Business leader loses patience with UN forest talks

Negotiations to save the world’s rainforests conducted within the UN climate change framework are failing and should be replaced with separate high level government dialogue, according to the group chief executive of Kingfisher plc, the UK’s largest home improvement retailer.

Delivering the keynote address at the Forest Stewardship Council’s triennial General Assembly held in Malaysia last week, Ian Cheshire called for a goal of zero net deforestation by 2020. “Many people have assumed that this issue was solved by work on (climate change), but no concrete action has yet happened. I am therefore calling for an annual round of forestry talks, bringing together the world’s environment ministers,” he said.

In the UK alone, Kingfisher retails over 16,000 products that contain wood. Earlier this year the company announced that it had achieved its UK goal of acquiring 100% of its timber from proven responsible sources, such as those certified by the FSC.

Cheshire’s vision of zero net deforestation therefore acknowledges the need for timber consumption, but only where forest loss is fully replaced and biodiversity properly safeguarded.

“We have a long-term interest in having a sustainable supply chain,” he said. Yet “13 million hectares of forest are lost each year,” conference delegates were told.

Recent news from Brazil has furnished evidence that deforestation remains rampant. Satellite images disclosed that forest loss in the Amazon region in April and May increased by a factor of six over the same period in 2010. The Brazilian government was forced to scramble an emergency response.

Years of environmental campaigns have yielded a range of measures to put a stop to rainforest logging. These include consumer product labelling, whilst laws banning the import of illegally harvested timber have been introduced in both US and Europe.

But the greatest hopes for a global solution have been pinned on the inclusion of forest concerns in UN climate change negotiations.

This is because deforestation contributes over 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions. A deal to protect the forests would tackle both climate change and biodiversity loss.

The resulting plan known as REDD – “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation” – will offer funding to developing countries which put a stop to deforestation. The goal is to create greater economic value in standing forests than in their timber.

At one time considered the frontrunner amongst climate initiatives, REDD momentum has been clawed back by the adversarial tone of UN climate negotiations.

The original goals of halving deforestation by 2020 and eliminating it by 2030 were abandoned by negotiators at the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference.

In a reference to subsequent and forthcoming UN climate conferences, a Kingfisher statement claims: “forestry fell off the agenda in Cancun and little progress is likely in Durban.”

The Kingfisher chief executive was dismissive about REDD, quickly identifying its core weakness. “There isn’t a holistic approach that takes all the aspects of deforestation, including land use planning, and, for example, biodiversity,” he said. “The danger is that we have this gap between the talking and the doing.”

Kingfisher has announced that its call for a fresh start to forest negotiations is supported in the UK by The Prince’s Charities International Sustainability Unit, under the guidance of The Prince of Wales who has campaigned tirelessly on rainforest issues.

The green movement will be suspicious of the motives of such a radical call to action by a business leader. For its part, the corporate sector may feel that environmental NGOs have been reluctant to own up to problems faced by the REDD programme.

“We think that we can call for action potentially in a way that politicians or NGOs might find a bit harder,” said the Kingfisher boss.

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this article was first published in the OneWorld section of Yahoo World News

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