Green economy. Green products. Green solutions.
These are but a few of the phrases that get tossed around with increased regularity as marketers seek to associate their products and causes with the environment. But what is it about the word “green” that makes us think about the environment?
It’s not the oceans, which cover 70 percent of the earth’s surface: they’re blue. And the great deserts of the world, which are so inspiring, are usually a subtle shade of pink or orange.
In the environmental context, green really means one thing: forests. And it sometimes seems like forests have come to stand as a near-universal symbol for nature and the environmental movement. They even speak to the increasing percentage of the global population that lives in cities, people who are far more dependent on forests than they perhaps realize.
This connection between people and forests underpins the second Asia-Pacific Forest Week (APFW) taking place in Beijing this week (and is also the theme of 2011, the UN-declared International Year of Forests.) Roughly 1,000 people — ranging from government officials, corporate executives, academics and representatives from civil society — from 50 countries will descend on China’s capital this week to get caught up on recent regional developments in all aspects of forest policy and practice.
Those developments include efforts to combat illegal logging in Indonesia; community management of teak plantations in Lao PDR; negotiations around the expansion of oil palm in Malaysia; ground-level work on land-use planning in Papua New Guinea; and work to restore mangrove forests in Thailand. Given the fact that Asia-Pacific has lost nearly 100 million acres of forest since 1990, these are all critically important projects, and each plays a role in slowing and eventually reversing the region’s significant rate of deforestation.
The Nature Conservancy has been at the center of this issue in Asia-Pacific for the past two decades. Our programs in China, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea — not to mention the region-wide Responsible Asia Forestry and Trade (RAFT) program — have worked to improve forest management, promote the legal trade of timber products, encourage ecologically based reforestation and link these actions to the emerging global discussion around the role that forests play in combating climate change.
Our success in these areas enables us to play a leadership role at the upcoming APFW. Conservancy staff will be organizing sessions around forest sector governance, leading discussions on illegal logging, supporting ongoing efforts to enhance forest sector education and strengthening linkages in the corridors with people and organizations that will be instrumental in further building out our portfolio of forestry projects in the region.
As we approach the end of the Year of Forests, it is important for us all to stop and remember what forests do for us and why they trigger such a strong emotional response.
Because forests are not only beautiful objects. They provide habitat for endangered and endemic species of plants and animals; they regulate the flows of fresh water that we rely on for agricultural, industrial and consumption purposes; they provide food and shelter for forest-dependent communities and create commodities — from furniture to floor boards — for the rest of us; and, as is increasingly recognized, the play a vitally important role in managing our climate through their ability to breathe in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen.
So, whether you live in Bangkok, Beijing, Berlin, or Boston, forests play a crucial role in your life. Rest assured, this week there will be a thousand people in the capital city of the most populous country on Earth working to keep those forests green.