The conference on climate change that took place several weeks ago in Copenhagen has once again highlighted the role of forests in the ecological balance of our planet. Deforestation has been recognized as one of the main sources of greenhouse gases. During this year of biodiversity, let us not forget that forests, especially tropical forests, are the main reservoirs of the Globe’s biodiversity.
Despite the obvious ecological impact of the deforestation and the deterioration of forests, governments still are slow to find solutions. Negotiations in Copenhagen reveal the complexity of international cooperation when it comes to such important environmental questions.
Furthermore, in the past several years, non-State organisms have proposed and implemented pragmatic systems that carry out actions in parallel of international negotiation. The FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification is one of the systems supported by the major NGOs. It guarantees consumers that the wood and paper products they purchase come from responsibly managed forests. This guarantee is translated by the presence of the FSC label on products.
Since its creation, the FSC has certified rapidly expanding forest surface. There are currently nearly 300 million acres of FSC certified forests. Compared to the 32 million acres of forest lost yearly, as assessed by international organizations, these certified areas could seem unconsequential. However, within these millions of certified acres of forests, forestry management respects current laws and the rights of local populations, paying particular attention to the protection of biodiversity, bettering security and work conditions, etc. All of these elements are documented and are proof of the positive impact of FSC certification.
President of FSC-France
 See: Karmann, M., and Smith A., 2009, FSC reflected in scientific and professional literature. Literature study on the outcomes and impacts of FSC certification. FSC Policy Series No. 2009 – P001, FSC International Center
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The sometimes violent reconsideration of the work performed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, sharply highlights our society’s fault lines; emerging from the confrontation with unprecedented issues of governance and an economic crisis that has strangled western economies. Debates have become highly confused and issues have changed fields without lessening in number.
The summit clearly delineated the limits of our institutions
Thus, before Copenhagen, the key question was how to contain global warming under the cap of 2 degrees. The question now calls into question the amount of trust we should place in our scientists, especially when it comes to human responsibility in global warming. The summit clearly delineated the limits of our institutions. The 192 politicians would never have met had it not been for the work of the IPCC scientists. Scientists though can not dictate politics. Two groups of people are therefore in the game: a group of experts who understand the stakes but were not elected and a group of elected individuals who do not fully grasp the ramifications.
This protest is not meant to heap scorn on the scientific community whose rehabilitation has become urgent. Is this a simple phenomenon of isostasy, a normal and healthy return to a balanced middle path, or signs of a deeper unease? Our elite, today’s deciders, are not adequately steeped in scientific culture and the last minute activists sometimes ignore almost everything about the subjects. To forge ahead, we must invent a reconfiguration of these two groups, both political and scientific, whose social involvement is more than ever a necessity.
In our rush to solve an inextricable problem that we would all like to be rid of, we are in grave danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
In sum, climactic anomalies and an erosion of biodiversity can clearly be observed, but humans have nothing to do with it. What a relief. We will finally be able to resume our daily activities free of the guilt constantly fueled by defenders of an ever more virulent clerical ecology. Indeed, how can we poor, frail creatures pretend to battle on the same level as the sun, tectonic plates, the clouds, and oceans? All our efforts to be more frugal, all our little green acts won’t change a thing. Time will surely take care of things; scientists need to be able to continue exploring our planet step by step. We should all adopt the well known position that relies on the fact that no problem can resist for long against the absence of a solution. We should however, avoid raising such a stance to the level of a political model.
The limits of prosperity are much more dependant on available natural capital
In the name of a code of ethics for researchers (fortunately some of them do have one) and of the great complexity of barely explored domains, science will never be able to provide an absolute answer, free of margins of errors, for our political deciders. Meanwhile, increasing numbers of people and industries, evermore capable and competitive, increase pressure on ecosystems. However, the limits of prosperity are much more dependant on available natural capital than on current or future technological prowess. While technology continues to postpone the depletion of resources by providing materials that seem cheaper and cheaper, it is an illusion for their production costs do not include the disappearance of forests, the accumulation of toxic waste that is dumped into our rivers, the depletion of soil, and the erosion of cultures.
It is neither oil nor copper resources that are limiting our development but rather “Biogée”, term coined by Michel Serres meaning the earth and life. It is not the limits of pumping power but rather the drying up of aquifers that is threatening access to water. There are dozens of other examples.
The stock of natural capital is collapsing rapidly
Humanity has inherited a natural capital of 4 million years. At our current rate of use and deterioration, there will be very little left at the end of the next century. It is neither a dogmatic nor moral question but rather a subject of the utmost importance for our society and for human beings. Despite innumerable articles, books, and conferences on the state of the environment, the stock of natural capital is collapsing rapidly and the vital services it offers are crucial for our survival.
