opinion – Five mega-trends affecting forests have a major impact on local communities

We need to understand the effects of technology, migration, climate change, infrastructure and a growing middle class on forest dependent people

The fifth anniversary of the signing of the Paris Agreement provides an opportunity to reflect on progress towards global climate goals. In terms of protecting the world’s forests, which are essential for global and national efforts to combat climate change and biodiversity loss, there has been little – if any – progress.

When we think of deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions and extinctions in nature immediately come to the fore, but standing forests provide millions of people around the world with food, water, medicine and income. Despite this critical link between forest and poverty, there have been limited discussions at the highest level about the need to protect trees for the sake of ending poverty.

One reason we missed this link is that researchers regularly look at the role that forests play in uplifting local communities through an overly narrow lens. But to truly understand the kinds of actions and policies needed to make forests and the communities that depend on them, we need to better understand the forces that forests and livelihoods have on a local, intercontinental, and global scale.

A new study launched this week, along with 22 other experts in the field, compiled into five authors, identifies five megatrends affecting forests and forest communities. We believe that these trends are not well understood and are likely to have major consequences for forests and the livelihoods of the forest in the coming decade.

1. Forest disturbances

Droughts and excessive rains increase the sensitivity of forests to diseases and man-made veld fires and floods. It affects forest health and extinction on unprecedented scales, and there is growing evidence that forest degradation can lead to the emergence of zoonotic diseases with the ability to spread worldwide. The COVID-19 pandemic, along with other diseases of animal origin such as Ebola, SARS and HIV, has shown the devastating human and economic impact of pandemics.

2. Change of rural demographics

Increasing rural to urban migration – mainly men of working age – is causing a major exodus among forest-dependent communities. The forces driving this migration trend are complex, but include the decline and flow of national and international labor markets. What these demographic changes mean for forest ecosystems and how they are managed is poorly understood. On the one hand, the rural exodus could lead to reforestation as people stop using land for agriculture. On the other hand, greater demand for beef and soy in growing cities could also lead to an increase in deforestation.

3. The rise of the middle class in low- and middle-income countries

By 2030, the middle class in low- and middle-income countries will grow to about 4.9 billion people, representing about 50% of the world population. The growth in demand driven by the new middle classes will increase the pressure on land and other resources for the production of cattle, soybeans and palm oil. Between 2001-2015, 27% of the forest disturbance was already attributed to the deforestation of commodities. Further growth in demand and an ongoing culture of consumerism will change local and global consumption patterns, with potentially serious consequences for deforestation, wildlife populations and rural communities.

4. Increased availability, access and use of digital technologies

Globally, access to information and communication technologies has grown exponentially, with a sevenfold increase in internet and mobile cellular subscriptions since 2000. Technologies that collect, compile and distribute forest data are becoming increasingly accurate, sophisticated and easy to use, including near real-time satellite data to monitor deforestation. Data providers like Global Forest Watch and monitoring platforms like TRASE already offer accessible datasets.

5. Large-scale infrastructure development

Large-scale infrastructure initiatives, such as China’s belt and road projects, are likely to have transformational effects on forests and rural communities. To meet the demand for energy, natural resources and transportation, many countries have planned ambitious growth in infrastructure. It is expected that by 2050 there will be at least 25 million km of new roads worldwide to facilitate commodity flows between transport hubs. Governments in the Amazon Basin alone are developing 246 new hydroelectric dams, and illegal mining activities are expanding rapidly. This can lead to forest loss, people living in forests, displacing, disrupting livelihoods and provoking social conflict, as communities lose access to land and resources.

These five trends highlight new actors and key mechanisms by which they are likely to affect forests and livelihoods. A better understanding of the extent to which it will affect forests and livelihoods is critical to policy and advocacy on a local, national and international scale and to ensuring that the right interventions are recognized for successful sustainability transitions.

These trends create new agricultural and urban boundaries, change existing rural landscapes and practices, provide space for new conservation priorities and facilitate an unprecedented development of monitoring and evaluation platforms that can be used by local communities, civic organizations, governments and international donors.

Understanding these dynamics on a larger scale and their impact is essential for the design and implementation of national and international strategies that can not only support the critical role of forests in the delivery of life destinations locally, but also a variety of other sustainability challenges. can support more globally.

Johan Oldekop is a senior lecturer in environment and development at the University of Manchester’s Global Development Institute.

Laura Vang Rasmussen is Assistant Professor in the Department of Earth Sciences and Natural Resource Management at the University of Copenhagen.

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are from the author and not from the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


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