Asia-Pacific Forestry Week blog

This blog is maintained by Thomas Fairman, an Australian forest scientist, who also writes on issues relating to forestry and forest science at http://forestsfortrees.blogspot.com

For more blogs covering the proceedings of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Week, visit:
The Centre for International Forestry Research
RECOFTC: The Centre For People & Forests 

Day 5 - November 11th, 2011
Wrapping Up Some Other Elements to The Asia Pacific Forestry Week of 2011

This blog has tended to focus on the plenary sessions at the APFW, where the thematic themes of the conference were primarily discussed. However, there have been a variety of other partner events and social activities woven throughout the week that are worth recounting.

Reception evening
Monday night saw the official opening of the week with a banquet co-hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the State Forestry Administration of China. Entertainment was abound, with a variety of presentations of classic and contemporary Chinese culture from the Student Art Group of Minzu University of China. This included performances of traditional instruments, to renditions of contemporary songs – such as Adele’s “Chasing Payments” and Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” - by the students.

The reception also provided the opportunity for a variety of awards to be presented, including the “Champions of the Asia Pacific Forests” – awarded to people who make major efforts and use their abilities to reach out and inspirationally promote the value of forests at local and regional levels.

The two recipients of the award were Nely P. Alzula, President of the Organisation Kapit Bisig Farmer’s Association in the Philippines, and Bhishma P. Subedi, Executive Director of Asia Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bioresources, each for their contributions. The details of their personal stories can be found in the programme for the week.

It was obvious that their receipt of the award was vindication for their many years of effort promoting the role of forests. As Nely later remarked, receiving the award was the “happiest day of my life since my birth.”

The evening concluded with a performance of a traditional Chinese dance, which spilled out into the audience, and with a little encouragement, many of the delegates joined the dancers on stage.

Forest Carbon Management beyond 2020
The partner event relating to climate change and carbon management in the context of climate change was an excellent opportunity to see how different nations are tackling this issue.

The session was opened with insights into climate change from the persective of China, with remarks from both Dr. Chen Shaozhi, Director of the Research Institute of Forestry Policy and Information at Chinese Academy of Forestry and Dr. LI Nuyun, Deputy Director-General at the Office For Combating Climate Change, State Forestry Administration and Secretary General of China Green Carbon Foundation.

Climate change is a formidable issue, according to these representatives of China, and action is immediately required. One issue to tackle is the provision of incentives so citizens can change their consumption behaviour away from emissions intensive luxury goods.

Outlined in the session was the China Green Carbon Foundation, which is a body that has been established to coordinate the planting of trees in strategic areas to act as a domestic offsets measure. This operates in line with the objectives of President Hu Jintao, who has pledged to increase forest area in China by 40 million hectares, and a stocking volume of 1.3 billion m3 by 2020.

Runsheng Yin, from the Department of Forestry at the University of Michigan, provided a fascinating follow up to the prior presentations, analyzing the implications and numbers behind President Jintao’s numbers, showing that as they stand, they would offset ~2% of the CO2 emissions of China. However, with improved forestry management – scenarios such as increased stocking, and increased growth rate – it would be possible to increase the offset to four times to ~8% of China’s emissions. 

Analysis such as this shows the importance of forestry and forest management when considering the use of forest resources as a means to mitigate climate change – and this was a point that was reiterated by Australian Professor Jerry Vanclay, from the School of Environmental Science and Management at Southern Cross University, who concluded that “sensible policy about storing carbon is too important to leave to popular whim.” He then reiterated the need for coherent understanding of different ecosystems, and how they may respond under different management regimes in terms of carbon sequestration.

While it is not likely that forests will be the sole battleground in the fight against climate change, they can play a very important role, and there is a very relevant and important position for foresters to play in this arena.

The CANopy Room
The CANopy Room has more meaning to its name than describing the luscious foliage that was on display – it was also the ‘Culture And Networking’ room, a place for people to gather, engage in informal conversation, and have a little bit of a break from the proceedings of the day.