Despite all of this, our collective survival instinct has not yet been triggered. The tiger of Sumatra is forced to leave his island because when it comes to protecting the tiger’s natural habitat or maintaining palm oil revenues, the choice is foregone.
Unemployment is more widely feared than the destruction of the environment because it strikes cruelly at the heart of each family in each country. We share nonetheless the same struggles without realizing it: the flourishing of our species within its dependant ties with the Earth.
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Indifference is a dangerous posture when confronted with the growing importance of those who dub themselves “climate sceptics”. The latter really and truly exist; they appear powerful, organised, and indulge in subversive techniques with means that certain, rather pugnacious, environmental NGOs would use readily. A number of people have expressed legitimate concerns about their influence on international opinion, which has just recently been sensitized and mobilized concerning global warming.
De facto, it is always wise to remain humble especially in scientific domains and to ensure that all voices are heard in a rigourous and exacting peer review such as the IPCC members perform amongst themselves. The real question is elsewhere. The violence of the accusation against climatologists, accusations of conspiracy and falsification, make you wonder if certain individuals wouldn’t suffer steep losses if the international community went forward with global agreements at Copenhagen.
A closer examination shows these attacks are particularly predictable. Those who are living very comfortably off of fossil fuels do not defend a non-carbon based economy. They can easily see that we are on the cusp of a new world, which will surely gnaw away at their privileges. Paradoxically, by stooping to such intimidation techniques, stirring up trouble, and discrediting the most covered summit of the decade, these detractors very clearly show that yes, global warming is a real threat to them and their business.
These methods therefore are not new and have been largely deployed, sometimes successfully by other industries who have felt threatened. Above all else, they are proof of the immaturity of a segment of economic and political actors who categorically refuse to consider clearly and bravely the immense stake that awaits humanity at the dawn of this century. The rarest of resources is not oil, nor the collective intelligence that we can all deploy together. The rarest of all resources is simply time. We cannot buy time. Let us not waste our strength. Let us not confuse our battles. Yes there are obviously margins of uncertainty. Yes, nobody can exactly predict the earth’s temperature in 2032. We have however, an important mass of information that supports the theory that humans have contributed to global warming. A cyclone is approaching and several extremely violent storms are converging at high speeds on us. Each of these fronts in and of itself would be a major disruptive event, destabilizing our social, economic, and ecologic models. Together, they form a revolutionary challenge, bringing together a number of actors with differing agendas, who must find a single, common solution within a very narrow timeframe.
How much longer will we wait before realising it is already too late?
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With the Copenhagen summit only a few weeks away, it seems everyone is either predicting a stalemate in international negotiations or listing all the reasons it is useless to hope for an agreement in principle on a global roadmap towards an economy based on new energy paradigms.
Indeed, it is already a given that promises to reduce greenhouse gases established by the Kyoto protocol will not be respected by the end of the first commitment period in 2012. Prospects are even more bleak as the latest assessments by the IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – demonstrate that these initial goals will be insufficient to restrain climate change within a “reasonable” limit.
Bringing players with such divergent interests to an agreement and ensuring they honour them seems illusory at best. The path of international diplomacy has indeed been paved with failures and compromises in all fields: developmental aid, agriculture, trade, human rights, fight against corruption. Why would global warming be any different? Why shouldn’t we simply allow technology to accomplish miracles and the invisible hand of the trade market to slowly go green?
This kind of thinking is intolerable and irresponsible. It is particularly dangerous to give up on our only arena and tool of international negotiation by holding up as pretexts our eternal rivalries and our incapacity to fairly share the planet’s resources. We have reached a point of no return. The very foundations of our societies are shaken. The fragile balance of our social, economic, and political organisations are threatened. We can no longer get by with lukewarm sentiments, with opportunistic haggling. We need to grow, we must learn to live and talk together differently.
We must invent a new economic model that is fairer, which fully integrates the environmental constraints for 7 billion human beings within the next 10 years. We are helpless and incapable of finding the determinants of this green growth for which we so ardently hope, as though it were a magical wish. Before we can enjoy the fruits of this new golden age, we must first start on a long and delicate transition period. If we look closer, this passage closely resembles the eye of a needle. We can either go through it or fail. This passage demands each and everyone of us to become thoroughly aware of climate and energy stakes. To get through the eye of the needle together means collectively choosing the right path. There is very little room for error and
We must cut away the extraneous and increase our adaptability.
Both these questions are at the very heart of the Copenhagen negotiations and all together we must find an answer as soon as possible. We cannot precipitously dismiss the rudiments of the only green alphabet at our disposal. Our future common language depends on it.