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Greenpeace's ceasefire with the logging companies was not a deal with the devil

Richard Brooks

21st July, 2010

It took many environmentalists by surprise - that fiercely campaigning NGOs could not just make peace with their corporate enemies but enter into an agreement with them. This is a crucial step forward, says Richard Brooks

On May 18, 2010, Greenpeace along with eight other environmental organisations, the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) and its twenty one member companies unveiled the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA), one of the largest and most ambitious conservation planning and forest solutions agreements ever.

The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement is a game-changer in the movement to responsibly manage and conserve large areas of intact forests while supporting the peoples, communities, and jobs that depend upon them. The Agreement is a truce between long-time foes in the battle for the Boreal Forest, and a move towards a collaborative solutions approach in an area of the Boreal Forest that is twice the size of Germany at 72 million hectares. It includes the suspension of logging and other forestry activity in an area larger than Italy (at 28.6 million hectares), virtually all the habitat of woodland caribou – an iconic and endangered species in Canada – that is under management of FPAC companies, for three years.

The agreement creates the space to do the work and planning in a massive area that is needed to create protection of vast areas of Boreal forest, implement world-leading forest practices, revitalise the forest industry and renew the communities which depend on it.

What we stood to lose

The Canadian Boreal Forest ranks with the Amazon and the rainforests of Indonesia and the Congo Basin as one of the most important forests on the planet. It is the largest storehouse of carbon on the planet – banking more than 200 billion tonnes in its soils and trees. It is home to more than 600 First Nations and Aboriginal communities. It is the source of billions of dollars in forest products sold globally. It is home to one billion migratory birds and is the source of fresh water for half of Canada. It is one of the last, truly vast wilderness spaces left on the planet.

Greenpeace and other environmental organisations have been waging campaigns for years to protect this forest. These have included boycott and divestment campaigns, public education and mobilisation projects, government lobbying and peaceful civil disobedience. We have had victories along the way, now culminating with the CBFA.

Nearly two decades ago, Greenpeace made the strategic decision to engage the global marketplace as a means to advance conservation of forests. We recognised at the time that those companies and governments that manage forests paid the most attention to what shareholders and pulp, paper and lumber customers of logging companies wanted – for obvious reasons. We also recognised that changing the logging companies’ approach to forestry could be facilitated by having these customers educated and engaged in asking and demanding change.

In the case of the Boreal Forest, the Canadian, U.S. and European markets have been very important in driving change and supporting the coming together of the disparate parties.  The UK is the largest European market for forest products, totalling $354 million (CDN) in 2009. Companies such as Office Depot, Pearson Publishing, Kimberly-Clark and others mobilised by our organisation and the likes of Canopy and ForestEthics, have been instrumental in supporting forest conservation in Canada through their contracts with signatories to the Agreement. Through the shifting of their purchases, through the release of environmental procurement policies and through sheer moral suasion they have helped create the openness to find a different way of doing things.

No Faustian pact


In our opinion, the simple truth of the matter is that the companies who signed on to the Agreement have done so because they recognise that the global marketplace is shifting and if they are to survive and compete, for example, against companies with weak environmental records and fast-growing  Brazilian plantations, FPAC member companies need to differentiate themselves. Being green and not greenwashed is one way to do it. The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement will provide the signatory companies with a competitive edge.

Some will say that we did a deal with the devil - that agreeing to work with logging companies means Greenpeace has sold out its roots or gotten tired after years of campaigning. Not true. This agreement was envisioned years ago. We knew that the day needed to come where we worked closely with those who manage the forest to change the way business was done. There is a saying at Greenpeace - 'We have no permanent enemies, no permanent friends'. That day has come.

With the signing of the agreement, the Boreal Forest has not been 'saved'. Permanent change has not yet happened. But now we have a roadmap to make the change we want to see.  We consider this our last and best chance in Canada to achieve vast new protected areas, totalling tens of millions of hectares, to lock up billions of tonnes of carbon. It is an intelligent solution to protect woodland caribou, a majestic species, whose population health is an indicator for the health of the Boreal Forest. It is also a hopeful opportunity to create a new vision of economic sustainability for forest-dependent communities.

We have put important mechanisms in place to help us achieve our goals – a series of milestones to direct and track our progress in all aspects of our work, for example, designing conservation plans for caribou in a first suite of areas by month six. The milestones will be reported on regularly by an independent auditor who will not hold back in noting missed milestones and laggards. A group of customers and investors are also being convened to monitor and support progress.

And of course, we retain our independence and our ability to restart boycott and divestment campaigns if the deal falls off the rails. But that is not our intent. Because of the global importance of the Boreal Forest, it is imperative that we succeed in implementing this ambitious Agreement.

Richard Brooks is the forest campaign coordinator for Greenpeace Canada

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