Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Future without intact forests?




Future without intact forests?

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The remains of a burned-down forest at the outskirt of Pontianak, in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, on August 5, 2016 . pBAY ISMOYO/afp

Future without intact forests?

The Earth’s intact forests shrank by an area larger than Austria every year from 2014 to 2016 at a 20 percent faster rate than during the previous decade, scientists said on Wednesday as the UN unveiled an initiative to harness the “untapped potential” of the land sector to fight climate change.

Despite a decades-long effort to halt deforestation, nearly 10 percent of undisturbed forests have been fragmented, degraded or simply chopped down since 2000, according to the analysis of satellite imagery.

Average daily loss over the first 17 years of this century was more than 200 square kilometres.

“Degradation of intact forest represents a global tragedy, as we are systematically destroying a crucial foundation of climate stability,” said Frances Seymour, a senior distinguished fellow at the World Resources Institute (WRI), and a contributor to the research, presented this week at a conference in Oxford.

“Forests are the only safe, natural, proven and affordable infrastructure we have for capturing and storing carbon.”

The findings come as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and five major conservation organisations launched a five-year plan, Nature4Climate, to better leverage land use in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that drive global warming.

“Thirty-seven percent of what is needed to stay below two degrees Celsius” – the cornerstone goal of the 196-nation Paris Agreement – “can be provided by land”, said Andrew Steer, WRI president and CEO. “But only three percent of the public funding for mitigation goes to land and forest issues – that needs to change.”

Beyond climate, the last forest frontiers play a critical role in maintaining biodiversity, weather stability, clean air, and water quality. Some 500 million people worldwide depend directly on forests for their livelihoods.

A future without intact forests?

So-called intact forest landscapes – which can include wetlands and natural grass pastures – are defined as areas of at least 500 square kilometres with no visible evidence in satellite images of large-scale human use.

That means no roads, industrial agriculture, mines, railways, canals or transmission lines.

As of January 2017, there were about 11.6 million square kilometres of forests worldwide that still fit these criteria. From 2014 to 2016, that area declined by more than 87,000 square kilometres each year.

“Many countries may lose all their forest wildlands in the next 15 to 20 years,” Peter Potapov, an associate professor at the University of Maryland and lead scientist for the research, said.

On current trends, intact forests will disappear by 2030 in Paraguay, Laos and Equatorial Guinea, and by 2040 in Cambodia, the Central African Republic, Nicaragua, Myanmar and Angola.

“There could come a point in the future where no areas in the world qualify as ‘intact’ anymore,” said Tom Evans, director for forest conservation and climate mitigation at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“It is certainly worrying.”

In tropical countries, the main causes of virgin forest loss are conversion to agriculture and logging. In Canada and the United States, fire is the main culprit, while in Russia and Australia, the destruction has been driven by fires, mining and energy extraction.
Compared to annual declines during the period 2000-2013, Russia lost, on average, 90 percent more each year from 2014 to 2016. For Indonesia, the increase was 62 percent, and for Brazil it was 16 percent.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Protected areas

The new results are based on a worldwide analysis of satellite imagery, built on a study first done in 2008 and repeated in 2013.

“The high resolution data, like the one collected by the Landsat program, allows us to detect human-caused alteration and fragmentation of forest wildlands,” Potapov said.

Presented at the Intact Forests in the 21st Century conference at Oxford University, the finding will be submitted for peer-reviewed publication, said Potapov, who delivered a keynote to the three-day gathering.

Addressing colleagues from around the world, Potapov also challenged the effectiveness of a global voluntary certification system.

Set up in 1994 and backed by green groups such as the World Wildlife Fund, the self-stated mission of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is to “promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests”.

Many forest-products carry the FSC label, designed to reassure eco-conscious consumers.

But approximately half of all intact forest landscapes inside FSC-certified concessions were lost from 2000 to 2016 in Gabon and the Republic of Congo, the new data showed. In Cameroon, about 90 percent of FSC-monitored forest wildlands disappeared.
“FSC is an effective mechanism to fragment and degrade remaining intact forest landscapes, not a tool for their protection,” Potapov said.

National and regional parks have helped to slow the rate of decline.

The chances of forest loss was found to be three times higher outside protected areas than inside them, the researchers reported.

MOST VIEWED

  • Body of woman killed in Bangkok returns

    The Cambodian embassy in Thailand is working to repatriate the body of a casino dealer who was shot dead in Bangkok on Monday night. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesman Kuy Kuong told The Post on Wednesday that officials are preparing paperwork to

  • Chikungunya hits 15 provinces, says gov’t

    Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said on Thursday that the chikungunya outbreak in the Kingdom has spread to 15 provinces. Some 1,700 people are now suspected to have the disease. Vandine urged people to prevent its further spread by eliminating shelters for the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes

  • Gov’t exempts visa A and B holders from Covid fees

    Airline passengers who are diplomats and officials of international organisations holding Type A and B visas for travel to Cambodia are exempted from paying Covid-19 testing fees, said the Ministry of Health in its latest adjustment of rules on Wednesday. Health Minister Mam Bun Heng

  • Bill covering dress code draws ire

    Ministry of Interior secretary of state Ouk Kim Lek responded on Tuesday to criticism concerning a draft law that would ban women from wearing overly revealing clothing, saying that input from all parties will be considered as the law moves through the promulgation process. Several

  • Passing the test: Is Cambodia’s education system failing its people?

    The Kingdom’s education system needs to grow its people but some flaws might stifle​ this growth Coming from the Khmer Rouge occupation, with the loss of many scholars and academicians and a collapsed government, the education system had to be reconstructed from scratch – one

  • What’s the deal with Cambodia and China’s FTA?

    Cambodia’s Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China kicks off a series of FTAs in future but for now, critics wonder what else the parties could bring to the table apart from what it already has to date By the end of this year, Cambodia