“We may have one-fifth of the world’s forest cover in the Commonwealth, but we account for one-third of what is destroyed every year as well, or more precisely 25,000 square kilometres.” - Kamalesh Sharma.
28 June 2010
“We need to show, financially, that trees are worth more alive than dead” – Commonwealth Secretary-General
While the global community is fighting wars on many fronts, the Commonwealth Secretary-General has said that there is no greater fight than climate change, “where the battle for the forest represents the front line, and the very thick of the action.”
“Forests, we know, represent almost three-quarters of the world’s terrestrial carbon. Cut them down, and they are responsible for almost a quarter of man-made CO2 emissions. Tackle deforestation, and we go a long way towards tackling climate change,” he told the 18th Commonwealth Forestry Conference, which kicked off in Edinburgh, UK, on 28 June.
Mr Sharma added that in twenty years' time, 80 per cent of the forests that covered the earth in 1947 will be gone. As well as the loss of thousands of species, this will also “accelerate the climate changes that destroy our other natural environments, our glaciers, grassland and coral reefs.”
In responding to this global threat, the Secretary-General outlined four broad areas of action:
- First is a need to put more effort into giving a financial value to the environmental goods and services which forests provide. “We need to show, financially, that trees are worth more alive than dead,” Mr Sharma said.
- Second, he called for a balance to be struck between different types of land use.
- Third, Mr Sharma said that wood must be harvested conscientiously.
- Fourth is the need to create more ways of maximising the use of our existing forests, without cutting them down. He said: “We should explore all methods of making money from forests – and I alight on one area of potential: that is, sustainable forestry tourism of the type that we have seen in countries such as Ecuador, Costa Rica and Guyana.”
Speaking for all
As to the role the Commonwealth can play in helping realise these ambitions, Mr Sharma said that the association’s value is that it can “speak for all”.
“We will continue to work together for our members, and use our Environmental Good Offices to come up with new ideas, build consensus, and identify areas where we can offer practical assistance,” he explained.
“The Commonwealth is large enough to make its voice heard, and small enough to be innovative.”
Mr Sharma’s argument was backed up by Pamela Warhurst, Chair of the Forestry Commission.
“We know that by protecting forests from deforestation and degradation, and by restoring forests that have been lost, we can make a huge contribution to the global effort to avoid catastrophic climate change,” she said, adding that “it’s entirely appropriate and timely that this conference should focus on climate change and on what forestry can contribute towards that effort.”
Before his speech to the Commonwealth Forestry Conference – where His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales also spoke – Mr Sharma addressed the Commonwealth Agriculture Conference, also taking place in the Scottish capital.
In this speech, the Secretary-General outlined some of the key issues facing the world of agriculture, including: high food prices; decreasing levels of agricultural production in some parts of the world; the degradation of natural resources – of land, water and animal and plant diversity; climate change; the lack of investment in agriculture; and lastly “the need for an end to the artificial structure of tariffs, quotas and subsidies which so distorts prices and competition in agricultural goods.”
He then focused on four key areas in which co-operation and collaboration are needed:
“We may have one-fifth of the world’s forest cover in the Commonwealth, but we account for one-third of what is destroyed every year as well, or more precisely 25,000 square kilometres.”
- In directing finance and investment into agriculture to raise productivity
- In scientific research to combat the spread of plant and livestock diseases
- In improving the knowledge and skills of farmers, researchers and policy advisers
- In developing adaptation and mitigation measures to combat climate change.
Ways in which a still largely agrarian Commonwealth can help achieve these aims were subsequently addressed by Mr Sharma, who highlighted the association’s technical assistance as a key programme which has brought high quality policy advice to the agricultural world.
Role of technology
Mr Sharma concluded this speech by focusing on technology, which is where he believes the Commonwealth can make the most effective use of its networks and combined wisdom.
He flagged the Commonwealth Partnership Platform Portal (also known as CP3) which was endorsed by Commonwealth leaders at their biennial summit back in November 2009.
“It is a source of information; it is a conduit to a network and it is a place to ‘do business’ – to find a partner, launch a project, or make a connection.”
With both conferences he said that he envisaged both a forestry network and a farmers' network would be developed within this “massive Commonwealth portal website”.