Interview / 07 Jan, 2015
2014 Was Good and Bad Year for World's Forests

This is the second instalment of our short series "Voices from Lima to Paris", for which our reporter Terry Swartzberg met with delegates at the UN Climate Change Conference in Lima to hear their stories.

According to the distinguished Peruvian agronomist Marc J. Dourojeanni, 2014 may turn out to have been a good year for the world's forests - at least in some ways.

At COP 20 in Lima, eight South American countries pledged to reforest 20 million hectares. The pledge is a key part of a worldwide initiative to plant enough trees to save over one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

But 2014 was also a terrible year for rainforests and other first-growth woods which continue to be cut down for commercial development.

There is only one real hope for saving the rainforests, and that is increasing the areas offering true protection,

said Marc, who has dedicated his life to preserving the world's jungles. A nearly 50 year-campaign has taken him throughout Latin America, Asia and Africa where he has seen a series of relentless onslaughts on nature.“During my lifetime, I've seen the jungle, which used to come within 130 kilometers of Lima, lost to the point where you have to travel 500 kilometers to find it,” says Marc. “And the situation in other places I work is equally bad.”

Marc's work has also been marked by some breakthroughs in recent years – including Peru's allocating some 20 million hectares of its surface to national parks and other nature conservation areas.

What has given him the motivation to keep on fighting for all these years? “The only way not to give into depression is to not give up the battle,” says Marc.

Marc's way of battling the blues is to reach out to the peoples living in the rainforests. He has very practical reasons for doing so.

“I am not idealizing indigenous people, but they often still pursue the traditions that enabled them to coexist with their forest habitats. And they have relatively low population densities, allowing these habitats to survive.”

“Most importantly of all, the indigenous peoples are learning all throughout South America how to effectively lobby their governments. Politicians are learning to listen to them. This lobbying has resulted in the creation and expansion of homelands providing effective protection to the peoples and their forest habitats,” concludes Marc.

China's reforestation campaign

Marc also said that he thinks the Chinese are accomplishing tremendous things in the area of forests. At one point, woods in China were almost completely obliterated. Now around one fifth of the country is covered in forests.

 “I don't accept criticism of any initial lack of biodiversity in these newly-planted woods. The important thing is that the forests are doing what they have been planted to do, namely sequestering carbon dioxide and reversing degradation of land. It will take 30 to 40 years, but the biodiversity will come back to a certain extent.”

Foreign investors ruthlessly exploiting rural land in developing countries

Providers of finance such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank have set up strict habitat-preserving rules for investors wishing to secure financing from them. And these financing bodies ensure the implementation of rules. But Marc said this is not always the case:

“The problem lies with other sources of finance. Rules are often ineffective and laxly enforced. This permits ruthless investors to say: “See, we are complying with local rules.””