Forests, forests, and woodlands: a key element in achieving the SDGs (I).
Javier Plaza Martín
Of the 17 SDGs approved in 2015 for the 2030 horizon, forests are substantive in addressing 6 SDGs (SDG1, SDG2, SDG6, SDG7, SDG9, SDG13, and SDG15), are important for another 6 and in the rest have a modest contribution. It is difficult to find an area of action that contributes to so many SDGs.
Such a complex issue cannot suffer from simple or global solutions. They are not simple by their very nature and cannot be global because of their biological, technical, social, economic, cultural, and political diversity. Let us think globally and work locally.
According to FAO in its 2020 State of the World’s Forests report, it is estimated that one-third of humanity is closely dependent on forests and the many and varied forest products of all kinds they provide. It is rural, local, and indigenous communities that are most directly dependent. On the other hand, society, in general, is consciously or unconsciously demanding more and more resources from all types of ecosystems. Not only resources that have a market economy but also certain ecosystem services that have been valued since ancient times, such as water regulation, biodiversity, landscape, recreation, their contribution to health, cultural, spiritual and a multitude of externalities that we all know and that would belong to list and that do not usually have repercussions among their owners and inhabitants.
Local, indigenous, rural communities and forest workers are essential for their maintenance, sustainable management, and responsible use of their resources. They are essential for adopting measures to adapt to and mitigate climate change.
Oceans and forest areas are the main CO2 sinks, with the difference that the former cannot be managed and forest areas can. In this regard, forests, woodlands, and grasslands have a dual function: carbon storage and substitution effect, especially of raw materials from the fossil economy, and highly polluting materials with high and intense consumption of inputs, especially energy and with a high carbon footprint and non-renewable nature.
Forest areas can be managed in a sustainable way by obtaining renewable, regenerative, recyclable, reusable and biodegradable products, so that they are not only conserved but also improved. Technology has advanced enormously, both in the management of forests and forest lands and in the production of products of all kinds produced by them, which can be a partial solution to the current fossil economy. This is the so-called bioeconomy. Its growing importance will play a fundamental role in both forestry and agricultural areas. The concept of sustainability has been in the genes of forest management since the beginning of applied forest science and technology in Saxony in the 18th century. Since the existence of mankind and in a multitude of cultures and for certain resources, it has always been taken into account. Even if intuitively, it has been very effectively applied, and in many forest areas that have been managed for thousands of years by different cultures and civilizations, reaching our days in an acceptable state of preservation.
Forest areas are tremendously dynamic. There is, especially in people detached from the land and nature, a misconception of wilderness and a static approach to forests that can be detrimental to their own conservation. And not only that, but the detaching man from the management of these areas, when they have never been separated, is counterproductive and pernicious, and can even encourage an economy based on fossil fuels and non-renewable materials.
Forests provide us with enduring, renewable, regenerative, and biodegradable natural resources. Many of the forests that you see as “wild” are real human constructions resulting from sustainable forest management over generations.
To oppose the economic use of natural resources in their different forms and modalities by different people, in different social and cultural environments, is to deny reality, is pernicious for people and ecosystems, and only generates dysfunctionalities, especially in the area of forests. The new paradigm will be in respect and in the way we produce and consume in a new economy. A new approach focused on satisfying people’s needs, rationally and integrally addressing social, economic, and environmental aspects in a fair manner in each social and cultural context, and without losing the perspective that the forest areas that have been best preserved to this day are those that have been the livelihoods of rural, local and indigenous communities. For a long time and integrated into the natural environment, these populations have achieved their preservation thanks to the management of extensive territories. There are excellent examples all over the planet and in different social, cultural, and historical contexts that demonstrate this.
Mountains are not only beautiful landscapes, the vast majority of them are a mutualism between people and nature.
Can we get rid of the idea that humanity is harmful to the planet? The excess of apocalyptic messages emulates and encourages intransigent ways and blockage in action, thought, and reasoning. Humanity has created true wonders in all aspects. The greater scope is achieved by looking at, emulating, advancing, and learning from the many good and positive examples and their contributions to the SDGs. Let us improve by keeping in mind the fact that ECOlogy (knowledge of the “common home”) and ECOnomics (good stewardship of the “common home”) have to walk inseparably hand in hand.
Javier Plaza Martín