Seeing the forest for the trees: Widening the lens for real returns

This article is sponsored by Asia Pulp & Paper. 

From COP22 to Davos, the past few months have drawn global attention to the role of forests in achieving carbon mitigation targets. Yet beyond emissions, forests and the natural capital within them — water, air and biodiversity, provide environmental services that support the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat — making investment in the landscape so important. For too long this value has been disregarded. According to the WRI, between 2000 and 2012 Indonesia lost more than 6 million hectares of primary forest — an area almost half the size of the state of New York.

Before moving forward, we need to look back. Forest loss is the result of a complex mixture of socio-economic reasons including deforestation, land degradation and low living standards. Poor practices have lead the assumption that economic gains by people come at the expense of the forests — this is a combination that can’t continue.

Tying these issues together in an environment that provides triple returns for people, the landscape and businesses is the only way forward. The foundation of this lies in business and investment models that are based on valuing natural capital. This approach offers a way to comprehend the value of a whole ecosystem across a given landscape, putting a price on areas of High Conservation Value and the wealth of services people can derive from them. Though many scoff at the concept of monetizing nature," for better or for worse, it is the language of business, of livelihoods and of food security. Only in understanding what the landscape means to each and every actor operating within it, can solutions to negate deforestation, conflict and risks of fire whilst improving livelihoods, nutrition and food security be implemented.

These concepts have been put into action on the ground by APP in an agroecology program that aims to provide food security for local communities while protecting the value of the natural environment. This is based on the recognition that while healthy forest ecosystems are essential to protecting biodiversity, promoting soil fertility, ensuring adequate water resources and realising low carbon futures, they also have an integral role to play in supporting successful, resilient businesses and enterprise development.

Collaboration is central to any success story in conservation and we are proud to support the work being carried out by the Belantara foundation. The foundation is a nonprofit organization formed to promote and encourage the efforts of all stakeholders in the landscape in forest protection particularly through working with the community, and to effectively channel public and private funding.

Acting as a common platform, the foundation takes a multi-sector, multi-interest approach working together in various efforts to support forest protection across 10 landscapes in Indonesia — encompassing 1,690 villages and over 10 million hectares. In developing a master plan through data collection and stakeholder consultation on a local, national and international level, the foundation is uniquely placed to understand the diverse roles that the forest plays in people’s lives — and most importantly, how restoration efforts can be best aligned to support an environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable landscape.

Though the inauguration of a new U.S. president has cast much ambiguity upon the global conservation agenda, conservationists have obtained some assurance from US multinationals on achieving sustainability commitments. Looking back at the World Economic Forum and in anticipation of COP23, the role assigned to the private sector in supporting forest protection is becoming ever more defined and critical.

The last 15 years have seen the private sector build strong patronage to the multilateral process to which they are now, more than ever before, operating as policy makers as much as policy takers. 2017 requires us all to stand up to the challenge, come to terms with each of our own myopia, and realize that we all have more to gain by widening the lens to find ways the natural landscape can achieve returns for people, for the planet, and for our own productivity.

Click here to read more on the Belantara Foundation.