Pertinent Issues

The issues listed above have emerged as the main areas of concern in relation to the expansion of large-scale industrial tree plantations. While until recently the threat of expanding tree plantations was being driven mainly by growing demand for pulp and paper products, there are now a number of new drivers coming into play.

Climate change has opened the door to the potential for enormous new tree plantations that are expected to function as carbon sinks to offset industrial carbon emissions, or to provide a source of raw materials for the large-scale production of agrofuels (biofuels) such as from Oil Palm, Jatropha, and fast growing weedy trees such as Poplar, Pine and Eucalyptus, that will be used to produce cellulosic ethanol. In reality though, industrial tree plantations have the propensity to make climate change far worse, as the intensive cultivation, cropping and industrial processing of trees actually increases greenhouse gas emissions through direct emissions of greenhose gases resulting from the use of fossil fuels in logging, road transportation, shipping and conversion into consumer goods! But the most controversial (and stupid) contribution of the timber industry to increasing climate change is its obsession with chipping or 'pelletising' wood from forests and from plantations as a substitute fuel for oil and coal to be burned at power stations in Europe and the UK.

In partnership with the UN FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations), the timber industry response to rapidly increasing deforestation has been to promote so-called "planted forests", a nice-sounding name for more of the same terrible tree plantations already impacting on so many parts of the world. Other misleading language used to confuse the issue includes phrases like "forest plantation" and "forest cover"; and "sustainable forest management". The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) has contributed to the confusion created by the FAO by inventing "afforestation" and "reforestation" which have absolutely nothing to do with forests at all, but in fact refer to the devious establishment of more of the same old horrible tree plantations, supposedly to help save the planet from climate change whilst also miraculously contributing to "sustainable development".. 

Forests and plantations are fundamentally different entities, and efforts to confuse the two by the FAO and the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) as well as the UNFF (United Nations Forum on Forests) and the UNFCCC, have led to heightened conflict between mainly foreign timber companies, and local communities and Indigenous Peoples who are dependent on, but also protect the forests in their territories. This conflict will escalate as new 'climate change mitigation' schemes that focus narrowly on carbon sequestration and storage - such as REDD (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) - are very likely to displace forest peoples from their traditional territories, and to promote the establishment of even more destructive plantations to "enhance forest carbon stocks" (REDD+) instead of encouraging genuine forest protection and restoration projects.

There are common threats that permeate all of these emerging new and existing drivers of tree plantation expansion. The issue of Food Security is a major problem in terms of how productive farmland and land within biodiversity rich ecosystems is being targeted for the establishment of tree plantations. Displaced communities will be deprived of access to their basic needs for survival, and often forced to migrate to city slums, or to stay and to accept the starvation wages offered by tree plantation owners.

High Water Consumption by fast growing plantation trees impacts on water availability to both local and downstream communities, including ecosystems and subsistence farmers. This problem is made worse by the effects of polluting chemicals used in tree plantations, as well as the harmful effects of both air and water pollution caused by pulp and paper mills. The existing mills could soon be joined by the many ethanol and biodiesel factories needed to feed the fuel demands of Northern motorists, tourists and truckers.

Another potentially devastating development is the Genetic Engineering (GE) of plantation trees to supposedly grow more quickly and be able to survive drought and low temperatures. This threatens possible contamination of wild tree genes through cross-pollination between related species, thereby endangering the genetic integrity of wild trees in forests. In theory, faster growing and therefore more thirsty, GE tree plantations could thus cause even more environmental and social damage than existing non-transgenic tree plantations.

Note:

Although there will be a degree of overlap between some of these issues, as for example with Pollution and Pulp Mills, these topics can also be dealt with on an individual basis. In certain instances information provided will be common to more than one issue, and in these cases information will be duplicated wherever relevant.