Adorning the walls of the Canopy Room is a number of country profiles. It is also the repository of the drawings from the Kids to Forests Competition, in which students in China and the Philippines schools were invited to submit artworks inspired by the themes “Green in My Eyes” and “The Role of Kids in Sustainable Forest Management”.

Within the Canopy room there is also a gallery of photos that were submitted for the APFW photo competition, to the theme of “People and Forests”. The two selected winning photos are also prominently displayed.

There is also a film loop presented that shows a variety of films from around the world of forestry related films.

Film night
The film night organised by the FAO and facilitated by Catherine Untalan, Executive Director of the Miss Earth Foundation, showcased a variety of films from around the region with forests as their central focus, but dealing a variety of topics – such as conservation and community forest profiles. Despite getting off to a slightly delayed start due to a misplaced projector screen, the film night ran very smoothly. 

Opening the night was a specially recorded address by filmmaker Yann Arthus-Bertrand, who introduced his film ‘Of Forests and Men’. This visually powerful film combined stunning images of a variety forests around the world with a strong conservation message, extolling the many virtues of forests for people and the planet. Many of the images were captured aerially and at moments like sunrise, which provided a perspective of forests that few get to see.

An undeniable highlight would have to have been ‘Satoyama: Japan’s Secret Forest’, featuring the unmistakable narration of David Attenborough. The film told the story of a rural township in Japan that utilises the local forest for a variety of purposes – such as honey, timber, and shitake mushrooms.

The film was also a profile of the ecological processes of the forest, and the flora and fauna that constitute it. It is worthwhile to note, though, for those unfamiliar with the Japanese term ‘satoyama’ that it does not refer specifically to a certain forest in Japan, but rather the interface of arable flat lands (‘sato’) and mountain foothills (‘yama’) and the management of this area as a community forest resource.

Another film shown was ‘Working For Forests’, produced by the FAO. This covered the topic of assisted natural regeneration in the Philippines, which was also the topic of a press conference earlier in the week at the APFW, and was reported on the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-15619703).

The other films were all equally interesting, covering topics such as climate change, community forestry, and mangrove conservation, summaries of which can be found online in the programme guide.

Day 4 – November 10th 2011
Journey to 2020: The Future for Forestry in the Asia and The Pacific

For the final plenary session for the week, the topic of the conversation was suitably on the future of forestry in Asia and the Pacific, and it tied together a variety of speakers to share their visions from their respective professional backgrounds. 

Anders Lonnblad, Chair of the session and Deputy Director General of the Ministry for Rural Affairs in Sweden, opened with a turn of phrase translated from his mother tongue - “it’s always difficult to predict, especially about the future”. However, if there is one thing that can be counted upon, it’s change – and that can either be a threat or opportunity. And if seen as an opportunity, it can be an inspiring driving force. 

Even in that case, change and uncertainty are most definitely hallmarks of our contemporary global zeitgeist. 

Tony Alexander, the Chief Economist of the Bank of New Zealand, provided an overview of the current global economic climate, how it relates to the forestry sector of the Asia-Pacific, and highlight the potential risks.

He recounted the causes of the 2008 global financial crisis through the lens of forest exports in the region, showing how the decline in world trade correlated to an associated decline in forest products. Furthermore, he outlined the concern that the positive effects of global stimulus efforts appear to be wearing off. 

This led him on to a pointed, blunt assessment – if there is economic collapse in Europe, the forestry of the Asia-Pacific will without a doubt be effected. This was highlighted by his statistic that China relies on Europe as the recipient of nearly a quarter of its exports. 

As a macroeconomist, the lesson of 2008 he wants to impart is that when it comes to the global economy, no one is immune from disruptions. 

Avrim Lazar offered something of a counter response of Alexander’s speech, by exploring the concept of a future world where the majority of the population is represented by the middle classes, rather than the poorer.

