Global Forest Coalition

When we think about the destruction of forests worldwide, we often don’t consider the driving forces of this. Many governmental policies, consumption patterns and unsustainable production have a directly negative impact on forests and the communities that depend on their biodiversity. We spoke to Global Forest Coalition who advocate forest conservation policies that adequately meet the needs of women, indigenous peoples and local communities that live in and depend upon these natural spaces.

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Talking Forest Protection with Global Forest Coalition

When we think about the destruction of forests worldwide, we often don’t consider the driving forces of their destruction. Many governmental policies, consumption patterns and unsustainable production have a directly negative impact on forests and the communities that depend on their biodiversity. We spoke to Global Forest Coalition who advocate forest conservation policies that adequately meet the needs of women, indigenous peoples and local communities that live in and depend upon these natural spaces. The organisation consists of a conservationist coalition of women’s groups, NGOs, environmental and indigenous peoples organisations from 68 countries.

The Repercussions of Forest Destruction

Loss of biodiversity is one of the leading drivers of climate change today. Approaching land from a consumeristic, demand-based structure has led to a landscape architecture of monoculture. Rows of Brazilian Eucalyptus or Pine plantations have commandeered spaces once traditionally exploding with flora and fauna – necessary elements of a healthy ecosystem. Mass consumption of dairy and meat produce demands huge quantities of resources and land, approximately three-fifths of the entire United States, which irreparably damages the existing ecosystems that are primal to life.  

Twenty years ago the World Bank developed a tropical forest action plan. The action plan essentially divided the world’s tropical forests into areas that were exploited for lumber, including monoculture tree plantations, and strictly protected areas. This triggered an uprooting of communities, leading to terrifying cases of involuntary displacement and involuntary resettlement. An estimated 500,000 conservation refugees exist in the world today, partly due to such practices.

So how do we solve these problems?

Forests, in essence, are autonomous. They can survive with or without human interference. Conservationist practices allow for healthy use of our environment. Today’s policies as a comparison, can be exploitative in nature, reacting to the demands of business. To combat this, forest user groups led by women in Nepal for instance, have taken forest management into their own hands and have been very successful, allowing for symbiotic relationships to flourish between humans and our ecosystem.

There is a great deal of understanding of these trends and willingness to enact change, as Simone Lovera, the Director of Global Forest Coalition explains. To facilitate meaningful change, Simone advocates that we bring awareness to policymakers and encourage them to address the causes of forest loss rather than just the effects. This will enable governments to better allocate their resources towards community conservation and return forests back to the communities whose roots are so deeply entrenched in them. 

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Interview Transcript


Every day you and I get bombarded with negative news. And just like our bodies, become what we eat, our minds become the information that we consume. If you want to stay positive, it’s so important that you also listen to stories that inspire you and uplift you. In this podcast, we interview world leading experts dedicated to solving the world’s most pressing problems. And if you stick around, I promise you will not only be as informed as if you watch the news, you will be uplifted, inspired, and have more positive energy in your life. Welcome to Talks With. 


Welcome. Today talks with the Global Forest Coalition, and I’m here today with Simona Lovera, who is the founder and the director. And if you haven’t heard of the Global Forest Coalition before, they are an international coalition of NGOs and indigenous people who are defending social justice and rights for forest people, which is people living in the forest. And they are just now celebrating their 20th anniversary. So I thought this would be a fun time to talk about the story of the organization, what they have been challenged by and accomplished over those 20 years. So, Simone. Thank you. So how would you describe what; I did my best, but how would you describe your organization to someone that might not be so familiar with both your cause and the challenges that you’re facing? 


