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»The Oslo Climate and Forest Conference
Interim REDD+ Partnership Adopted May 27, 2010

»REDD+ in the Post-Copenhagen World: Recommendations for Interim Public Finance

»Borneo Clouded Leopard Conservation Update

»REDD Reality-check: The challenges of putting potential into practice in Africa

»COP15 REDD+ Facilitator, Tony La Vina, Proposes Way Forward

»Change. Hope. Tropical Forests.

» Source and Sink: One Year. A Poet’s Perspective on a Year of Tropical Deforestation.

» TFG paper explores the range of private sector financial tools to conserve tropical forests

»Governors Sign Historic Deforestation Accord

» Re-Energizing REDD

»The Problem: Tropical Deforestation

» The Solution: REDD

» As World Steps Forward to Help Save Tropical Forests, US Retreats

» To Bali in 21 sets of Brackets

» Coral Reefs

»Trees Make Delegates see REDD

»Victory Lap

» A History of Climate Change and Tropical Forest Negotations

» Carbon Karma

»High Speed, Low Drag

» Interview With Salil Shetty

» Soy You Wanna Be An Environmentalist

» Interview With Elsa Esquivel Bazan




TFG Interviews
Salil Shetty
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13, 2006


Tropical Forest Group recently sat down with Salil
, Director of the United
Nation’s Millennium Campaign
.tfg shetty Interview With Salil Shetty  The UN Millennium
Campaign supports citizen efforts to hold their governments accountable
for progress toward the Millennium
Development Goals
(MDG’s), an ambitious development blueprint
signed by 180 Heads of State. The MDG’s are lofty—eradicating
extreme poverty by 2015 and ensuring environmental sustainability—and
they have  generated an enormous amount of institutional and
diplomatic clout.  TFG asked Mr. Shetty about the connections
between tropical forests, global poverty, and other social issues.

TFG: In what ways do you believe that environmental stewardship
supports the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s)?

Salil Shetty:  The separation of environmental
from social issues is a false separation.  All of these issues—environment,
democracy, security, and human rights—are all  linked.  Certainly,
if you live in a remote forest in India or the Democratic Republic
of Congo, such distinctions are meaningless.  As you know, Goal
7 is specifically about
environmental stewardship.  But it is for the poorest people
in the world that the goals
are most relevant, and for those people the relationship between
the environment and their livelihood is very direct—it’s
not a circular, complex or distant relationship because most poor
people live off of natural resources.  Many people rely on allied
occupations, whether it be living off forests or living off trees,
or other artisan livelihoods—and if you don’t have a
sustainable environment, and an environment that is thinking ahead
rather than living for the day, then the goals are not going to be

If we don’t get the 7th goal right, we cannot make it by 2015
and we certainly can’t sustain it.  The goals have always
been seen as an entry point, so we have to look at it in a sustainable
way, it’s not achieving it for the sake of achieving it.  We
must make it last.

TFG: How are tropical deforestation and poverty in developing
nations connected?

Salil Shetty:  If you look at the connections
between environment and agriculture, that’s where you can find
the most direct linkages because by definition poor people are people
who live off the land, lands that are consistently getting worse
and worse in terms of quality.  You have the results of direct
deforestation, such as erosion and runoffs, that affect people because
they usually live on low lands that are affected by run offs.  From
another perspective, in India, 8% of the population—which comes
to 80 million people—is indigenous.  These people live
off the forests directly so if we don’t have forest protection
policy sorted out they lose their livelihood.  Unregulated forestry
and logging is therefore detrimental to the poor communities—whether
it’s in Liberia or the Amazon or Tanzania.  In addition,
there are also direct connections between water management and forestry,
and often we look at these as separate issues. 

On a macro-level, climate change and Kyoto are central to these
issues as well, because climate change affects the poorest countries
and peoples the most.  These issues can’t be dealt with
in a micro-way.  The challenge is that the countries have to
work together to deal with these environmental issues.  Global
warming is the same way, it’s a macro-problem.

TFG:  Tropical deforestation stands as the leading
cause of biodiversity loss and the second leading cause of global
warming.  With this in mind, can you explain the social benefits
of global investment in tropical forest conservation?