Given the aspirations of the middle class – luxury goods, even the simple choice in meat over grain – Lazar remarked that while we may worry about the ability of global financial systems to meet our economic aspirations, the serious question should be whether our global ecological systems can cater for our economic aspirations. 

Calling for an Arab Spring-esque “greening of our economy”, he said that the forest sector in the future will have to demonstrate it’s green credentials, through zero deforestation, zero waste, rigid environmental standards and carbon positive management. 

He advocated strongly for imagination, innovation and opening up the sector to options other than lumber, pulp and residue – such as construction, pharmaceuticals, and a variety of other sectors. 

Underscoring all of this, however, was his emphasis that we cannot live beyond the carrying capacity of the earth.

Inspiring words were continued by Sunita Narain, Director-General of the Centre for Science and Environment in India. 

She called for the reinvention of not only the forest sector, but also how we define economic growth. A point she reiterated – particularly in regard to REDD+ - related to both of these points: We cannot think of forests as merely sticks of carbon, a cheap offset so we can continue to drive SUVs, but rather habitats for people and potential sources of benefit for local people. 

She also questioned 20 years of western environmental activism that has built a public opinion that is particularly adverse to any use of trees, and her reinventing of forestry entails the increase of forest production in the context of competing interest, the acknowledgement of all values of the forest, and to use the increased productivity to build inclusive growth. 

She also called for a greater role of foresters in the discussions of REDD+ and the role of forests in climate change – a remark that drew, unsurprisingly, cheers from the audience.

Tint Lwin Thaung, Executive Director of RECOFTC, expressed the importance of initiatives such as the Asia-Pacific Forestry Week given the projected rise of emerging economies alongside the rise of the economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China (collectively referred to as 'B.R.I.C.'). Given the focus of RECOFTC on people and forests, he emphatically reiterated the importance of the social capital in forestry. 

Andrea Tuttle, who is on the Board of Directors of the Pacific Forest Trust discussed her perspectives on where REDD+ will be by 2020, which is informed by her experiences in seeing the evolution of the emerging Californian cap-and-trade system.

She noted how it is the development of the methodology of REDD+ that is equally as important as the outcome of the process, but noted that the major stumbling block as of now is the lack of financial mechanism to encourage investment in the schemes. She also referenced the importance of REDD+ spanning numerous difference sectors, not just forestry - a point that seems to be emerging as a key theme of this entire conference.

As so closed the final plenary session of the week. The future of forestry in the Asia Pacific appears to be one that will evolve in an economic and ecological climate of uncertainty – however, as shown by the discussions and presentations from these speakers, there is a passionate vision for the future of the region. The task now is turning that vision into reality.

* * *

Day 3 - 9th November
New Media – New Messages: Forestry Communications in Asia and the Pacific

Opening the third day of proceedings was a mesmerising sand painting performance by Zhang Xiaoyu, who sketched the life cycle of an arcadian forest landscape, razed and devastated by fire, but then reborn with sprouting dicotyledon seedlings, before the eventual return to its former glory in full bloom. Humans were entwined along the way, either enjoying the splendour of the forest, or weeping at it’s demise.

It was an apt opening to the day which dealt with communicating stories of the forest - the theme being new media and new messages, a topic no doubt very relevant to being discussed on a blog such as this.

The discussions centred on the question of how to get a message across successfully in the media-bombarded landscape we currently reside.

There was much discussion of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (despite all of these websites being inaccessible to the delegates at the conference), as well as initiatives that combine new media with old media.

A common theme that emerged was an emphasis on the need for non-traditional approaches and the need to embrace new technology and ways of disseminating information to the public.

Catherine Untalan, Executive Director of the Miss Earth Foundation and MC of the session, introduced the Miss Earth Pageant which combines the traditional elements of beauty contests with an emphasis on the environmental contributions of contestants to local communities (such as tree planting and river restoration). In Untalan’s words, “beautiful women attract attention,” and this is a means to promote environmental causes.

