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Jens Wieting Headshot

Can a Single B.C. Forest Change the World?

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On June 20, representatives from more than 100 governments will meet for the Rio+20 summit in Brazil to discuss and hopefully agree on a meaningful version of "The Future We Want" -- the title of the draft agreement currently being negotiated.

Despite many disagreements, there is emerging consensus among many delegates that there is no such things as human well-being without ecological integrity. According to Kyle Gracie, research scientist and science coordinator at Global Footprint Network who participates in the Rio negotiations, "many leaders now view as crucial what is at the core of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements: to protect your environmental assets to secure the long-term wellbeing of your citizens."

This is one of the reasons why over 50 scientists from nine countries have written B.C.'s Premier Christy Clark on the eve of the Rio+20 summit to remind her that it's about time to deliver on the promise, and fully implement the Great Bear Rainforest agreements.

Dominick DellaSala, who initiated the letter, is the chief scientist of the Geos Institute and lead-author of the most comprehensive work on temperate and boreal rainforests. As he explains, "Scientists are eager to have a model of conservation that can be replicated around the world, and while we have hope with the Great Bear agreement, six years later it remains an unfinished job."

In their letter, the scientists point out that the Great Bear Rainforest is one of the few remaining large blocks of relatively unmodified landscapes left on earth. It includes over a quarter of the coastal temperate rainforests of North America that provide habitats for spectacular wildlife like the spirit bear and wild salmon that are increasingly rare throughout the world.

Currently, half of the Great Bear Rainforest remains open to logging. The recommendation from scientists that was built into the Great Bear Rainforest agreements -- to set aside 70 per cent of the natural old-growth forest -- has yet to be implemented.

It is not just in British Columbia but globally that many agreements to protect the environment are not realized. Twenty years ago, in 1992, over 100 heads of state met for the first Rio Earth Summit and adopted a series of milestone agreements on sustainable development, climate and biodiversity, all based on the acknowledgement that the protection of the environment is critical to sustain humanity.

Unfortunately, governments around the world failed to follow through with appropriate action. A few days ago a group of 22 scientists published an article warning that with green house gas emissions contiuning to increase, and nearly 50 per cent of all ecosystems altered by humans our planet is now moving rapidly towards an irreversible "state shift."

Meanwhile, both in B.C. and worldwide, many politicians continue to argue about jobs and growth versus nature and environment, as if it wasn't possible to have economic activity without destroying the environment (it is). The difference from 1992 is that we are running out of time and can no longer afford to be in denial about the mess we are in. Governments might want to negotiate until the end of the world, nature will not.

One hope is that individual countries as well as provincial, regional and local governments will continue to lead the way and inspire the rest. Our responsibility is to hold each and every one of our leaders accountable to undertake everything possible to create "the future we want."

In the case of the Great Bear Rainforest agreements, the government of British Columbia has stated several times recently that they continue to support the agreements as long as all parties -- First Nations, environmental organizations and logging companies -- can agree on the next steps. But this is not enough to demonstrate that full implementation of the agreements is a priority for the province. It is entirely possible to address outstanding conservation steps, additional iniatives for higher quality of life in coastal communities and industry concerns in less than a year, but it will require clear leadership.

In the words from sustainability expert Kyle Gracie, from the Earth Summit in Rio: "British Columbia has a timely and tremendous opportunity to turn this consensus into action." The time is now to make the Great Bear Rainforest a model for the world.