Worldwatch Paper #140: Taking a Stand: Cultivating a New Relationship with the World's Forests

April 1998
Janet N. Abromovitz
ISBN: 1-878071-42-4
84 pages

The accelerating destruction of the world's forests threatens the planet's ecological and economic health. Already almost half of the forests that once covered the planet are gone. Between 1980 and 1995 alone, at least 2 million square kilometers of forests were destroyed-an area larger than Mexico.

In this paper, Janet Abramovitz examines the combination of forces fueling the destruction of the world's forests. Demand for forest products is soaring, illegal logging goes unchecked, and governments are virtually paying private interests to take timber and convert the land to other uses. As forests are cut, we lose much more than just timber-a host of non-wood products and such critical services as watershed protection, habitat, and climate regulation vanish as well.

In the face of threats to the remaining forests, the author reveals steps that can be taken to preserve their long-term health and provide economic benefits. She identifies significant opportunities, beginning with reducing waste by producers and consumers and expanding recycling. The field of sustainable forestry is developing rapidly, as practitioners learn to manage forests both for timber and the other services people need. Guided by a credible certification system, consumers can express their preferences for products from well-managed forests. Changes in tax and subsidy policies and cooperation through international mechanisms like the Climate Change and Biodiversity Conventions offer still more ways to move toward a new relationship with the world's forests.