Conservation and use of biodiversity in tropical forests. Are we on the right track?

Conservation and use of biodiversity in tropical forests. Are we on the right track?

the Netherlands - 20 June, 2010

With smart policies a lot of the biodiversity in the tropical forests can be preserved. This was the impression given during the seminar: Conservation and use of biodiversity in Tropical forests. Are we on the right track? Held on the 16th of June, Ede, the Netherlands.

The United Nations have declared 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity. A good reason to dedicate the fourth “Right track” seminar to biodiversity and tropical forests. Tropical forests are one of richest but also most affected ecosystems of the World. Whereas in some forest areas biodiversity is on its way to recovery, deforestation and forest degradation is still widespread. This is not only causing large-scale loss of biodiversity (habitats, species, genes), but also putting at stake essential forest ecosystem functions and services, threatening the sustainability of local livelihoods, economic value chains and global environmental goods. Recent studies have clearly evidenced the socio-economic reasoning to invest in forest biodiversity, not only for future generations, but also for the people living today.

Restoring, maintaining and sustainably using ecosystem functions and services in human-influenced forest landscapes is a key conservation and development issue. But, do we have the effective (inter)national policies in place? Are the measures now taken appropriate and clever? How do we deal with specificity of situations? Has certification of products and uses of tropical forest fulfilled the promises, and especially, what should be done where and when this is not the case? Who should take what role? These questions were at the core of the presentations and discussions at the seminar.

The aims were to share recent scientific insights into the status of forest biodiversity, integrated forms of sustainable biodiversity use and management, certification systems and biodiversity policies. Key scientists gave talks, followed by an interactive panel discussion on the way forward in policy and practice.

Some impressions from the seminar:

The tropical forests are the most diverse ecosystem on the earth, and its diversity is under pressure. “My gross estimate is that deforestation in the coming 200 years will lead to the depletion of 10-40% of the tropical species” said the first speaker, Prof. William Laurance (James Cook University, Australia; University of Utrecht). “Therefore forest conservation is very important. But we also need the forests to dampen the effects of climate change.”

Do we need all those species?

What is the function of biodiversity for the people and the ecosystem? “Biodiversity is important for the well being of humans,” according to Lourens Poorter, Forest Ecologist from the WUR University. “We are making direct use of plants and animal species, but all those species also provide essential services such as the circulation of water and nutrients, and storage of carbon. The functioning of an ecosystem is directly dependent on the amount of species it contains and the characteristics of these species.”

FSC and much more

“Certification of forest management provides a tangible contribution to the conservation of biodiversity in tropical forests,” suggested Erik Lammerts van Bueren. “Certification is a primarily a tool for the stimulation of good management of designated areas, but not a tool for banning logging.” He also warned for the adverse effects as a consequence of the explosion of certification systems that are directed towards one product or service such as biomass for energy and storage of CO2. “These systems are unequal on the demands made to forest management. This creates an uneven playing field and creates confusion. Here lies an important regulatory role for government.”

Smart and coherent

Clever application of existing policies can mean a lot to biodiversity. "The framework of international conventions on biodiversity is ready," said Prof Bas Arts, professor of forest policy at Wageningen University. "But the execution is very slow and poor." Arts and other experts emphasized the negative effects of contradictory policies. "On the one hand, we are in the Netherlands trying hard to protect the Amazon, but on the other hand we apply low rates of VAT to the meat coming from this area where much forest is cut down for its production," said panellist Dr. Daniel Hirsch, a member of the Taskforce and Biodiversity Director of NGO Both Ends. "Slim and consistent policy is very important. Here again is a task for the government. "

Further information:

The seminar booklet and other information on the seminar (presentations, press release) can be found at the website of the Dutch Association of Tropical Forests (VTB):