increase awareness of forest-energy interconnections and strengthen engagement between forest and energy practitioners and policymakers. Individuals, groups, governments and businesses are encouraged to organize and partake in awareness raising and activities regarding the importance of preserving and protecting forests such as tree planting efforts.

Teenager Is on Track to Plant a Trillion TreesNational Geographic’s Laura Parker reports on a teenager and his environmental group.  Starting his project as a nine-year-old, Felix Finkbeiner aims to restore the world’s forests. Finkbeiner is 19—and Plant-for-the-Planet, the environmental group he founded, together with the UN’s Billion Tree campaign, has planted more than 14 billion trees in more than 130 nations. The group has also pushed the planting goal upward to one trillion trees—150 for every person on the Earth.

The organization also prompted the first scientific, full-scale global tree count, which is now aiding NASA in an ongoing study of forests’ abilities to store carbon dioxide and their potential to better protect the Earth. In many ways, Finkbeiner has done more than any other activist to recruit youth to the climate change movement. Plant-for-the-Planet now has an army of 55,000 “climate justice ambassadors,” who have trained in one-day workshops to become climate activists in their home communities. Most of them are between the ages nine and 12.

The Earth Has Lungs. Watch Them Breathe – By Robert Krulwich – What a difference a leaf makes! Well, not one leaf. We have 3.1 trillion trees on our planet—that’s 422 trees per person. If we count all the leaves on all those trees and take a look at what they do collectively to the air around us, the effect—and I do not exaggerate—is stunning. I’ve got a video from NASA. When you see it, I think your jaw is going to drop—just a little. It tracks the flow of carbon dioxide across the planet over 12 months, starting in January. Most of the action takes place in the Northern Hemisphere because that’s where most of the land is, and so that’s where most of the trees are. The biggest temperate forests are in Canada, Siberia, and Scandinavia.

That’s what the NASA video shows us: We can see the Green Machine turning on, then, a few months later, turning off. When it’s on, when the leaves are out, those ugly, poisonous-looking swirls of orange and red vanish from the sky. The machine works. And this happens every year. It’s as though the Earth itself has lungs.  But for all of its lung power, CO2 concentrations keep building in our atmosphere. We’re apparently pouring so much CO2 into the sky that the trees can’t keep up. Twelve thousand years ago, the Yale study says, there were twice as many trees on Earth. Apparently, we need their help. We need more trees. We really do.

The Nearest Forest is Farther Away Than You Thought – By Kastalia Medrano – New analysis of American deforestation offers a surprising stat: The average distance to the nearest forest increased by nearly 14 percent in the last decade. To put it another way, the total forest cover lost is comparable in size to the state of Maine.  The forest cover is also vanishing at a rate more than a full order of magnitude greater than we previously thought. A pair of researchers made the discovery by analyzing forest attrition — the complete removal of forest patches, including small ones — across the continental United States.

Two Redwood Trees

Redwood Trees Providing Canopy

The western part of the country especially was shown to have vastly accelerated rates of attrition.  A study detailing the research was published recently in the journal PLOS ONE. The focus for this study was on four primary drivers: commercial logging, agriculture, urbanization pressure, and forest fires.

More Companies Reporting Progress toward Deforestation-free Supply Chains Recent years have witnessed a groundswell of private sector commitments to reducing deforestation linked to the agricultural commodities that underpin vast corporate supply chains. A growing number of companies have been sharing their progress toward those pledges, according to the latest annual report from Forest Trends’ Supply Change initiative. The report, Supply Change: Tracking Corporate Commitments to Deforestation-free Supply Chains, 2017, looks at 447 companies that have made 760 commitments to curb forest destruction in supply chains linked to the “big four” agricultural commodities: palm, soy, timber & pulp, and cattle.

“Corporate commitments to deforestation-free supply chains continue to gain momentum as stakeholders demand more sustainable businesses and products. As companies move to address these demands – and the ever-growing threats to their supply chains, including climate change – we’re learning that meeting these goals is easier said than done,” said Stephen Donofrio, Senior Advisor for Supply Change. “It requires a reformulation of an entire complex system – from suppliers to retailers, among many other non-corporate actors.” The report, which examines 718 companies that Supply Change has identified as “exposed” to the big four commodities, include:  Commitments on palm and timber & pulp continue to lead the way, thanks in large part to more well-established certification programs and scrutiny around palm oil-driven deforestation. Commitment rates remain considerably lower for soy and cattle, which is troubling given their outsized contribution to tropical forest loss.

