Forests, woodlands, and forest areas:a fundamental element in achieving the SDGs (II)
Francisco Javier Plaza Martín.
In the first part, a brief and straightforward presentation was made on the contributions of these areas to the SDGs and the 2030 agenda: their importance for obtaining goods and services of very different kinds through forest management and their principle of sustainability, the importance of local communities and their link to these areas, their contributions to climate change, and the need to integrate environmental, economic and social aspects.
In different forest areas of the planet and other contexts, there are various weaknesses, threats, opportunities, and strengths that should not be dealt with simply or globally. However, a proper analysis will make it possible to establish the necessary measures at the local level in heterogeneous contexts concerning management, preservation, and restoration.
Many agreements, conferences, and conventions seek to address different situations in this area with global approaches. Instead, they generally focus on problems and specific catastrophic messages, leaving existing examples that can be part of the solution in the background.
These situations, which may seem idyllic, are the result of the work of many generations that have been able to understand and integrate the functioning of nature with their way of life.
In the International Agreements and Conferences of the Parties related to the measures to be adopted concerning climate change or biodiversity, some actions that generate controversy and may be contradictory in this matter are justified or intended.
For example, justifying specific actions such as offsetting CO2 emissions by planting trees or establishing protected areas may not be coherent to solve the problem and may even be counterproductive.
Planting trees or restoring certain already degraded areas can be good, taking into account clear objectives and the why, where, how, when, and how much. But justifying this measure to offset the carbon footprint without tackling emissions may not be real (greenwashing) and is a minimal solution, in any case, to the problem of CO2 emissions.
The first issue to bear in mind is that recovering wooded areas should not be a single objective due to the multifunctionality of the goods and services they produce. It is crucial not to forget about the maintenance of extensive forest territories that need intervention to fulfill and maintain their multifunctionality. Their care should not be considered CO2 compensatory measures, unlike new plantations. Finally, there is the paradox that we forget those people and owners linked to the territories that have best preserved them, whose legitimate rights are restricted by establishing protected areas.
The “protection” of 30% of the land is proposed for the 2030 horizon, and there is even talk of 50% for the 2050 horizon. There is no science behind these objectives. They are slogans. People like me think that this objective is land grabbing, a logic of power and money, and a license for the rest of the territory. In addition, on many occasions, it generates a dissociation of people from nature, which is harmful to society. This disengagement endangers the survival of forest areas by alienating neighboring inhabitants and future generations from the forests.
Historically, protected areas have been declared in many cases by imposition, restricting rights, and even evicting the communities that lived there and had known how to live maintaining the values that led to their declaration. These “conservation” policies based on the prejudice of the incompatibility of human beings and their environment, lacking a proven scientific basis, can cause considerable harm to the local population and even the forests and biodiversity.
The problem lies in a high ideological burden of the protected area categories that do not allow specific uses that have been secular, not integrating the local population that has lived together modulating the ecosystems for millennia. Instead of integrating and contributing to various SDGs, we are entering into deep contradictions of biodiversity policies through what has been called “fortress conservation”, becoming segregationist and static.
We are faced with the following paradox: on the one hand, through a carbon market, we are not tackling the emissions problem mainly from the global north; on the other hand, local, indigenous, rural communities, landowners, and workers who for generations have lived and live from the best-preserved forest areas, which are a significant part of the solution, suffer an intense aggravation from third parties from distant places.
A hunter-gatherer can suffer this in the Congo, an Adivasi in India, a Masai herder in the Ngorongoro, a French forester, a Spanish forest municipality, or a community of Finnish forest owners. All of them are essential for its proper maintenance, management, responsible use, restoration and protection against disturbances, and implementation of adaptation and mitigation measures to climate change. Their activity, rights, empowerment, and the integration of their transcendental contribution to different SDGs must be recognized. The opposite is a regressive territorial effect on large, sparsely populated territories, losing an opportunity to implement the SDGs. In addition, the territorial tension is curiously polarized even more in favor of the urban society and disconnected from the work of the land and nature.
The cultural and management diversity of forest areas is closely linked to the biodiversity of ecosystems. The Spanish meadows and many other forest systems worldwide are good examples. They are also socio-cultural systems.
The right way is not to segregate people from forest areas. Instead, the lines of work must support the socio-economic functions of forests and boost the bio-economy, preserve by managing and linking the different actors, rationally expand forests, reverse biodiversity loss and ensure resilient and multifunctional forest ecosystems.
There are no simple solutions to complex problems. Different situations and their contributions to the other SDGs must be considered. Education in respect is fundamental. Solutions will never come from global approaches. The people who work the land and nature are and will be absolute. There are no dilemmas; there are problems. Black and white approaches are always wrong. It is not “development or forests”; on the contrary, it is about integrating forest areas into development. A pure imaginary is false, defective, and dysfunctional.
One should always prioritize the real struggles of people for basic needs, dignity, justice, solidarity, and equity, improving, adding, and caring for the environment, and maximizing contributions to the various Sustainable Development Goals.
Francisco Javier Plaza Martín.