05/03/2020 - Margot et Anne-Lise de Reforest'Action
It is becoming increasingly necessary to preserve animal biodiversity in forests. However, finding a solution that makes an impact on all species, and not just one to the detriment of another, can be problematic. This is made all the more difficult by the fact that the vast majority of species on Earth remain unknown to us! While there are 1.7 million recorded animal species worldwide, scientists estimate that between 3 and 100 million species have yet to be discovered. So what solutions can be deployed?
Conserving existing forest ecosystems
There is an urgent need to put an end to the destruction of ecosystems and to conserve existing forests, particularly tropical forests, which are the most affected by deforestation and yet constitute the world’s largest sources of biodiversity. Simply creating parks and protected natural areas is not a sufficient answer to the problem of forest ecosystem destruction. One possible way forward is to search for mechanisms that would make it possible to halt biodiversity loss by leveraging the dependence of human societies on the proper functioning of ecosystems. For example, Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) provide compensation for the adoption of practices that help preserve ecosystems and the services they provide to humans. They are based on contracts that can involve private (landowners, companies, associations, etc.) and public (national government, local authorities, etc.) players. The idea is not to ‘commodify’ nature, but to refocus the choices made by these parties so that they adopt more ethical behaviour from an environmental standpoint. Thus, PES could be a forward-looking solution to protect forest ecosystems as a whole and the animal biodiversity they harbour.
Reforestation after destruction
Reforestation is the number one solution for restoring the natural habitats of forest animal species and halting biodiversity loss. By restoring forests that have been destroyed – whether by natural hazards or by human-led deforestation – entire ecosystems can be regenerated and biodiversity can be sustained or improved. Stéphane Hallaire, Founder and CEO of the Reforest’Action social enterprise, which aims to plant 1 billion trees and protect forests in France and around the world, speaks on the urgent need for reforestation. ‘For decades, 15 million hectares of forest have been lost every year. These are all habitats that cannot regenerate quickly without human intervention, as the level of destruction is so advanced. Today, reforestation is the best way to restore these ecosystems in the short term, whether through planting or assisted natural regeneration.’ On Reunion Island, for example, Reforest’Action is working to halt the decline of a unique biodiversity in the world alongside the European LIFE+ Forêt Sèche project, in collaboration with the Réunion National Park and the Conservatoire du Littoral. By replanting endemic species, the planting project aims to recreate a true ecological continuum and to regenerate the dry forest of Reunion Island, which has been reduced to a relic. The project, which seeks to plant 80,000 trees by March 2020, has already made it possible to reintroduce 50 Reunion day geckos on the planting site. This real-life case illustrates the fact that reforestation is still the most comprehensive solution for re-establishing a viable habitat for animal biodiversity.
Raising awareness in the public eye
Forest observation missions for the public in France
Raising awareness is essential for bringing younger generations closer to nature. In France, the Forest Biodiversity Observatory (OBF), created in collaboration with the Noé biodiversity conservation association, aims to help the National Inventory of Natural Heritage (INPN) to take stock of animal species in French forests. To this end, the organisation has set up a participatory science system through the ‘Mission forêt avec Noé’ app, which enables families to discover the forest’s hidden animals and the risks they run, in order to gain a better understanding of them. ‘Thanks to a study conducted in 2012 on the Garden Biodiversity Observatory, we noticed that repeated nature watching as part of such a programme leads to knowledge development and practices that are more biodiversity-friendly’, explain the OBF’s researchers. ‘So, by regularly watching nature, observers learn more about the species in question and are more considerate of their environment. This means that they are better able to develop behaviour to safeguard this area and the species that inhabit it.’
Francis Hallé’s dream: to take the CAC 40 CEOs to the Amazon
Francis Hallé is aiming even higher. His dream is to take the CAC 40 CEOs on the Canopy Raft, an aircraft that allows him to land on the canopy of tropical forests and observe their teeming biodiversity. ‘The tropical canopy is home to the richest biodiversity on our planet. Hanging gardens of epiphytes, clouds of butterflies, large flocks of birds, flowering trees attracting clouds of pollinators, fruit-producing lianas covered with seed-dispersing vertebrates... Animal activity increases markedly at night: a canopy concert, clouds of fruit bats and fireflies... It’s difficult to describe; you should go and see it’, he says.
Measuring and reducing your environmental footprint
Although taking the public to the rainforest is neither feasible nor even desirable, raising public awareness of the environmental footprint of their day-to-day lives is essential to connecting people more closely with the forest. ‘We are the problem, especially our lifestyles’, states Julien Chapuis. ‘A lot of education needs to happen in this regard. Diet is the primary solution: people need to be able to make the connection between their meals, the environment and climate change.’ Many things can be done on a daily basis to contribute tangibly to the fight against deforestation: limit your consumption of meat and dairy products; buy only FSC- or PEFC-certified wood equipment; make sure that your food does not contain palm oil... Changing our consumer habits is the simplest way for each one of us to take action.
Moving towards recognising Nature Rights?
Strengthening the existing legal framework to protect biodiversity and forests
A real turning point came with the signing of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992. For the first time, biodiversity was recognised as a ‘common concern of humankind’ and an integral part of the development process of nations. In 2010, this was further strengthened by the Aichi targets, signed in Nagoya by CBD member states, which consist of 20 targets to be achieved by 2020 in order to slow down biodiversity loss. Governments have committed themselves to combating deforestation and forest degradation, in particular. Aichi target 5 thus specifies that the rate of loss of all natural habitats, including forests, should be reduced by at least half and, if possible, brought to close to zero by 2020, and habitat degradation and fragmentation should be significantly reduced. Target 15 provides for the restoration of at least 15% of critical degraded ecosystems, such as forests. However, some environmental organisations are concerned about the slow implementation of actions to achieve these targets, and, like Greenpeace, are calling on the European Union to play its key role in the fight against deforestation.
Repositioning humanity as a component of the living world
What if protecting biodiversity constituted a real ethical duty for humankind? In 2011, the Our Planet. Theirs too organisation wrote a Declaration of Animal Rights to reposition people as a component of the living world, just like other animal species, and to stand up against the utilitarian and economic approach to our planet, its forms of life and its resources.
Recognising Nature Rights
And if protecting biodiversity is inconceivable without protecting ecosystems, then perhaps we should even recognise the Rights of Nature. Thomas Berry, one of the pioneering theorists of the Rights of Nature, believes that every living entity is endowed with three fundamental rights: the rights to exist, to have a habitat and to play its part in the cycles of the Earth Community. Nature rights are emerging today thanks to the efforts of legal experts, lawyers, judges and members of civil society in light of growing ecological challenges. They represent a new legal field that recognises ecosystems and living entities as true subjects of rights. Since the historic inclusion of the Rights of Nature in the Ecuadorian constitution in 2008, a growing number of countries are recognising the rights of ecosystems such as forests and rivers. In April 2018, the Supreme Court of Colombia recognised the Amazon as a subject of rights, including the right to protection and restoration. The court then ordered the Colombian government to implement a plan to combat deforestation in the following months.
The recognition of the Rights of Nature could therefore be synonymous, in the long run, with more effective conservation of ecosystems, as well as the protection of the invaluable diversity of living organisms comprising them.