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World: Wildlife Fund, World Bank Work To Save Forests

Washington, 26 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - The World Wildlife Fund says the earth's forests covering 33 million square kilometers are an invaluable resource, but that less than six percent of the total is officially protected.

More than half the planet's forests have already been lost, says the fund, and deforestation -- from Europe to Latin America to Africa -- has increased massively. The World bank says tropical forests are disappearing at the rate of nearly one percent per year, but in places like the Brazilian Amazon, the deforestation rate has jumped to 34 percent in just the past five years.

In an effort to try to raise from six percent to 10 percent the amount of the world's forests protected from being degraded and destroyed, the fund and the World Bank have formed an unusual strategic partnership. Under it, the bank has agreed to help its member nations increase the areas of protected forests to 100 million hectares each of the three major forest types -- tropical, temperate and cold.

As well, the bank will assist in increasing the number of forests and plantations which are being used and managed under certification from the Forest Stewardship Council, an international professional organization, from less than one percent of potential lands to more than seven percent.

The Director of the Global Forest Program at the Wildlife Fund, Don Henry, told our correspondent that both types of forests -- those completely protected and those responsibly managed for recreation, wildlife conservation and logging -- are necessary to protect the biodiversty of the planet.

World Bank President James Wolfensohn announced the new partnership at the United Nations Earth Summit in New York Wednesday. He said the bank is interested in similar strategic partnerships with governments, private companies and development agencies as well as community groups to help establish markets for goods made in a socially and environmentally-friendly way.

He said arresting the rapid loss of animal and plant life -- the biodiversity of the planet -- will not succeed unless the marketplace can embrace more green and social values.

Wolfensohn says he has invited some of the world's leading forest product companies and conservation groups to join together in a campaign to transform the marketplace.

The Wildlife Fund says 33 natural forests and 10 plantations -- areas which have been replanted -- have been certified as being properly managed. The list includes three state forests in Poland -- Gdansk, Katowice and Szczezinek.

Poland has already carried out a Global Environment Fund paid project to study the risk of pollution and the challenges to biodiversity in the Bialowieza forest. That study, completed more than a year ago, recommended that the size of the national park be doubled. Money left over from that project is being used to identify additional critical habitats in Central Europe in need of protection, including the Sudety Mountains straddling the Polish-Czech border.

In his discussions at the U.N. Summit, Wolfensohn said that the "major bright spot" in global environmental efforts has been in phasing out ozone damaging chlorofluorocarbons, chemicals known as CFCs. However, says Wolfensohn, progress continues to be undermined by the excessive CFC production in Russia which is feeding global black market smuggling. The bank has developed a plan to help Russian factories eliminate that production, but is trying to find donors for the final $12 million needed to launch the project.

Wolfensohn warned that supplies of clean water are reaching "dangerously low levels in many regions of the world," with at least 20 countries having problems now. He said developing nations will need to invest $600 billion over the next decade to stave off a water crisis and the bank expects to lend $35 billion to help.

Wolfensohn also said bank officials are concerned that only three of the rich nations have so far met their commitments under the Rio convention to scale back greenhouse gas emissions. He said bank experts are still working out details of a "carbon offset" program which would allow rich and poor countries to cooperate to pay for cutting the worst smokestack emissions quickly.