Frances Seymour from the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) used the “pebble in the pond” and “hurricane” analogy to distinguish between the traditional and non-traditional models of communication.

The pebble in the pond relies on a single source of information (the pebble) and passive acceptance of information by the audience (the pond) – examples being newspapers and television programs.

That model, however, is becoming outdated. The hurricane model of communication relies on multiple, decentralised sources of information to communicate messages widely and powerfully. It is interactive and primarily web-based, and Frances used the example of CIFOR’s online presence to illustrate their progress.

Frances also illustrated the power of blogs in disseminating the more traditional domain of scientists – scientific journal articles. She spoke of how CIFOR’s blog (http://blogs.cifor.org) promotion of certain articles has led to a demonstrable increase in people reading the article. As Frances quoted one of her colleagues – "being published is good, but being read is better.”

Frances also encouraged the need to maintain an active awareness of the news cycle, so as to ensure that groups can “surf” the news wave, rather than attempt to generate it from scratch.

The next formidable theme related to the best way to portray messages about forest ecosystems to the public and policy makers. This is a topic that has garnered its fair share of discussion, analysis and debate for many years, and today we saw worthwhile contributions from a variety of speakers.

The keynote presentations from Frances Seymour of CIFO and Keith Wheeler from the IUCN Commission on Education and Communication were very enlightening in this regard.

Aside from the age-old advice of K.I.S.S. (“keep it simple, stupid”), both Frances and Keith Wheeler discussed the Love, Not Loss campaign headed by IUCN (http://tinyurl.com/c9l97fn)

This campaign identifies the need to pay close attention to your audience, and to tailor messages that relate the positive stories as much as, if not more, than negative stories as they relate to forest ecosystems and biodiversity.

The theory behind this is that conservation and appreciation of nature and ecosystems tends to be inspired by “the emotional high we reach when in contact with nature” – it is not the depressing accounts of loss that moves us, but our wonder at nature.

However, when discussing these issues with policy-makers, the benefits of forests resources – in terms of the economic benefits of ecosystem services – tend to appeal to the rationally-minded, as opposed to an emotional argument.

Keith Wheeler closed his remarks by reminding everyone that these methods are essential if our goal is to change the way policy makers and the public make decisions.

Following the keynote presentations were short presentations from a variety of speakers on various communication strategies developed around the world, closing a fruitful and engaging conversation on the importance of communication.

* * *

Day 2 - 8th November:
The Governance Challenge: Impacts on Forests, Lessons Learned and Strategies for the Future

The opening plenary session for the second day of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Week – entitled The Governance Challenge: Impacts on Forests, Lessons Learned and Strategies for the Future - presented a panel of experts from a variety of backgrounds and locations around the world, from the World Wildlife Fund to the The World Bank. The panel was chaired and moderated by Rose Niu, from the US office of the WWF.

Despite the plethora of calls from politicians and community leaders for a balancing of the social, environmental and economic benefits of forests, “governance challenges” are still identified as a major obstacle that prevents many decision makers striking this balance. The session sought to explore this topic, and was structured around three questions, which the panellists reflected and discussed.

The first question dealt with the definition of “governance”, and the key attributes of governance that are important to forest and land management.

Yati Bun from the Foundation of Peoples and Community Development in Papua New Guinea remarked that governance has two fundamental components – the laws that are developed, and how they are enforced. Nguyen Tuong Van, from the Vietnam Administration of Forests, described governance as a process of the government relating to people, and vice versa.

Outside of the outright definition of governance, Yurdi Yasmi from RECOFTC made a pertient observation – governance, ultimately, is about managing multiple interests to achieve social justice in society.  As social justice is the cornerstone of good government, it is therefore a fundamental component of governance.

