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January-February 2011
Vol. 36, No. 1


Climate change: Hopeful efforts on forests


During the past 50 years Earth’s forests have been disappearing at an alarming rate due to over-exploitation and development. A consequence of this has been reduced carbon sinks or holders throughout the planet, leading to rising temperatures. In the years leading up to the 1992 Earth Summit it became increasingly clear that a major feature of the work of the UN would be to enable nations to understand the role of the forests in safeguarding Earth’s atmosphere and the common nature of human responsibility to preserve the forests for the sake of future societies. This work has been rendered difficult by the fact that many countries are only recently on the verge of lifting their populations out of poverty.  Previously, it was thought that these nations would follow the same development patterns of wealthier ones. It was the work of the UN to point out that this avenue is not viable; it would hasten resource depletion as well as irreversible and intolerable climate change impacts.

Naturally, understanding must be translated into public activities and strategies. This applies to all nations wherever they find themselves along the development trajectory:

  • Developing nations must use national forests to enhance the well-being of the planet while providing real benefits for their citizens. Low-carbon development projects are the standard.
  • Developed nations need to share knowledge, technology and financial resources in order to make this happen. They must also shift away from economic and social patterns that release excessive carbon and other greenhouse gases into Earth’s atmosphere.

The 2010 UN Climate Change conference held in Cancun, Mexico strengthened the work regarding forest protection and management through a document referred to as Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). Among other points: It definitively addresses the overall goal of REDD “to slow, halt and reverse forest cover loss and carbon loss”; it “clarifies the scope of what will be considered relevant activities” in line with the above; it “approves a phased approach for developing countries in meeting specific objectives” for conserving and enhancing the forests within national territories; it acknowledges the human rights of indigenous people and local communities living in or adjacent to forests; and it clarifies the role of developed countries to provide resources and “to address their own actions that drive deforestation.” (See Reflections on the Cancun Agreements.)

Today, a significant challenge for Maryknoll missioners is working with multiple organizations and institutions around the world to achieve the vision set forth by the UN. Following is a brief description of a Maryknoll forest preservation project that follows the vision created by the UN. The project was accomplished in collaboration with national and international institutions.

By 1990, the Philippines was on the verge of biological collapse; in response, the Maryknoll Sisters established an environment education center in the small northern city of Baguio, located at the threshold of Mountain Province, a zone increasingly marked by forest degradation. The project provides a hands-on experience of forest protection and teaches, as a moral imperative, the need for life sustaining interaction with the environment.

The project was made possible by the response of the Philippine government to the Earth Summit. The government took advantage of a mechanism provided by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for establishing a Debt-for-Nature swap. To do this the government created the Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE). FPE, in turn, provided a vehicle through which NGOs could receive funding in exchange for work protecting endangered or threatened fragments of ecological systems.

In the case of Maryknoll, FPE provided funding to engage professional and technological services for a project development study that would attract additional funding and present feasible ways in which the project could become self-reliant. In addition, the study included values that were based on the knowledge and insight of local indigenous people.

Because of the quality of the project development study, funding for the implementation stage of the project was secured, and many of the study’s recommendations for achieving self-reliance were developed. Notably, an organic mini-farm was incorporated into the project drawing attention to sustainable agroforestry. The project has become the icon for locating Maryknoll’s ecological work within the context of global sustainability; like the forests, it holds unlimited promise.

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