FAO definition must recognize that plantations are not forests!
On 21 March, the International Day of Forests, 200 organisations are reminding the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) that its misleading forest definition dating back to 1948 must be changed. The definition has allowed the plantations industry to hide the devastating ecological and social impacts of large-scale monoculture tree plantations behind a positive forest image.
FAO’s forest definition has allowed the plantations industry to call their monoculture plantations of fast-growing species such as eucalyptus, pine, rubber or acacia “forests” because it defines a forest only by the number, height and canopy cover of trees on an area. The FAO forest definition has been used as blueprint for over 200 national and international forest definitions since 1948.
Under the guise of this FAO forest definition, the industry has been able to expand fast, especially in the global South, where monoculture tree plantations now cover some several tens of millions of hectares of land. This expansion has brought misery to countless rural and peasant communities, and indigenous peoples. Families have lost land and livelihood where monoculture tree plantations have taken their land, destroyed their way of life, dried up their water springs and streams and poisoned their food with agro-toxins. (1)
“For almost 70 years, the misleading FAO forest definition has served the tree plantations industry well. They have hidden the destruction caused when diverse forests, grasslands and peatlands overflowing with life are converted into ‘green deserts’ made up of monoclonal trees in straight rows behind the positive forest image provided by the FAO,” says Winfridus Overbeek, international coordinator of the World Rainforest Movement.
Forest restoration as climate protection debate adds urgency to get forest definition right
“With the adoption of the UN Paris Agreement on climate change, revision of this FAO forest definition takes on additional urgency”, says Guadalupe Rodríguez from Salva la Selva/Rettet den Regenwald, “it would be a tragedy if the misleading FAO definition makes expansion of these damaging tree monocultures eligible for climate funds earmarked for “reforestation” and “forest restoration.” This would not only harm even more communities where tree plantations take over land used by villagers but also undermine climate protection: Carbon-rich forests could be destroyed and be replaced by monoculture tree plantations with countries claiming that according to the FAO forest definition, no forest area has been lost – despite the massive loss of carbon, biodiversity, water sources and local livelihoods when forests are replaced by monoculture plantations.
An example where the deliberate mis-labelling of plantations as forests allows the plantations industry to tap into climate funds is the ‘African Forests Restoration initiative’ (AFR100). Launched at the 2015 UN climate meeting, it aims to cover 100 million hectares that participating African governments consider “degraded” lands. The World Bank will make USD 1 billion available for this plan – and relies on the FAO forest definition to define eligibility for funding. Unsurprisingly, one of the most controversial tree plantations companies operating in Africa, the Norwegian-based Green Resources (2), was among the keynote speakers at a 2016 conference in Ghana, where the implementation of the AFR 100 initiative was prominent on the agenda.
2017 FAO International Forests Day theme ‘Forests & Energy’ shows urgent need to change forest definition
“Industrialized countries’ unsustainable energy demand combined with their new quest for ‘renewable’ energy is already converting forests in the global South into industrial ‘biomass’ plantations. Yet, the word ‘plantation’ does not appear once on the FAO’s “Key messages” webpage for the International Forests Day 2017″, says Wally Menne of the Timberwatch Coalition, South Africa. For example, to fuel all of the UK’s energy requirements through eucalyptus-based biomass would require some 55 million hectares of plantation in Brazil – an area larger than twice the size of the UK.
200 groups today join the more than 130 thousand groups and individuals who called on the FAO in 2015 to rise to the challenge and urgently change the FAO forest definition because tree plantations are not forests.
(2) In response to the 2015 petition signed by over 130,000 people calling on FAO to change its forest definition, the FAO claims that its role is merely to harmonize the different national and international forest definitions of forests elaborated since 1948. However, the letter sent today shows how this view ignores that in fact, the FAO forest definition is THE reference for many of the national definitions, in the UN climate talks, in initiatives such as AFR100, etc.
