Hooray, the forest is alive and spreading again - at least in some places: This is what the new World Forest Report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says. After all, in 53 countries, including many European countries and China, the area covered with trees is growing - the increase in East Asia is even praised as one of the largest current environmental protection programs. And the FAO has another piece of good news: The more prosperous a society is, the better off its forest is – and thus refutes old fears that industrialization in particular could put an end to it. In addition, according to the FAO, almost all countries are now committed to preserving their forests.
All of this is very gratifying, but that's about it with the positive reports. Because the forest area is still shrinking in 83 countries - in Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America including the Caribbean even at an accelerated rate during the last observation period from 2000 to 2005. In each of these years, a total of 7.3 million hectares of forest fell to chainsaws and fire to the victim; that corresponds to 20,000 hectares a day or twice the area of Paris, or one clear-cut Federal Republic of Germany every five years.
The tropical forests around the equator are particularly affected by the deforestation misery, where at the same time a large part of the global biodiversity cavorts. However, the causes of the clear-cutting can only be partially found locally; Rather, the industrialized countries of the West and China - where the bulk of the determined increase in forest area can be seen - have shifted their procurement of raw materials to the south: This is the main reason why African rain forests are thinned out for weatherproof window frames, Brazilian primeval forest gives way for protein-rich cattle fattening feed and Indonesian for biodiesel for "clean " gaining energy.
One of the much-cited fairy tales of our day is that clearing is mainly carried out by hungry small farmers for their own small fields. With the exception of parts of Africa, this is far from reality. In fact, there are usually large, internationally operating agricultural companies, paper mills or timber companies behind it, which in turn work for large trading companies, food companies or energy producers - globalization prevails here too. And this is the only way to explain why China reforests at home and at the same time imports wood from Indonesia, Myanmar or Papua New Guinea on a large scale, processes it and sometimes exports it back to Europe, Japan or the USA. Or why Germany enacts strict national forest protection laws, but refuses to prosecute illegally felled timber.
The bare population figures of the FAO are deceptive for another reason, because they do not differentiate between forest and forest: While the former is a functioning ecosystem with often high biodiversity, the latter usually only forms a collection of trees in monoculture without higher ones biological value. Forests are often prone to disease and poorly protected against storms, climate change or insect plagues. And this disguise allows Finland, for example, to be cited as a positive example with an increase in forest area, although the country is in the process of sacrificing its last original primeval forests to the paper industry - the main customer of which is Germany, among others.
Federal President Horst Köhler rightly warned during his recent trip to South America that only a change in lifestyle in the West could save the forests of the South as well as our own: the price of cheap meat or cheap furniture is loss original forests with all its negative consequences for the climate, biodiversity and local smallholders or indigenous people, whose human rights are often completely disregarded during the supposed reclamation of the land. Without this change and the resulting conclusion to strictly protect the remaining primeval forests, all afforestation will remain just green fig leaves.