HSBC overhauls deforestation policy after Greenpeace investigation – HSBC has launched a new zero-deforestation policy after a Greenpeace investigation found a link between the banking corporation and organizations destroying Indonesia’s forests and peatland.  The new policy requires its customers to commit to protecting natural forest and peat by 30 June 2017 by publishing their own forest protection policies. It also says the bank will no longer provide funding to companies involved in any kind of deforestation or peatland clearance, breaking its links with destructive palm oil corporations. More than 200,000 people around the world signed a petition to put pressure on HSBC thanks to a Greenpeace campaign that also encouraged people to send emails directly to the bank’s CEO and protest outside high street branches.

Prince of Wales brokers pact to end cocoa deforestation – By Terry Slavin. The world’s biggest buyers, producers and retailers in the cocoa supply chain met in London recently to sign a statement of collective intent to end deforestation in the global cocoa supply chain. The agreement, the first of its kind covering the global cocoa supply chain, was brokered by the Prince of Wales’s International Sustainability Unit and signed by 12 of the biggest companies in the supply chain, including Cargill, Olam, Ferrero, The Hershey Company; Mars, Mondelēz International and Nestlé. The 12 companies hope to unveil a joint framework at COP 23 in Bonn in November. Crucially, ministers and senior government representatives of the two leading cocoa producing countries, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, as well as France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and the UK attended.

The Prince of Wales told participants: “It is clear that the private sector has a critically important part to play in saving our remaining forests, particularly through tackling the deforestation that has too often, alas, been associated with global commodity supply chains. The commitments made in this regard over recent years by a number of the world’s major companies, including some of those represented in this room, are hugely encouraging. But we all know that delivery on such commitments can be challenging, to put it mildly, and that the list of commodities covered remains far from complete.

And until now, one of the important omissions from that list was cocoa, which is why today’s announcement is so very heartening.” The statement commits the companies to work with public, private, and civil society partners to develop a common vision and joint framework to end deforestation and forest degradation in the cocoa sector by 2018. Among other commitments, the companies will work with producer country governments to “professionalize and economically empower farmers and their families, and deepen support for inclusive and participatory development of cocoa-growing communities, with a strong focus on gender empowerment.”

Exclusive Look Into How Rare Elephants’ Forests Are Disappearing – By Laurel Neme – A high-stakes game playing out in a remote biodiversity hot spot pits the palm oil industry against the ecological integrity of the last place on Earth where critically endangered Sumatran elephants, tigers, rhinos, and orangutans live side by side. At issue is destruction of Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem—a UNESCO World Heritage site at the northern end of Sumatra—principally by forest clearing for oil palm plantations. Roughly the size of Massachusetts, the Leuser’s 10,000 square miles straddle two provinces, with 85 percent in Aceh and the rest in North Sumatra.

Sumatran Elephant

This little one gets a nudge as they cross a river in the Leuser Ecosystem.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL HILTON FOR RAN

The region encompasses Sumatra’s largest intact rain forest and a mix of habitats, from high alpine meadows to peat swamps. Palm oil—the basis of products such as cosmetics and shampoos, processed foods and biodiesel—is versatile and has a long shelf life.  But oil palm plantations gobble up forest—and not always legally. A new report by the NGO Rainforest Action Network details the illegal razing of lowland forest, critical habitat for 22 Sumatran elephants, by oil palm grower PT Agra Bumi Niaga (PT ABN). The clearing likely also affects tigers and orangutans that depend on this forest. The Rainforest Action Network is a San Francisco-based NGO with a 30-year history of campaigns targeting major corporate brands implicated in forest destruction, human rights abuses, and climate change pollution.

Successful Forest Protection in DRC Hinges on Community Participation – By John C. Cannon The tens of millions of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo who depend on the forest must be considered to keep the world’s second largest rainforest intact.  The Democratic Republic of Congo’s extensive forests seem like a bright spot in an otherwise-troubled country. With forests covering an area larger than Colombia, DRC has managed to sidestep the surge in losses that forest-rich countries in South America, Southeast Asia and elsewhere in Africa have suffered. It has become an important country partner in the UN’s REDD+ program. Short for “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries,” REDD+ promises DRC hundreds of millions of dollars for environmental and development work, coming from the governments of Norway, Germany, France, the U.K., and the EU.