Timber industry in violation of environmental standards
Swedish timber industry group Holmen, with its key market in the UK, has violated FSC standards by planning to harvest valuable forests and is suspected of having violated the Species Protection Ordinance, and is even suspected of corruption. The Swedish NGO Protect the Forest calls for UK consumers to put pressure on Holmen and other Swedish wood-suppliers to stop logging high conservation value forests and to transition to environmentally sound forestry methods.
High conservation value forest planned to be felled by Holmen in Jämtland. Photo: Ellinor Delin
Holmen is a Swedish forest industry group that runs forestry and energy production operations and manufactures paperboard, paper and wood products. It has one paper-mill in Workington, UK. Holmen Skog, responsible for managing the group’s land holdings, is FSC-certified, implying that its forest management should be environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable. Recently, certification body DNV GL requested major corrective action (CAR) from Holmen Skog due to its violation of the FSC certification. Holmen Skog planned to harvest several high conservation value forests in Jämtland, central Sweden, during the summer of 2016.
“We carried out inventories in these forests and found many red-listed species,” said Ellinor Delin from the Swedish NGO Protect the Forest. “Consumers in the UK receive guarantees from Holmen that their products are sustainable, but they as well as other Swedish forest companies such as SCA, Sveaskog and Stora Enso clear-cut biodiverse forests and convert them to species-poor tree plantations.”
Volunteers doing inventories in Jämtland. Photo: Ellinor Delin
In addition, Holmen Skog was recently reported to the police for felling a tree with a nesting pair of golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), thereby violating the Species Protection Ordinance. The County Administrative Board informed Holmen Skog about the presence of the golden eagles in 2015. In 2016, only a stump of the nesting tree remained. The golden eagle is classified as near threatened in Sweden1, and is one of over 1,800 red-listed forest-living species in the country. Only about 4% of the productive forest land in Sweden is formally protected as national parks and nature reserves2 while over 90% is subject to harvest3. Additionally, the principal owner and chairman of the Holmen Board, Fredrik Lundberg, was by the end of January interrogated and under suspicion of bribery in connection with hunting events that he hosted.
Government-owned company Sveaskog recently got a major CAR for planning to fell high-conservation value forests in northern Sweden, despite its claims of environmentally sound operations. Here, volunteers found many red-listed species in the areas planned to be felled. According to the FSC and national law, inventories should be carried out by the timber industry itself.
“The Swedish forestry methods are very destructive and leave little room for vulnerable species,” adds Elin Götmark from Protect the Forest. “Sustainable forest methods are virtually non-existent. Holmen and other Swedish forestry companies need to be put under international pressure to immediately stop logging high conservation value forests and begin to use forestry methods which are as close as possible to the natural ecological processes in forests. It is high time customers see over where they source forestry products, but simultaneously all consumers have to reduce their use of these products.”
Swedish Species Information Center (2015). The 2015 Swedish Red List;
The organization Protect the Forest welcomes the extensive report released today by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC), Sweden's oldest and largest environmental organization. The report is titled "Under the Cover of the Swedish Forestry Model" and looks deep into the myth about the "environmentally friendly forest products" and the "sustainable Swedish Forestry Model", which is marketed worldwide. The report is addressed to international customers and decision-makers.
"Sweden's good reputation for conducting sustainable forestry is strongly undeserved. Swedish companies market FSC-certified products as environmentally friendly, while reality proves the opposite", says Daniel Rutschman, secretary of Protect the Forest. "The customers are being deceived. These Swedish forest products they buy often come from companies logging forests with high conservation values and replacing natural forests with monoculture plantations".
Sweden has adopted environmental objectives and signed international agreements stating that all native species must be able to survive in long-term viable populations and that a living forest landscape shall be preserved. Sweden has signed an international agreement in Nagoya which establishes that at least 17 percent of each land based ecosystem must be protected until the year 2020. This corresponds to the demands of an appeal initiated by Protect the Forest, which argues that at least 20 percent of the productive forest land must be protected. The appeal has been signed by leading scientists and more than 40 environmental organizations worldwide with a total of several million members. The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation has the same demand in their report, which shows that neither the forest owners or the government are doing what is necessary to realize these goals.
