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Facts on Forests and Forestry

  NEW: Read GreenFacts' new Digest on Forests:

1 Introduction – Measuring progress towards sustainable forest management
2 How much forest is there on the planet and at what rate is it disappearing?
3 How can forests affect climate change?
4 What is the biological diversity of the world’s forests?
5 How healthy are the world’s forests?
6 What products are extracted from forests?
7 What are the protective effects of forests?
8 What are the economic and social benefits of forests?
9 Are forests managed in a sustainable way?
10 Conclusions

  A faithful summary of the "Global Forest Resources Assessment"
  produced in 2005 by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization). More...



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 6. What is biodiversity and why is it important?

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6.1. What is biodiversity?

In 1992, the International Convention on Biodiversity created the following definition:

"Forest biological diversity means the variability among forest living organisms and the ecological processes of which they are part; this includes diversity in forests within species, between species and of ecosystems and landscapes."
External linkhttp://www.biodiv.org/programmes/areas/forest/definitions.asp

For other definitions of forest biodiversity see also:

The importance of forest biodiversity

Forest biodiversity is important because:

  • Forests may be the richest of all terrestrial ecosystems
  • It provides important sources of food, medicines, energy and building materials
  • It sustains the livelihoods of and provides jobs for hundreds of millions of people worldwide
  • It offers aesthetic and cultural values
  • It contributes to a sense of cultural identity and provides spiritual enrichment in many indigenous and forest-dependent communities

According to FAO sources, "Even where parts of the natural forest are lost to agriculture, the genetic loss will depend on the extent of fragmentation of the remaining forest -- if it has been broken into small islands, species may be in small groups and therefore could fall below critical mass and eventually disappear. "
FAO. External linkForest Genetic Resources No. 28 (2000)

Since tropical forests have the highest levels of biodiversity and of deforestation, there is particular concern about the possible loss of biodiversity in these areas.

The 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity

Recognizing the importance of biodiversity conservation to a comprehensive strategy for sustainable development, over 150 governments signed the Convention on Biological Diversity at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro (the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development, UNCED). Since then more than 175 countries have ratified the Convention, which is the first global agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.

For information on the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention’s sections on forest biodiversity see:
External linkhttp://www.biodiv.org/programmes/areas/forest/default.asp

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6.2. Is there a debate about the extent of the loss in biodiversity?

Exactly how much biodiversity is being lost annually is a subject of debate. Figures presented by Norman Myers and Bjørn Lomborg represent the opposite ends of the spectrum. In 1979, Norman Myers estimated in The Sinking Ark that 40,000 species were lost annually. While Myers himself has since revised this figure, he still disagrees with assertions of Bjørn Lomborg in his recent book The Skeptical Environmentalist that the number of species extinctions is very small.
See External link"Norman Myers On Bjørn Lomborg and Species Diversity"

Debates over the extent of the loss of biodiversity are related to the difficulty of measuring it. The total number of species on earth is still unknown. At the same time, it is hard to quantify and monitor changes in biodiversity, including genetic diversity.

Consensus on the importance of biodiversity

While there is some debate over the extent of biodiversity loss, there is less debate concerning the importance of conserving biodiversity: "Conserving forest genetic diversity is especially important because many forest tree species have high levels of variation and extensive natural ranges. This high level of genetic variation is needed for the present-day species adaptability and continued species evolution. It is also needed to maintain options and potential for improvement to meet changing end use requirements and environmental conditions."
External linkConvention on Biological Diversity

In order to conserve forest genetic diversity, the International Plant Genetics Resources Institute (IPGRI) began a Forest Genetics Resources (FGR) program in 1993. IPGRI’s FGR Program generates knowledge and promotes the development of methodologies and tools to allow more effective and sustainable conservation.
External linkForest Genetic Resources, IPGRI

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6.3. What is bioprospecting and who benefits from it?

6.3.1. What is bioprospecting?

"Biodiversity prospecting [bioprospecting] is the exploration of wild plants and animals for commercially valuable genetic and biochemical resources.

Plant and animal breeders use biochemicals produced by genes found in wild species and genetically engineered organisms to produce valuable pharmaceuticals and pesticides as well as new industrial applications such as mining, wastewater treatment, and carbon-dioxide scrubbing."

From WRI: External linkQuestions and Answers about Bioprospecting

In recent years, bioprospecting has grown into an important business. Genetic engineering depends on natural genetic material as the raw material from which to design and manufacture new pharmaceutical products and crops. The rich but relatively unknown diversity of tropical forest systems in particular has attracted a lot of attention as a likely source of potentially valuable genetic material. The World Resources Institute notes that "Like the nineteenth-century California gold rush or its present-day counterpart in Brazil, this "gene rush" could wreak havoc on ecosystems and the people living in or near them. Done right, though, bioprospecting can bolster both economic and conservation goals while underpinning the medical and agricultural advanced needed to combat disease and sustain growing human numbers."

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6.3.2. The international policies on bioprospecting

A problem associated with biodiversity prospecting is that the capital and technology necessary for extracting genetic forest resources are concentrated in developed countries, whereas biodiversity is concentrated in the developing countries. The interests of bioprospecting corporations are rarely the same as those of people who live in a biodiversity "hot spot," many of them barely eking out a living.

Therefore the Convention on Biological Diversity aims to create policies on bioprospecting that assist in conserving biological diversity and protecting the interests of people who live in biodiversity hotspots.

"The Convention on Biological Diversity asserts the sovereignty of nations over their biodiversity. Prior to the Convention on Biological Diversity, most countries considered genetic resources to be the "common heritage of humankind", meaning that there was no law or moral obligation requiring a company that collected genetic material from another country to pay for access to that material. The Convention explicitly recognizes the right of countries to establish legislation regulating access to genetic resources. Moreover, it requires that any company or country collecting biodiversity obtain the prior informed consent of the source country. Because of the Convention, it will soon become standard practice for collectors to pay a fee for access to biodiversity and to enter into contractual agreements with source countries (or institutions within those countries) that allocate a share of royalties (or the patent itself) to the source country.

As a result of the Convention on Biological Diversity, developing countries are currently passing legislation requiring the payment of access fees and the negotiation of royalty payments with suppliers of genetic resources. Likewise, companies are required under the convention to obtain the prior informed consent of source countries when they seek access to biodiversity. And, countries can require that companies demonstrate they received this consent when the company files for a patent on a new product."
From WRI’s External linkQuestions and Answers about Bioprospecting

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