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Protecting The World's Forests Needs To Be A Top Priority at COP21

12/02/2015 12:10 EST | Updated 12/02/2016 05:12 EST
BAY ISMOYO via Getty Images
A general view shows fire damaged forest and peatlands, surrounding Palangkaraya city, in Central Kalimantan on October 30, 2015. Desperate civilians at the epicentre of Indonesia's haze crisis are taking the fight into their own hands, using whatever meagre resources they have to confront the fires ravaging their communities as they tire of waiting for the government to take action. AFP PHOTO / Bay ISMOYO (Photo credit should read BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images)

This week, many of the world's leaders are gathered in Paris as part of the COP21 climate negotiations to discuss the role of forests within the broader climate debate. This is a critical moment. COP21 is the last opportunity for the world to reach a legally binding agreement to tackle climate change. The protection of forests and peatlands need to feature in this agreement and in return, can make a major contribution to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

The world needs the leaders to agree to a shared vision, matched by commitments, so that all of us -- the industry, governments, civil society and consumers -- can work together to halt and reverse the demise of the world's precious forests.

The recent devastation of forest fires has been exacerbated by one of the worst El Niños since 1950. The destruction of land, the displacement of people and grave health problems, which have affected many, serves to highlight the need for an urgent, regional and multi-stakeholder approach to tackling this problem. We hope those in Paris can focus on the following areas to help save the world's forests:

1. A Multi-Stakeholder Landscape Approach

This is a philosophical approach we have adopted as part of our own work in Indonesia, and the development of public-private partnerships is a key way to address several of the fundamental issues we face in effectively managing land for economic development while at the same time ensuring sustainable land supervision.

When it comes to forest protection, a landscape approach is vital. Administrative boundaries -- whether it be concessions, provinces, or countries -- simply don't matter. Forest conservation cannot be undertaken by individual actors but require all stakeholders in the landscape to work together. This means bringing together central and local government, companies operating in different sectors in the landscape from pulp and paper to palm oil to mining, civil society actors and local communities. We must look for and learn from examples of best practices, and in that regard, the solutions being presented during COP21 will be invaluable.

2. Providing Access to Financing

Finance is also an important piece of the puzzle -- by reforming the lending criteria for financial institutions, it is possible to use capital in order to drive positive changes along the forestry supply chain.

Companies and individuals are all ultimately economic engines and as such they must be incentivized to protect forests. We must work toward a global system where trees are worth more standing and growing than they are chopped down. We fully support the development of initiatives such as REDD+ and the Green Climate Fund, but we must recognize that to date, these have failed to yield concrete results on the ground. Billions have been pledged, only a fraction has been spent, and that fraction has made too little difference in countries like Indonesia. So we would urge governments in particular to look at their financing mechanisms for emerging economies and work out how we can put them to use in a transparent, accountable and effective way, including by working through the private sector.

3. Responsible Peatland Management

One of our greatest challenges in protecting forests is the prevention of peat exploitation. Peatlands provide a vital carbon sponge and their protection will help to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The recent announcement by Indonesia President Widodo committing the country to better peatland management, and a moratorium on new developments on peat, is certainly very welcome. The next target must be for all those operating in peatland areas to establish and share best practices in peatland management.

We cannot stand by idly hoping to reverse recent devastation. All groups must work proactively and collaboratively to find solutions that are win-win-win. The decisions made at COP21 will go a long way in protecting our future and we hope that roadmap includes strong policies to protect the world's forest.

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