Last chance to save the world's primary forests

ALERT member James Watson tells us about important new research on the world's last surviving primary forests.

The Congo’s primary forests as seen from Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda  (Photo © Liana Joseph)

The Congo’s primary forests as seen from Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda (Photo © Liana Joseph)

Primary forests -- those largely free from industrial-scale land uses, and where natural processes still dominate -- provide maximum ecosystem benefits to humans and nature. 

Primary forests are essential for biodiversity conservation, and in the face of a rapidly changing climate they will provide critical refugia for many vulnerable species and sustain the maximum natural adaptive capacity.

However, new research by my colleagues and I -- which you can download free here -- has shown how threatened the world's primary forests are.  Just one-quarter of all primary forests still survive on Earth, with a mere 5 percent of these found in protected areas.

Despite increasing global awareness, annual rates of primary-forest loss remain as high as 2 percent in some countries.

Importantly, our study found that half of the world's primary forests occur in five developed nations -- the USA, Canada, Russia, Australia, and New Zealand -- and the time is ripe for these nations to show leadership and promote the conservation of remaining primary forests as an urgent matter of global concern.

This is critically important in international negotiations -- such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change -- as all fail to distinguish primary forests from industrial production forests, degraded forests, or even plantations.

Now is the time to underscore the vital importance of vanishing primary forests and their crucial benefits for nature and human welfare.


When it comes to climate change, there are two USAs

Of all the world's industrial nations, the USA ranks lowest overall in terms of the percentage of citizens who think climate change is a serious problem.  But that simple statistic disguises a deeper reality: there actually are two Americas.

This one looks like a Democrat...

This one looks like a Democrat...

One USA might be called the Democratic America.  Among US Democrats, 65% think climate change is a major concern.  That's on par with Spain and a higher percentage than that in Germany, Canada, and the UK.

But the other USA--the Republican America--is far different.  Among US Republicans, just 25% think climate change is a serious worry.  That's well below the figure for China and only marginally better than Egypt and Pakistan.

So, Democrats behave more like those from other industrial nations, where climate change is perceived as a serious global problem.  Republicans, however, behave more like those from developing nations, where climate change is presumably seen as a lesser concern than economic development and day-to-day survival.

Keeping this distinction is mind is fairly important.  When it comes to attitudes and action on the environment, there are really two USAs.  The country certainly deserves censure at times, but we should focus our criticisms on the recalcitrant half.