Yati Bun then explained that in the governance of forests, there must be meaningful stakeholder engagement to ensure that the laws are developed for local communities. Furthermore, that there is clarity between the governing body and community about what constitutes the law of the region.

Equally important as this is the power to enforce laws, and to do this effectively - as governing bodies are often constrained by human and financial resources, a point raised by Ivy Wong from WWF Malaysia.

The second question for the panel asked what the significant achievements and advancements have been in the region for the past decade.

Ivy Wong believed that the acknowledgment of illegal logging and it’s dire consequences is a seemingly simple step, but it has paved the way for action tohappen – a sentiment echoed by Tukka Catren of The World Bank. He also recognised the use of market mechanisms – such as the certification system – as an important step forward.

Yurdi Yasmi and Yati Bun both referenced the ‘opening up’ of information to the public, and the ability of society to discuss topics that may have been considered taboo in the past, as two important developments that have encouraged progress in forest governance.

These topics include decentralisation, land tenure, and the recognition of the rights of indigenous people, women and other minorities.

Yurdi Yasmi says that this progress of society have translated into tangible solutions – with forests in Indonesia (as much as 26%) being designated to local communities with rights attached to individuals and communities for up to 35 years.

The third and final question asked the panellists what the most important unresolved challenges to governance remain.

Yurdi Yasmi and Yati Bun both emphasised the importance of laws being developed to local conditions, and thus to assist the local people – in essence, ensuring that the laws being developed are not too coarse that they lose relevance and focus at thing local level.

Yati Bun highlighted the importance of this given the large extent (~90%) of forests under customary ownership in Papua New Guinea. Yurdi Yasmi also used the example from Thailand to illustrate this point, where forests being protected by law, but rendering the inhabitants of the forest “illegal” in the process.

Nguyen Tuong Van stated that corruption is still a governance issue that needs to be tackled, and Yati Bun stated the importance of open engagement with communities, across tenures and national boundaries, to assist in developing progressive governance.

Ivy remarked that the governance issue of overcoming illegal logging is one still of enduring importance. Given the alternatives of using timber for construction – such as concrete and steel – are emissions-intensive and non-renewable, it is an imperative to aim for governing frameworks where forest sustainability isensured, and forests can be wisely.

This concluded the official question session, but was followed by a lively audience question and answer session, where topics such as corruption and social justice inrelationship to forest governance where explored further.

* * *

Day 1 – 7th November 2011: Opening Ceremony

“Every seed is a dream, waiting to befulfilled. Every tree is a reality… Every forest is a community, joining together to stand as one.” – from Randell Terre Aranza’s (Phillipines) winning essay in the APFW Essay Writing competition

Summary
Heralding the start ofthe 2nd Asia-Pacific Forestry Week was a short dance routine by a group of local Beijing youngsters, featuring wonderful costumes and impressive choreography. This provided a light-hearted introduction to the conference that will no doubt speak of serious issues.

The theme for the weekis “New Challenges, New Opportunities”, and each of the speakers during the Opening Ceremony offered their varying observations on this. Depsite the differing backgrounds, certain common threads emerged that were touched on by nearly all of the speakers.

The first was emphasis of the multiple functions that forests provide, and to re-evaluate them interms of these, not just timber and products. Biodiversity hotspots, carbon sinks, watersheds, tools in rejuvenating landscapes, and sources of livelihood for human beings are but some of the multiple functions that forests can play.

The second was that while there have been multiple examples of deforestation worldwide, there are also numerous initiatives that have halted or reversed deforestation in the Asia-Pacific, and that communication and analysis of these can provide a great deal of information and knowledge for other initiatives.

And thirdly, the importance of cross-sector engagement for forest initiatives. Forests involve awide variety of stakeholders, and it is no longer about solely engaging one sector, nor playing off sectors against each other, but rather coming to work together to better our forest resources in the Asia Pacific.

There were many other observations made by each of the speakers, which will no doubt will be discussed more widely as the week presses on. Brief summaries of each of their speeches are included below.

