Swiss biologist and environmentalist Claude Martin calls for a global strategy to reverse the fate of tropical rainforests.
I don't remember ever meeting people who didn't care about the future of tropical rainforests. Whether scientists, entrepreneurs or politicians, everyone affirms how important this topic is.
And they are right: the protection of tropical forests is important. Vital to survival. The rainforest ensures the preservation of the earth's biodiversity - animals and plants depend on each other -, it protects the water cycles and is crucial in combating climate change.
Some things happen. When I hear that a virtually unexplored rainforest area the size of the Netherlands, the Montanhas do Tumucumaque in Amapá, a Brazilian state on the border with French Guiana, has been declared a protected area, I am filled with new optimism. Then again I am seized by the deepest pessimism when I see how huge rainforest areas are flattened by bulldozers in order to gain pastures for livestock. Or when in Kalimantan, Indonesia, some of the most species-rich lowland rainforests are again converted into palm oil plantations.
Overall, we are simply not making sufficient and fast enough progress. But time is of the essence. After all, we must expect enormous losses of rainforest area in the future. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations calculates that the global demand for agricultural products will increase by 60 percent between 2015 and 2050 as a result of the increase in the world population, urbanization and changes in eating habits.
The most important factor here is the rapid increase in meat and palm oil consumption in emerging markets. So it could happen that the world literally eats up the tropical rainforests. This is because suitable areas for expanding agriculture are hardly available elsewhere. Unfortunately, it brings more profit to produce beef or pet food than to preserve intact tropical rainforest.
The aim must therefore be to make more efficient use of the large, fallow and degraded tropical land areas and to intensify production. Reducing the enormous waste of food could make a significant contribution to reducing land pressure.
As long as the current economic model of profit maximization in the globalized economy leads to such drastic mistakes, national governments and the international community - not to mention indigenous forest dwellers - remain in a weak, if not powerless position.
We, rather the earth, therefore need decisive joint action. We need more large protected areas for primary and secondary forests to stop the "double cocktail" of forest fragmentation and desiccation as a result of climate change. Selective logging in untouched primary forests must also be restricted in order to halt increasing degradation. The fight against illegal logging and mining, as well as state measures against attacks on indigenous forests, must be part of an international protection strategy.
The past decades have shown that alliances between international organisations, financial institutions, NGOs and national governments can contribute effectively to forest conservation in the tropics. They strengthen the backs of positive forces, even in countries suffering from weak or corrupt governments.
Comprehensive forest conservation concepts, sustainable management and the involvement of the indigenous population are the three factors that can secure the existence of the rainforest. The fact that consumers all over the world influence processes through their demand should have been understood by now, at least in the western world. This is the chance the rainforest has. This is the chance man has. We need to use it now. A later may not be possible. ®