Run, Forest! Run!

The palm is calm: coconut trees are among the few tropical tree species not threatened by deforestation, but actually on the rise in terms of global coverage. Perhaps surprisingly, coconut trees nevertheless were the dominating theme of the recent deforestation conference hosted by the Collaborative Partnership on Forests.

The conference, entitled ‚Working Across Sectors to Halt Deforestation and Increase Forest Area‘, brought together different stakeholders united in their struggle to halt deforestation- and the stakes are high, as globally forests continue to disappear.

Working Across Sectors

Coordination and collaboration of different sectors such as food production, energy and extractive industries are urgently needed, and agriculture is central among these. Expansion of agricultural territory is the primary driver of deforestation which continued at a rate of 3.3 million hectares a year in 2015, be it in the form of large scale soy or oil palm plantations in South America and South East Asia or through small-scale agriculture in Africa. The growing hunger for agricultural products linked with rapid population growth in tropical regions exerts increasing pressures on the world’s most important carbon sinks. Acknowledging the important role that forests play in climate change mitigation by sucking CO2 out of the air, no agricultural practice could call itself ‚climate-smart‘ without paying attention to the interplay with forestry.

Working Across Generations

While it hence is important to bridge the intersectoral divide, even more so it is to overcome the intergenerational one. Indeed, if we continue to entrust the fate of one of the world’s most precious resources to the generation that failed to prevent its rapid loss, the prospects to achieve the global forest goals would resemble the way Forrest Gump’s Mama famously described a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re gonna get.

Fortunately, the mentioned pace of population growth is not just a threat to forests, but at the same time offers a unique opportunity. A quickly growing population does not only mean increased pressures on forests, but equally implies a vast pool of youngsters. And if the impressive youth representation at the conference has illustrated one thing, then that the young generation has realized the importance forests, both in terms of local ecosystem services and global common benefits.

The generation of young leaders is prepared to act as agents of change. Today’s youth, the generation of digital natives, is organised and well-connected – exemplified by the very existence of networks such as the one whose blog you’re reading this article on. Youth is committed, knowing itself will bear the consequences of actions taken or left undone today. And youth is fearless, and prepared to ‚think landscape‘ in ways it hasn’t been thought before.

While youth is ready to live up to its potential and responsibilities, the voice of youth needs to be heard by those in power. The conference was a step in the right direction towards acknowledging the agency that young leaders take – indeed, it would better have been called ‚Working Across Generations to Halt Deforestation‘. Ultimately, however, what counts is not only to be represented at international conferences, but to be taken seriously and given importance in the everyday decisions inflicting on our forests.

Oh, and while we’re asking to be taken seriously, we won’t forget how to put seriousness aside. At the conference, this was illustrated by the youth representatives constantly shaking up customs of tedious conferences (see picture) and, under the hashtag #CoconutTree, shaking up the world of online media.

If you are interested in exploring the conference contents and broader issues around deforestation in more detail, check out the short course the youth team produced over the course of the conference: