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Welcome to!
PANeL News – 4)

Good news for forests?



Some important facts


Forests cover 30% of the world's total land area

Deforestation rate: 13m hectares per year

Iceland has three native tree species, Brazil has 7,780

The world's trees store 283 giga tonnes of carbon, 50% more than there is in the atmosphere


An international team of researchers say its Forest Identity study suggests the world could be approaching a "turning point" from deforestation.


The study measures timber volumes, biomass and captured carbon - not just land areas covered by trees.


The findings are being published in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Professor Kauppi, from the University of Helsinki, said data from the Forest Identity methodology offered a more sophisticated view than previous studies.

He said this approach offered a better understanding of the natural resource: "When we look at changes in both areas covered and biomass, we can get a more complete picture of the ecosystems."


When the technique was applied to data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) Global Forest Assessment report, the researchers found that forest stocks had actually expanded over the past 15 years in 22 of the world's 50 most forested nations.


They also showed increases in biomass and carbon storage capacity in about half of the 50 countries.


But the data also revealed that forest area and biomass was still in decline in Brazil and Indonesia, home to some of the world's most important rainforests.


Demand for land


The report also showed a correlation between a nation's economic growth and "forest transition", in other words, a shift from deforestation to net gains in tree cover.


The researchers found that when Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita reached $4,600 (£2,400), many nations experienced forest transition and saw an increase in forestry growing stock (volume of useable timber).



 Making promises and goals that are unrealistic is bad; you have to set demanding, yet achievable aims



Professor Kauppi said no nation intentionally destroyed forests; people did it out of necessity.


"Rural populations, which are poor and growing, have to convert new land to agriculture and subsistence farming," he observed.


"So the pressures on the forests ease if people have other job sources. We are not saying that people, because they are wealthier, do not destroy forests but it is a sign that societies have good law enforcement and rural policies."


But there was a risk that a misleading picture was being created by rich nations importing raw timber or wood-based products from poorer nations, rather than destroying their own woodlands.


"This is a serious problem," Professor Kauppi said. "It is called 'leakage' or 'exporting ecological impacts' and it exists, unfortunately."


But he emphasised that, overall, international trade was not bad: "If agricultural production takes place in highly productive regions, then land elsewhere can be protected or saved."


Deliverable goals


He hoped the Forest Identity formula would be used as a tool to help governments and policymakers to formulate effective strategies.


"For example, you can set goals by analysing the changes in forest area and forest density and then make projections of alternative futures.


"You cannot change things overnight. Making promises and goals that are unrealistic are bad; you have to set demanding, yet achievable aims."


Professor Kauppi said he was hopeful for the long-term future of the planet's forests, but warned that appropriate action was essential.


"Critically, it is about how people live in rural areas in developing nations," he concluded. "Can their living conditions be improved? If they can, then there is reason to be optimistic."


Map showing changes to forests' grow rates (Image: BBC)



An interesting footnote from Ethiopia – for some of you this may be familiar


From Jonathan Clayton in Addis Ababa




POVERTY is by far the biggest business in Africa. Now

Thanks to Tony Blair and Bob Geldof it is boom time

again. Whatever happens at G8, one thing is certain a

Tsunami of fresh money is about to come rushing down

the aid pipeline. The aid business is waiting with open arms. Ethiopia may rank near the bottom of virtually every league table for child mortality, per capita

incomes, life expectancy, despite more than two decades of western largesse  but when it comes to the aid game, the country plays in the Premiership.


Among the charities, aid groups, development agencies and donor organisations that make up the so-called international humanitarian community, Ethiopia is

queen an honour resulting from the 1984 famine and the unprecedented international reaction.


The legacy of Bob Geldof Live Aid charity record ‘Do They Know Its Christmas’? and the Band Aid concerts, which raised an estimated £150 million, lives on. Many

of the organisations that flooded into the country then are still here, joined by others as new problems have arisen.


The shabby streets of the capital, Addis Ababa, are

dotted with billboards of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and aid groups from the Christian Right to liberal Left dealing with everything from

adoption to female genital mutilation to vaccinations.



Ethiopia has a cachet among aid workers, one insider said. The country is a particular favourite among young western idealists keen for field experience.


It is also good fun. At night, the car parks of trendy bars and fancy restaurants opened by yuppie Ethiopians returning from abroad with money made in

private sectors not allowed at home  are packed with duty-free 4x4 vehicles.


Inside, lively debates take place. Prices, though way beyond ordinary Ethiopians, most of whom live on £60 a year, are cheap even by the standards of the most

modest western salary. Through a mix of German, Scandinavian and American accents, terms such as poverty alleviation, projects, capacity building and gender balance, keep recurring.


One issue, though, rarely has a hearing in this politically correct world: why doesn’t it work? Why is it that after an estimated trillion dollars of aid to Africa over the last four decades, average per capita income across most of the continent is, according to

the World Bank, lower than at the end of the 1960s?


Some of that answer lies in the aid business itself. One report recently estimated that some 70 per cent of all money raised went on NGOs administration cars, salaries, equipment, and the all-important workshops and seminars.


There are some notable exceptions Save the Children

Fund and Oxfam among them but much money donated on high streets never reaches those for whom it was intended.


African governments cream off some while local businessmen charge exorbitant prices for supplies, ex-pat salaries take another chunk, as does the running of the head offices back home. Tenders, particularly for UN contracts, are rarely conducted



Most British aid charities try to keep administrative costs to about 10 per cent. Care International says that 91 per cent of funds are spent on its 130projects worldwide. Cafod said that it also spent less than 10p in the £1 on administration.


But the big boys are the development gurus of the organisations and relief and development agencies of donor countries. In Addis Ababa, these experts peer

Down on shanty town from gleaming modern glass and chrome towers housing the United Nations, World Bank, The African Union, and the European Union. They rarely

venture out of what one leading African commentator has termed their bubbles.


A report by Action Aid which infuriated the British Government said that consultants and western companies benefited to the tune of 60p for every £1 intended to go towards eradicating poverty.


Last May, the World Bank itself admitted for the first time that consultants were taking $20 billion (£12 billion) from global aid budgets 40 per cent of the total amount given by the industrialised world for overseas development.


In his seminal 1989 work, Graham Hancock, a British author, termed these beneficiaries the Lords of Poverty. “It is aid and nothing else that has

provided hundreds of thousands of jobs for the boys,  he wrote. Since then, he told The Times, matters had got much, much worse. Yet it is ordinary Africans who are often its biggest critics. It is quality, not quantity. If the projects and mechanisms are not there to absorb it properly it will just be wasted or stolen, said Abebech Gobena,

who cares for homeless children in an Addis Ababa orphanage.