In exchange, the country’s leadership has agreed to preserve the country’s stockpile of carbon tucked away in the vegetation of its forests, estimated to be around 22 billion metric tons (48.5 trillion pounds).  The goal now is to maintain DRC’s status as a high-forest, low-deforestation country, while proving to the continent and the world that a strategy as global as REDD+ can work. REDD+ has potential to slow the emissions from forest destruction and provide poor countries with funds for development, but as research in DRC and elsewhere is proving, it will only do that if it’s implemented properly.

The solution is far from one-size-fits-all, researchers say, and it will depend on the earnest commitment of local communities. For DRC, as the light of economic and political stability flickers on the horizon, the question is more basic. The country’s forests have survived decades of dysfunction, conflict and failed governance.  Now, they stand on the leading edge of a global climate solution. They’re attracting the attention of donor countries and at the same time international corporations looking for new places to develop while also bringing the promise of economic prosperity. Will they survive this ‘success’?

Drought and forest loss cause vicious circle in the Amazon – If dry seasons intensify with man-made climate change, the risk for self-amplified forest loss increases even more and could put the Amazon rainforest further at risk, an international team of scientists found. Despite a trend of boosting forest areas around the globe, the rate of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest increased in 2016 for the fourth consecutive year.  Researchers at the German Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) found the Amazon rainforest could be exposed to higher risks of dieback if dry seasons intensify and rainfall decreases.

This could lead to a vicious dieback circle, they said in a study published in Nature Communications. “The Amazon rainforest is one of the tipping elements in the Earth system,” said lead-author Delphine Clara Zemp, who conducted the study at PIK. “We already know that on the one hand, reduced rainfall increases the risk of forest dieback, and on the other hand, forest loss can intensify regional droughts,” she said. “So more droughts can lead to less forest leading to more droughts and so on.

Yet the consequences of this feedback between the plants on the ground and the atmosphere above them so far was not clear.” The researchers found the close relationship between deforestation and drought could put the Amazon further at risk. When it rains, trees absorb water through their roots and then release it back to the atmosphere. Tropical forests produce most of the water they need themselves: they pump moisture which then rains back to them.

deforestation amazan

Yet logging and warmer air – due to greenhouse gas emissions – reduce precipitations and hinder the moisture transport from one forest area to the other, affecting even remote areas. “Then happens what we call the ‘cascading forest loss,'” said co-author Anja Rammig from the Technical University of Munich, who is currently working as a guest scientist at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. A fifth of the world’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon rainforest, says the conservation group Cool Earth.

Small farmers play big role in felling Peru rainforest: satellite maps – By Chris ArsenaultDeforestation in the Peruvian Amazon has risen this century – destroying an area of rainforest 14 times larger than Los Angeles – with small farmers behind most of the cutting, according to a new analysis of satellite maps. Small farmers account for about 80 percent of Peru’s forest loss, the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), a Washington, D.C.-based research group, said on Wednesday. “One of the big findings of this report is that deforestation is not driven by sexier issues such as large-scale oil palm (plantations) or dams, but widespread small-scale agriculture,” said Matt Finer, MAAP’s director. Small producers clearing forests for farms or cattle grazing along with logging roads and illegal gold mining have caused Peru to lose 1,800,000 hectares of Amazon rainforest since 2001 and the trend is steadily increasing, the analysis said.

Cameroon to restore 12 million hectares of Congo Basin rainforest – Cameroon has committed to restoring over 12 million hectares of deforested and degraded land by 2030 as part of the Bonn Challenge initiative, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has announced. The initiative is a global effort to restore 150 million hectares by 2020, and more than double that to 350 million by 2030. The pledge is the biggest to date in the Congo Basin, home to the world’s second-largest tropical rain forest, and brings the 2020 goal into range with a total of 148 million hectares pledged. Cameroon’s pledge will also contribute to the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), which aims to bring 100 million hectares under restoration by 2030 through the Bonn Challenge and concurrent programs.