His Excellency, Jia Zhibang, Minister of the State Forestry Authority of China provided a fascinating snapshot of the work that China has engaged in its forestry endeavours. He noted that there is great value placed on forests and forestry for a whole range of reasons - ecologically, economically, socially, and in the context of climate change. He cited China’s tree-planting program as an example – which aims to increase China’s forest extent by 14 million hectares by 2020 ,and has slowed the desertification that has afflicted the nation in recent years.

He noted that the overarching opportunity currently facing his country was to redefine forestry, develop newly emerging industries, and allow forestry to fulfil its multiple roles and provide it’s multiple benefits to society.

Eduardo Rojas-Briales, Assistant Director General of the FAO Forestry Department remarked upon the context that the APFW conference finds itself in – a planet enduring economic collapse, and threatened with the spectre of ecological collapse.

However, he was keen to stress that good news can be found – the forest cover in regions of the Asia Pacific have been increasing, and that economic development can be a key to reversing deforestation. Furthermore, he highlighted that climate change hasallowed forests to attain a new value – the carbon that they store as a productof their natural function.

As Mr. Rojas-Briales opened with remarks on the context in which the conference was occurring, heemphasising the need for close attention being paid to the global forces – whether they be economic, social or environmental – that act to shape the roleforests have in the world, as well as the Asia-Pacific Region.

Jan McAlpine, Director of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) noted that the forestry sector has been facing differing challenges and opportunities for along time. The question is – how do we deal with the ones we face now?

Forests are complex systems, shaped by numerous private and public bodies, and relied upon by countless others for their livelihoods. McAlpine stressed the importance ofviewing forests not from simply one perspective, but instead appreciating the multi-functionality of forests.

She cited the restoration works on the Loess Plateau in China as an example of multi-functionalityof forests. The Loess Plateau has recovered from a denuded landscape to one that is vibrant with forests, benefiting not only the ecosystem, but also the local community.

Qu Guilin, of APFNet, in his welcome address, outlined the philosophy of APFNet as forest engagement across all tenures, and all forest types, and the importance of this if there is to be successful management of the forests of the Asia-Pacific.

Andrew Steer, of the World Bank introduced the concept of “green growth” – physical, natural, human and social capital working together. He observed that forestry has pioneered the concept of making the market work for conservation, demonstrated by the way market power has influenced decisions made around forest resources in tropical areas.

He observed the importance of forestry to reducing poverty, particularly given that 75% of the worlds poor are rural. In this respect, forestry can be seen as an investment in people’s future.

He also emphasised the importance of the “whole-of-landscape” approach, including rural landscapes aswell as traditional forested landscapes, particularly given that agriculture accounts for 15% of the world’s emissions, and is a sector particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Tim Rollinson, Director General of the UK Forestry Commission, related his experiences as the chair of the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration, whose focus is restoring the goods and services that landscapes provide, not just forest cover. He explained how the Partnership facilitates groups – “coalitions of the willing” as they are dubbed by Rollinson – to mobilise resources and coordinate action on the ground. It also relies on cross-sector public and private investments.

Rollinson advocated a more stable and resilient uses of our natural resources that enhances, rather than depletes, our natural capital. He referenced the practical examples of this found in not only Asia, but also Tanzania in Africa, where half a million hectares of woodlands have been restored, which has made sweeping improvements to local peoples livelihoods.

He closed remarking that the global financial crisis has taught us thatwe cannot borrow without paying back – “We must reinvest in our natural capital, and we must do it now.”

Closing the Opening Ceremony was celebrity singer Anggun, who related her reflections on her home country of Indonesia and the work they have taken in regards to forest protection, and she closed her speech echoing Tim Rollinson, making an emphatic dry to leaders to take action, and totake action now.

With all of these ideas and observations in the first morning alone, this is lining up to be a very interesting week.