"Politicians and representatives of the forest industry claim that forest protection and environmental consideration can be handled by the companies themselves, under the motto "freedom with responsibility", something which is not working at all", says Viktor Säfve, chairperson of Protect the Forest. "Years of systematic violations of the certification rules and increasing failure to comply with the Swedish Forestry Act have shown that improved legislation, consumer power and legal protection are the only things that can help. As it is today in Sweden, you can freely destroy streams by driving heavy forest machines through them and clear-fell natural forests, without any risk of sanctions".
About 2000 species are listed on the national Red List of species risking extinction in Sweden. Many of these species are on the Red List because their natural habitats are shrinking, largely because of forestry. Only a few percent of old natural forests remain in Sweden. These forests make up a considerable amount of the last remaining old-growth forests in Western Europe, forests which must be preserved according to leading scientists. Despite these facts, the SSNC-report states that natural forests are still systematically being logged by FSC-certified companies.
"Consumer countries should put pressure on the Swedish forest companies, and the EU and UN should demand that the Swedish government live up to the UN-treaties and follow EU-legislation concerning water, species and habitat. The government must present the tools needed to realize Sweden's environmental objectives", says Viktor Säfve. "Today important parts of Europe's natural heritage are being destroyed, and sold with false marketing as environmentally friendly products under the FSC-trademark".
The Ojnare forest. Photo: Robert Svensson/Protect the Forest.
The Ojnare forest on Gotland, in the Baltic Sea, consists of centuries-old pines growing over the limestone that characterizes the island. It is a unique and varied area that includes many wetlands. But now, the company Nordkalk wants to quarry the land for its lime.
Both the white-tailed eagle and the golden eagle make their nests here, and the area is rich in species that depend on this distinctive environment.
The Ojnare forest should be protected on many counts:
It is important for securing the water supply; it contains so-called key woodland habitats; it lies next to two Natura 2000 areas which are protected at the EU level; it has been officially declared as important on the national level for both its natural and cultural values; there are plans to make it a national park; it contains 265 species that are on the red list of endangered species in Sweden; and it contains 3 endemic species (which exist nowhere else in the world).
"Sweden has both national and international commitments when it comes to endangered species. To let Nordkalk make a 170-hectare hole in the middle of this sensitive area would go counter to the EU's Habitat Directive as well as our national goal to secure the environmental health of the forest. Nothing seems holy any more. The government is even changing the law to fit the industry's requirements," says Robert Svensson, secretary of Protect the Forest.
In 2007, the government removed the environmental law paragraph forbidding quarries in areas with rare or endangered species. This was the only paragraph hindering the quarry that was absolute and had no loopholes. .
"Since 2006, the government's politics has become more and more anti-environmental. If the Ojnare forest is cut down, it will go down in history as one of the greatest environmental crimes in Sweden this century. We demand an immediate stop to Nordkalk's preliminary work on the quarry," says Viktor Säfve, chairman of Protect the Forest.
The only defense that this unique area has left since the government has turned its back is an appeal from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, a group of protesters from Nature and Youth Sweden, and the local organization Friends of Ojnare Forest. Representatives from Protect the Forest have now joined the fight in Ojnare.
"That Mellanskog, who claim they conduct sustainable forestry, is willing to take Nordkalk's money to cut down such valuable natural forest is unbelievable. That is why I am here to protest, and to urge everyone who can do something to act," says Jonas Idewall Hagren, member of Protect the Forest.
Robert Svensson, Selina Vogt and Jonas Idewall Hagren, Protect the Forest, now at the threatened Ojnare forest. Photo: Protect the Forest, Sweden
Jonas Idewall Hagren, member of Protect the Forest +0046735707021
The Apollo butterfly, one of the threatened species in the Ojnare forest. Photo: Robert Svensson, Protect the Forest.