So Global Forest Coalition is first and foremost a coalition of, at the moment, of 112 indigenous peoples organizations, women’s groups and non-governmental organizations, environmental organizations from at the moment 68 different countries in the world. So we’re really spread out all over the world, all continents, both Europe and a lot of the southern continents. About two thirds to three quarters of our membership is actually based outside of Europe and the United States and North America. I did have a very clear mission of striving for rights based socially, just forest policies and also gender responsive policies. So forest policies that meet the right needs and aspirations of women, of indigenous peoples and of the local communities that we live with and depend on the forest. So we particularly look at the social aspects and make sure that the forest policies are coherent with human rights. At the same time, we also have a very strong focus on real solutions. We feel that there’s too many, you know, small scale ad hoc solutions being proposed by all the big drivers of forest that are left unaddressed. So we look at, for example, meat and dairy consumption as a key driver of forest loss or the increasing use of bootlace biomass as a key cause of past us. 


Interesting and I personally feel the importance of the work that you do to make sure our forests remain standing up and also that you’re focusing on these big problems. So what can be done to stop those big problems? 


I think it’s very important that fundamental change will be needed, because if only because of climate change and also biodiversity loss, these are big global crisis situations that very much impact on forests and on the people that depend on forest. 


And they certainly can simply not be addressed in a business as usual scenario. They need a very fundamental change in the way our economies are structured, in the way business is done. That means, for example, also a change in consumption patterns and taken into account that a lot of consumption patterns are shaped actually by subsidies and by marketing. And people just don’t consume just because it’s their own choice, but very much to influence to have that choice know their pricing of products like meat. There’s far too many subsidies still going to, for example, intensive livestock farming, even though that’s a major cause of deforestation. Certainly in Europe, massive subsidies are given to wood based biomass, even though we by now have ample scientific evidence that this is actually super bad for climate change and for forests alike. So it’s the easy steps are actually taking away

those things that are still subsidized by public money, because we think that redirecting those subsidies will actually already cause a major change. But we are analyzing that reason. Those subsidies are there also because corporations have too much influence on government policy. 


Of course, that requires a much more profound change. We are afraid that, for example, as long as agro industry has such a strong influence on governments, a lot of the subsidies to agro industry will just remain. So we need to address those underlying causes as well. 


On the positive side, we think that there are a lot of solutions that are very no, because the indigenous peoples, free markets and that are part of our membership, the women’s groups, the community groups often show very inspiring examples of community conservation of forests. 


Had a convention on biodiversity talks about living in harmony with nature. But if you go to the ground to actually see in a lot of locations that local communities, especially traditional local communities and indigenous peoples, are living in harmony with the forests, we very much believe in that. And forest conservation by and for people. Just very convincing scientific evidence also that if you give people the right to govern their own forest, if you give local communities, indigenous peoples, the right to govern it and on forest in a way that also takes into account women’s participation in such governance structure, in a way this is managed, that forest will actually be conserved and even restored. And it’s extremely inspiring stories from all over the world of how this is happening in a country like Nepal have forest cover has been expanding massively because of a huge network of cumulative forest user groups that is just taking forest management in their own hands and has the right to access and use the forest themselves. And here again, women are very often taking the lead and in these situations. So I think we can very much learn from that. I mean, it looks like, you know, too often that radical change is impossible, but it is actually something that has already happened. We just need to avoid these kinds of initiative being, you know, bulldozed away by some of the big drivers of forest loss. 


Right. The subsidies that are happening are very frustrating, so it’s inspiring to hear people like you sharing the stories that especially when women and indigenous people get involved, humans go back to a sort of harmony with nature. That brings me some sense of hope in times of climate change. Now, I’m curious to hear more about the solutions that you are working on. But before that, let’s rewind time a little bit and look at the story of the Global Forest Coalition. 


How come what started this idea actually in 2000 and I must say I was there myself for one of the founding organizations, but not for JFC itself. And we came together as a whole group of organizations very much involved in foreign policy following it also very much at the international level, both indigenous peoples groups and NGOs. And we realized there was a very dangerous trend happening with some very large organizations like the World Bank developing a tropical forest plan, together with some very large conservation organizations that basically divided the entire Boltz force into types of. Forests, one was protected areas which were often very conventional and strict, so people could not access those forests anymore. And even nowadays, I’m afraid, most of the protected areas still do not have not taken into account the rights of local communities, indigenous peoples living in or around them, and in the sense that I understand. 


