Deforestation has increased within the past fifty years mostly due to the increased demand for wood products, particularly in developed countries. The destruction of forests has also been caused by other human actions such as the building of roads and clearing of forests to create agriculture land. More than one-fifth of the world’s tropical forests have been cleared since 1960. (1) Tropical deforestation is responsible for a dramatic increase in species extinctions, the loss of indigenous people’s lands and livelihoods, and an increasingly important factor in global climate change. (2) The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) was created as a way to slow deforestation through certifying sustainable forests and encouraging consumers and retailers to buy certified wood products.
Deforestation is occurring due to a variety of human actions. The building of infrastructure, such as roads, is one of the major causes of increased deforestation. Roads make accessible forest areas that were previously inaccessible making it easier for logging industry to move in and exploit the resources. In the Amazon the building of roads along with the government’s agriculture subsidy policies has resulted in a continuing cycle of deforestation. The farmers come in and clear an area and because of the poor soil they move on after a couple seasons clearing more of the forest. (3)
Deforestation affects biological diversity and global climate change. The decrease in biological diversity due to deforestation is of particular concern in the tropical forests, which cover only about six percent of the earth’s surface and hold fifty to eighty percent of the world’s biological diversity. (4) The increase in deforestation has the potential to contribute to the rising levels of carbon in the atmosphere thus contribute to climate change. When forests are cleared or burned, much of the carbon stored in trees and the soil is released into the atmosphere-according to current estimates, tropical deforestation and burning account for about one-quarter of carbon emissions into the atmosphere from human activities. (5)
The FSC is an international non-profit organization set up to support sustainable forestry management. (6) It was set up to fill the need for a global system of criteria and accreditation for sustainable forest management, which was not being filled through government action or treaties, to help slow deforestation. The FSC creates a standard setting forum for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), businesses, and stakeholders at the local and global level with developed and developing countries in equal representation. (7) Groups representing economic, environmental, and social interests for slowing deforestation are also in equal representation in the FSC voting system.
The FSC does not directly go out and evaluate forests as being sustainably managed, but rather accredits certifying bodies to carry out the evaluations. The FSC also does not have strict criteria that it requires all forests to be evaluated on. Instead, the FSC only provides the broader principles and criteria under which local NGOs and companies negotiate the country-specific or sub-nationally specific indicators and verifiers by which they and others in their region or country will be assessed. (8) This process allows the indigenous and local communities give input on how to sustainably manage their forests, while still considering the economic interests of the forest industry and the conservation interests of the environmental groups.
Some of the forest product retailers have become the biggest supporters of the FSC. Companies like Home Depot and Lowe’s have made commitments to buying and selling FSC certified wood products. Many of these companies make commitments to take advantage of the green image they gain and the competitive advantage they gain in the growing market place for eco-friendly products. (9) However, these commitments do not necessarily mean that they exclusively buy and sell FSC certified products. Due to the increasing environment conservation awareness among the public consumers will choose FSC certified products when priced the same or below non-FSC certified products, but fewer make choose FSC certified products when they are more expensive than non-FSC certified products. (10)
Since the voluntary FSC certification began in 1996, about four percent of the total global forest area has been certified as being under sustainable forest management. (11) The growth in the number of retailers committed to buying and selling FSC certified wood products has encourage more forest managers to become certified to fill the demand. Despite the increase, many forest managers do not easily buy into the FSC system, as they are the ones that must make the on the ground changes in their practices and pay for the certifying bodies to conduct the audits. (12) For some smaller forest managers and owners they just do not have the resources to meet the criteria and/or pay for the required audits. These forest managers and owners are not in favor of the FSC certification system, as it has the potential to put them out of business as demand for FSC certified wood products increases.
The FSC certification appears to be a step in the right direction towards slowing deforestation. Although well-known retailers have committed to purchasing and selling FSC certified products, overall consumers are unaware of what the FSC logo stands for or the motivation to buy products that are from sustainably managed forests when non-certified products are cheaper. The fact that retailers have made commitments does show that there is an interest in eco-friendly products and that retailers sense an increase in demand for these products. These commitments may overall help slow deforestation through encouraging forests to be sustainably managed in order to supply the demand for eco-friendly products. However, the demand for FSC certified products has the potential social costs of putting the small forest owners and managers out of business because they cannot afford the certification process.
Before taking this course I had only been exposed to the environmental issues of climate change and water scarcity. From the readings and speakers this week I was exposed to the issues of biodiversity and deforestation for the first time. The idea of deforestation in particular caught my attention. Sure I had heard about the loss of tropical forest, but I never realized that so much of it had been destroyed in a relatively short amount of time. I was also amazed to learn that deforestation can have a major impact on the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. I knew that with less forests there was less sequestering of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but it never occurred to me that destroying the forests allowed the already sequester carbon dioxide to be re-released.
1. Robert T. Watson and others, United Nations Environment Programme, Protecting Our Planet Securing Our Future: Linkages Among Global Environmental Issues and Human Needs (1998), 18.
2. Joseph Domask, “From Boycotts to Partnership: NGOs, the Private Sector, and the World’s Forests,” In NGOs and Globalization: Transforming Business, Government, and Society, eds. J. Doh and H. Teegen (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003): 3
3. Andrew Deutz. Special Advisor Global Policy, International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Speaker. Washington, D.C., 3 March 2006.
4. Domask, 2.
5. Watson, 18.
6. World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), The Forest Industry in the 21st Century (United Kingdom, 2000): 2.
7. Domask, 11.
8. Ibid., 14.
9. Ibid., 20.
11. Domask, 14
12. Ibid., 21.