Forests in the vast Asia-Pacific region are facing a serious threat as primary forest cover is now only 19 percent of total forest area – the lowest level of any region worldwide, a major gathering of forestry stakeholders heard today.
Some 2,000 delegates are participating in Asia-Pacific Forestry Week, which is co-organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Korea Forest Service, at Incheon in the Republic of Korea.
Asia and the Pacific has the lowest per capita forest area of any world region. But quantity is not the only issue. “With primary forests at only 19 percent of the total forest area, compared with a global average of 32 percent, we are worried about the lack of forest quality in our region – as primary forests are rich in biodiversity – and once that’s gone it’s gone,” said Kundhavi Kadiresan, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative. “We need to urgently preserve what’s left of our primary forests. Time is running out and we must act now.”
Kadiresan called for a regional and coordinated approach to protecting the region’s forests – something she referred to as ‘forests without borders.’
“Unfortunately, conservation of forests in one country often just shifts deforestation to another. We have witnessed many cases where new frontiers of deforestation emerged as a result of logging bans elsewhere,” she said. Tackling illegal logging and forest crimes would require producer and consumer countries to cooperate with each other, participants heard.
Population growth, urbanization and their toll on forests and landscapes
Population growth, urbanization and demographic shifts have significant impacts on forests of the Asia-Pacific region and their impacts will be even greater in the decades to come.
Even though population growth has slowed, by 2050 the Asia-Pacific region can still expect an additional 666 million inhabitants. That’s equivalent to the present-day populations of Indonesia, Pakistan, Thailand and Viet Nam – combined.
Economies in the Asia-Pacific region have also been expanding rapidly since the 1980s, creating a growing middle class. The region’s GDP grew from more than 17 trillion dollars in 2000 to 47 trillion in 2017 (in purchasing power parity terms). Industrial development has driven urbanization, with urban-dwellers now accounting for 46 percent of the region’s total population, compared with 30 percent in 1990.
Taken together, these trends (more people in general, and a growing middle class in particular) will result in greater demand on forest products and services. More development of urban areas will drive increases in demand for more homes, furniture and other forestry-related products. Demand for minerals, deposits of which are often found on forest lands, will also grow, adding yet more pressure on natural resources.
Looking beyond the tree line – a need to move from trade-offs to synergies
The FAO Assistant Director-General took advantage of the opening of Asia-Pacific Forestry Week to launch a new FAO regional publication that examines the present state of forests and landscape management in Asia-Pacific and what they may look like in the years and decades ahead. The report, ‘Forest Futures – Sustainable pathways for forests, landscapes and people in the Asia-Pacific region’, suggests that special interest trade-offs will, in many cases, be inevitable but these can be mitigated through landscape approaches where stakeholders work together to create synergies.
“Landscape governance does not necessarily require that countries break up their sectoral institutions to form single entities responsible for governing all aspects of landscapes, but it points to the need to plan and work jointly among sectors,” Kadiresan said. “Bringing sectoral expertise together to address landscape-scale issues is the characteristic and strength of a landscape approach, which, in turn, means changing the way that sectoral institutions and stakeholders work.”
This would mean considerable investment across the region and the bringing together of all stakeholders – from governments, industry, civil society and forest-dependent communities – to build resilient forests of the future.
More on Asia-Pacific Forestry Week and the new FAO report can be found here