So if someone is living in the forest and then the World Bank turns it into a protected area, what happens with the people that already live there? 


Well, sadly, sometimes they are just kicked out. We’ve got terrifying cases of people being involuntarily displaced, as you call it. Even recently. There’s still an ongoing conflict in Kenya. There are a lot of people facing what you call involuntary resettlement. I think that’s actually being kicked out. I think we should use normal language and also 

that they’re just being prohibited to do simple things like gathering medicinal plants or have you wood for cooking and other very basic access that doesn’t have to be damaging at all. And certainly all the rights they used to have to that force are being denied. It is estimated that some 500000 conservation refugees, as you call it, in the world, and that’s partly from forest and partly border areas. So there is awareness about this problem and there is a lot of 

willingness to change it. But sadly, I’m afraid the change is just going far too slow. And still, a lot of protected areas are being established without free prior and informed consent of the people who live there. And we think it’s really a missed opportunity because on the one hand, those areas are often badly protected. They’re just not effective because, you know, it’s very hard to keep people out of the forest, you know, in such a remote condition. You can put a couple of forest guards, but it’s just very expensive also to do this with violence. But the other sad thing is that often it’s people that lived in harmony with their forests. 


By imposing these kinds of policies, you totally frustrate them. So we actually be really concerned also about this

proposal now to put 30 percent of the world in a protected area. And we feel it’s a missed opportunity to actually live in harmony with nature, to stimulate people to let this forest instead of kicking them out and utilize the indigenous guardians of the forest. Exactly. And so and the sad thing is then that people still feel they need a lot of thought. So the proposal then was to actually basically turn the other 50 percent of the vote forest into logging areas, including monoculture tree plantations. So just areas where, you know, what could be produced in a very efficient way. And sadly, some of the official definitions of forest will basically include long, low rows of the same, a tree, which is a monoculture tree plantation, like a eucalypt plantation or a pine plantation that you still find them all over the world and then a fence, actually, because that impacts very negatively on the environment. Biodiversity is just not there. All the forest species that you normally would find in forests are not there. The impacts very negatively on water and the impact negatively on people, because it’s the kind of industry that provides very little jobs only for men. Also, it comes with a lot of negative social impacts. And you also see that big plantation areas in this world are often very deep populated areas. 


So if you talk about living in harmony, in nature, this is exactly the opposite, to occupy huge areas for just planting the same tree and nobody benefits except for the timber industry and especially the bioenergy industry. And this plan was so shocking for a lot of people in 2000 that we really felt like we need to establish a coalition of those groups, those indigenous peoples organization and NGOs and women’s groups that really believe in for forest conservation, by and for people that really believe in social justice and forest policy and making sure that people are allowed to care for their own forest to live in their own forest in harmony. And just from that moment, it actually has grown. And a lot of groups that very much share that vision have joined. And I must say, we are less known often in the national level because we very much are a coalition of national groups that are not called Global Forest Coalition, Nederlands or something, but that have their own name. So, yeah, in different countries, you will see us actually with different names. And then at the international level, we really try to work together to share information, to share lessons learned to to share the stories from the ground and to also link our stories to some of. International policy processes, especially if they still try to promote this old fashioned model of basically trees without people. 


First of all, I’m really happy in my heart that so many people all over the world are fighting to protect the world’s forests. And secondly, these stories you tell me about that interest me. Would you describe a success story that the coalition has had? What are you the most proud of looking back at 20 years of history? 


