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REDD myth no. 2: Sustainable Forest Management

Myth: Sustainable forest management will reduce emissions from forests and bring sustainable development.

Sustainable forest management is part of REDD-plus, included in 2010 in the Cancun Agreements. The reality is that sustainable forest management is the myth that allows illegal logging to continue with impunity.

Everyone these days practices sustainable forest management. Even Malaysian company Rimbunan Hijau, one of the world’s most destructive logging companies claims on its website to practice “sustainable forest management”.

As Patrick Alley of Global Witness points out in a recent TEDX talk, sustainable forest management is a “nasty little euphemism”. The logging industry has managed to portray itself as an almost philanthropic venture, bringing jobs and development. Alley explains that,

“You can divide the industrial logging industry in the tropics into two categories: The criminal and the legitimate. The criminal is criminal. And the legitimate is much the same, but with better PR.”

The logging industry has had plenty of help in pulling off this perfect crime, as Alley describes it. Continued logging in the tropics has even been encouraged with tax-payers’ money. In the nine years up to June 2011, the World Bank poured US$4.1 billion into the forestry sector. A 2013 review by the Independent Evaluation Group found that overall these projects have failed to address poverty or to benefit local communities.

Predictably, Bank management rejected the criticism and the money from the World Bank keeps coming. In August 2013, the World Bank announced that it was handing out US$31.83 million for participatory sustainable forest management in Laos. This is a country that has seen its forests devastated by illegal logging, which shows no signs of stopping before the last forest has been felled. Yet rather than supporting initiatives to round up the criminals running the illegal logging, the World Bank is pouring in yet more money into little more than greenwash for continued logging.

Recent research led by scientists from Lancaster University reveals that the impact of selective logging and surface wildfires in the Amazon has been grossly underestimated. Greenpeace calls logging in the Amazon “The Silent Crisis“.

Meanwhile, research on the forests of the Republic of Congo carried out by scientists at the University of Michigan reveals that “compliance with Sustainable Forest Management policies may not mitigate degradation in tropical production forests”. They found that forest destruction was higher in concessions run by European companies than in those run by Asia companies, despite the fact that European companies were far more likely to comply with sustainable forest management policies. The researchers conclude that, “the fragmentation of intact forests in Congo is strongly associated with industrial logging fueled by foreign capital”.

This is the second in an occasional series of REDD myths on REDD-Monitor. If you have suggestions for other “REDD myths”, please let me know in the comments.

PHOTO credit: Greenpeace.

Leave a Reply

  1. I follow your site regularly and find the commentary interesting and informative, but one sided. I would be interested in what yours or others proposed solutions to forest degradation, not just from the carbon side, but unsustainable harvest, infestation, climate change, fire…would be.

  2. I think other myth is that forests can absorb or sequester the amounts of CO2 emissione coming from fossil fuels oxidation, and hence reforestation can solve climate change causes. I hope this topic can be interesting for you, and I will really enjoy reading about this in a next post of your site. Congratulations.

  3. Good one. As long as these destructive industries keep making claims on paper only please continue to expose their shams

  4. I find the article informative but completely slanted to one side. Thus the writer Chris Lang needs a scolding.

    TO Chris Lang:

    As long as there is demand, wood will get cut. What are your alternatives?

    -Clear Cutting: Far worse than SFM

    -Illegal selective logging: This typically takes the place when there is not a Sustainable Forestry Management project. Illegal cutting typically is short term thus the employment it brings is underpaid and temporary, and sometimes with inhuman conditions.

    -No more wood ever gets cut: This is that extreme radical view that I am sure you would relate most to, though not realistic. Better yet we will use fossil fuel residues to make synthetic wood-like composites and then you can depend on the oil industry for your wood-like products.

    This is a no win for you Chris, Sustainable Forestry Management with all its negatives is the best option. Your story should be about how to make it better, not how to destroy it, as the alternatives are far worse.

  5. We need to more realistic with condition that the only profitable option of product from forests in Timber. So the problem in not only be addressed on applying sustainable approaches to manage the forests but how to stimulating a products combination to reduce the dependency to timber.

  6. Let´s say that the problem is not on SFM itself as Matt says… Even so, the problem is on economic compensations that will not improve neither help to global climate change mitigation efforts; and that this activity does not involve any kind of additionality in a way it could be considered carbon sequestration for a long term period, according to natural cycles of the climatic system. In this way, all this article says is clear and appropriate to public awareness and policy making at local, regional and multilateral levels.

  7. Those who downplay human overpopulation as the biggest driver of demand for timber are just as bad as the loggers in some ways. Without a stable human population, how can we ever curb demand for wood?