Salil Shetty:  There’s the whole discussion
of what a private benefit is and what a social benefit is.  I
think that this is a win-win because a very large proportion of people
in most countries—75% of the world population—live off
the forests and the land, so tropical forest conservation creates
not only a high social benefit, but also a high private benefit,
particularly if you look at it from a long-haul perspective.  Short
term, there are maybe going to be trade-offs, and that’s why
you need active and thoughtful state and global intervention to deal
with and compensate for losses, and to manage incentives and disincentives.  The
biggest social benefit, in my opinion, is that you’d achieve
the MDG’s, because then you’d have less people dying,
less people sick, less women dying during childbirth, and so on.  If
you take the individual diseases and health issues listed in the
goals, they are centrally related to peoples’ income, their
ability to access healthcare, etc.  So that’s why we’ve
always been reluctant to single any one of the goals out, because
you need to deal with each of the goals, they’re all right.  The
environment needs a specialist type of approach and attention—but
not in isolation of the other set of goals.  They need to work

TFG:  Do you see much tension in developing countries
between the need to preserve forests and to the desire to develop
them for economic gain?

Salil Shetty:  The problem is that the discourse
is set by the elites of these countries, because if you ask tribal
indigenous people in these countries you won’t find that tension
because they see that relationship very clearly, because they live
off the land.  But if you’re a macro-policy academic
involved in discussion, that’s totally different from when
you ask people living off the land. 

TFG: So you find that people that are living closer to the
forests and the land they live off of are more in touch with the
idea of protecting their resources?

Salil Shetty:  I do not know if you’re
aware of the famous joint forest management principle that came from
India in the first place—and it’s now used quite widely
in many forestry policies across the world.  And there the logic
was quite simple, to say that the people for whom the forest mattered
the most are the people who are living off the forests, it’s
not the forest guards or the forest department who are most considerate
of the forest.  Indigenous people are the ones that need to
protect the forests more than anyone else.  Yes, there are some
short-term trade-offs and all that, but if you look at it from the
bigger picture sense they’re the last ones who want to destroy
the forest.  Often, when you bring in government officials
with the logic, “we are protecting the forest for you,” in
reality what happens is the officials bring in the loggers and everyone
else and they take the rights to the land from the indigenous people,
along with the minor forest products that they live off entirely.  The
indigenous people don’t actually chop the trees, they use the
products of the trees to live.  Wherever you have forests departments
come in, they prevent these people from taking the products the need
to live under a guise of regulation. 
So I don’t think that tension is there at that level—the
local level.  At the policy level, it is different.  If
you are the Brazilian government, you would say that you can’t
expect us to slow down our rate of growth just in order to protect
the environment.  And we have to deal with those realities. 

It also deals with security, which is new to the discourse—environmental
security is the same as human security, which is the same as national
security.  The argument becomes more complex when you start
putting everything in one basket and everything is interlinked.  But
the fact is that if you go to a small village of forest dwellers,
then everything becomes very simple and straightforward.  In
that environment you can’t talk about human security as something
distinct from environmental security it all comes together, and those
tensions don’t exist.

TFG: As a new organization, TFG is convinced that tropical
forest conservation is vital to fighting global warming and providing
sustainable livelihoods to many in developing countries.  We
believe this is an important aspect of goals such as poverty eradication
and disease prevention.  Can you offer any advice on how we
and our members can best focus our efforts to contribute to the

Salil Shetty:  We are focused on what one
can do, because there is the discussion and then there is the action.  We
feel that in the sense of policy discussion we’ve covered a
lot of ground.  It’s not that the world doesn’t
know what needs to be done; it’s just that we’re not
doing it.  So I would very much hope that as an organization
you focus on taking action.  We need the policy discussion,
but on the action side it’s really getting our leaders to keep
their promises.  That’s what our campaign is all about:
you can’t sign up to something and then do the opposite.  In
the context of the US this is particularly resonant.  The US
is the world’s richest country, and a large section of the
population of this country isn’t aware of many important facts.  The
reason why the leaders get away with a lot of these things is because
the general public doesn’t know.  Whenever we conduct
surveys here we’re shocked as to what the public perception
is.  People think their leaders are doing the opposite of what’s
happening in reality.  You should strive to reach outside to
get people aware of some of these basic facts.  Spread knowledge,
encourage action.  Keep the chain of knowledge and action moving.