There’s different levels if you talk about it, because I do think you’re one of the first groups that really emphasize that meat and dairy consumption was the elephant in the room, that if you cannot conservative votes for us, if you continue to to expand meat and dairy consumption, this this is a massive impact on land and forest. Really need this land first. Don’t need a lot of money, actually, because if they have the land to grow on and you don’t need that land, for another thing, a forest is perfectly capable of growing itself. I mean, it has done so for millions of years. And throughout the planet’s history, forests have just conserved themselves, provided you didn’t need to learn those things. And that’s fine. Livestock farming is actually a massive negative factor in the US. It is estimated that about three fifths of the United United States, the entire United States is being used for meat and dairy production. So that’s just a massive loss of land. I think one of our success stories is that we were before the large groups that we very much welcome. By the time that the large well-known groups took up this agenda, they really, really took out of this a couple of very small groups who were really one of the first groups that really started to point at this in, for example, amongst climate policymakers, amongst biodiversity policymakers. And we are extremely happy. And they also fed it, for example, into the IPCC report on this, which had a very strong message about the need to shift to a more plant based diet. And I think it’s really a great thing that this has come so far. But I do remember that. And 10 years ago, we were about Facebook pointing at this. It’s the same actually this will be based Bio-Energy. 


I mean, we already started pointing at this in 2006, 2007, that this was a major problem. By that time, a lot of people still felt like, how do you mean burning wood is a problem. And I know, you know, so many scientists, so many policymakers agree with us. And definitely almost all the big environmental groups agree that would based Bio-Energy, if used on an especially if used on a large scale or industrial level, is a massive problem. So, yeah, I think that global forest coalition. Don’t have the success stories that we would like at first that really push that. And once again, I should emphasize, we are a coalition to this with some of our member groups that are really forerunners in that fund. On the other side, of course, I am super proud of some of the stories of groups we help on the ground, actually, also specifically women’s groups. We have a very strong gender program nowadays, and I’m sometimes tremendously happy to come to a village and see how women have empowered themselves this often. These are women that haven’t had the chance to go to school, that have never had the chance to develop their own income to to to self develop and still be see that through the work we’ve been doing on capacity building, I’m pointing out to them that they have a very positive role to play in the community, especially in the relationship as far as you just see these women go. And it’s amazing what they are doing. It’s amazing how women in Kenya, for example, are setting up their own cooperatives and trying to help each other, you know, getting a little income and planting a lot of trees, visits. I mean, super inspiring initiatives.


Super inspiring, for sure. Wow. So we have been talking about different ways to protect the forests and ultimately our climate, and I can imagine that someone listening to this now feels inspired that you are trying to solve these big problems before it’s too late. So let’s say someone is inspired and they want to help your organization and let’s say they wanted to donate ten dollars to you. Where would that money go? What would you currently working on? 


It would go very much on to had these campaigns I mentioned, to raise the awareness of policymakers to address the root causes of forest loss and not to get stuck in the very small scale conventional solutions, small protected areas that in the end will be washed away by bye bye soy production offshore so that it will go also indirectly, for example, to justice women’s capacity building initiatives that we are still organizing all over the world, really highlighting the role of women in forest conservation, but also strengthening that role and strengthening the work on the ground that will go on, showcasing BP, trying not to like. Fund small projects himself, but what are they to some of the bigger donors so that they can step in and really upscale them? You know, so we are very much helping policy work so that the government starts providing much more support to this kind of community, gender responsive community conservation work. So in that respect, we also do a lot of work around showcasing this to policymakers that, look, you know, these are the positive things that you need to need to support. And that doesn’t only have to be bye bye bye money. It’s often a matter of recognizing, for example, the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities of women to conserve their own forests. I think that that’s a very key strategy for us. 


Right. So if you feel inspired by this, what else can someone do to stay in contact with you? 


So we have a website, Global Forest Coalition, that I think you can very easily connect to that desk. Several options to stay in touch with us so we can send you regular information. You can also provide a direct donation, if you’re curious to see. 


But the national members of Global Forest Coalition in your country will always welcome you to go to our members list as well and look at our members and maybe support our members. I mean, they are, of course, always very happy. Also, if our members get more support because they are really responsible for the national or local work. 


Simona. Thank you so much for speaking with great Acom today. I really appreciate it. 


Thank you. And good luck with your program. It was really a pleasure. 


Thank you. And if you are listening to this, consider subscribing to our podcast. And if you do it on your podcast app, that will really help us out to spread these conversations to even more people. Thank you. And we see you in the next episode.