I move amendment No. 4:
In page 7, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:
“ “Rio Forest Principles” means the “Forest Principles” adopted at The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992;”.
From my point of view, these amendments are some of the most important I have tabled. They go to the heart of what I and people concerned with the future protection and development of Irish forestry and woodlands believe to be quite central to this matter - namely, putting in place a proper definition of what constitutes sustainable forestry. Such a definition would inform both the Bill and our overall approach to forestry. The highest standard of definition that has been laid down in this regard is that which is contained in the forest principles adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, which took place in Rio in 1992. Those principles make for fantastic reading because they provide a real sense of the multiple values and downright importance of forests and trees.
In the day-to-day rush of life, work, stress and pressure, what is happening with our forests might not seem of immediate importance. However, the 1992 principles set out - in a wonderful way - how existence on this planet is dependent on forests, which are the lungs of the world. Our failure to protect them has probably been the single biggest contributory factor to climate change. Forests regulate both climate and weather, and massive deforestation have not helped in that regard. The World Cup is taking place in Brazil at present and the destruction of the equatorial rain forests in that country is a threat to the existence of humanity. An area of trees equivalent to that football pitch is cut down each day by people who either do not understand or do not care about the value of forests not just to the people of Brazil or the indigenous tribes that live there but to the entire world. If we do not do something to protect these forests, the whole planet will be under threat.
What I am talking about is not a matter for the long-distant future. The impact of deforestation is apparent in events that are having an adverse impact on people in this country. I refer, for example, to flooding. Our native forests were cut down as a result of successive waves of British invasion and colonisation and we have done relatively little to replant them. This deforestation did considerable damage to the cohesion of the soil in this country. In so far as reafforestation has taken place, it has been industrial and monocultural in nature and the focus has mainly been on planting Sitka spruce rather than native species. That has contributed significantly to soil erosion, to the acidification of soil and rivers and to silting, all of which have an impact with regard to flooding, disease, etc. In general, the fertility of the soil has been adversely affected.
I do not really want to do so but if I were to argue the matter in the context of economics, I could state that there would be huge potential - from the point of view of the economy and job creation - to expand activity in respect of the planting of native species way beyond the level that has obtained to date. Up to now, we have been far too focused on a particular industrial model of forestry that has failed on all sorts of levels. We are not meeting our afforestation targets and we were recently obliged to revise them. We are failing to diversify our afforestation activities by increasing the number of native species we could and should plant.
The Rio principles set out why all of the matters to which I refer are so important for society and culture and refer to the importance of striking a balance in the context of social, economic and environmental concerns. They are vital to understanding the impact of forestry on many levels. The definitions contained in the principles were developed in Rio and it was a fantastic achievement on the part of all involved that they achieved a consensus about the vital importance of forestry. In such circumstances, it would seem sensible that the definition to which I refer should be inserted into the Bill in order to inform both it and how we deal with the process of forestry.
In 2009, Mr. David Gunning, the former CEO of Coillte, when giving evidence to the Committee of Public Accounts, stated - I stress that it was not me or some environmental fringe group which did so - that, from many different points of view, the traditional forestry model used in this country was no longer viable and had to be changed. However, that model has not been changed in the interim. A major difficulty with the Bill is the fact that the review of Coillte, the largest owner of forestry in the country, has never been completed. This is because the Forestry Act 1988, under which Coillte was established and which predates the Rio principles, has never been amended.
There is no review. We have not received the review - it was never completed - of what is going on in Coillte. The Bill that governs Coillte, the biggest owner of forests, does not take into account the Rio forest principles in terms of environmental protection, the importance of biodiversity and the multiple uses and value of forestry. That seems to follow through in some of the thrust and bias of the objectives of the Bill.
I am hoping to insert these definitions of sustainable forestry from the Rio forest principles. There is still too much of an emphasis on the narrow industrial or commercial view of forestry. I use the term "narrow" because in arguing for the Rio principles and a more holistic view of forestry development I am not arguing against developing the economic potential or value of forestry. I am trying to explain that we have had too narrow a view of them, with an industrial approach based largely on one species. It has not really worked and is potentially damaging and threatening to the future of the forestry sector overall. If we really want to develop the economic, employment, tourist, amenity, biodiversity and heritage potential of forestry, we need to have a more balanced and sustainable long-term view, rather than a narrow focused industrial view. The Rio forest principles set the balance correctly in the most comprehensive way and better than any other forum. That is why they should be included in the Bill. That is the argument. As we signed up to them, why not include them in the Bill? I do not see any reason not to do so.