RAN’s Finance Campaign Pays Dividends, Further Gains Ahead?

Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and partners have delivered yet another stunning victory for forests and climate as Bank of America has decided, on their prompting, to take new steps in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and protection of “intact” forest ecosystems. RAN's targeting of the global financial sector's environmental impacts continues to reap benefits, “helping the financial sector to live up to the ideals of a democratic economy… working to ensure that the natural capital of our global environment and the integrity of local communities are preserved indefinitely.” This follows recent similar commitments by Citigroup, also motivated by RAN's campaigning. Bank of America's statement on the matter can be found at http://www.bankofamerica.com/newsroom/presskits/view.cfm?page=climateandforests
Indeed, it is very good news if intact forests that have never before been logged are to be exempt from commercial bank financed development and diminishment. It is heartening that RAN appears to have taken critiques from Forests.org onboard, and is now making clear that any industrial harvest of intact forests, even certified, is inappropriate.
The significance of the news depends critically upon defining “intact forests”. This appears to mostly be composed of large areas of relatively natural primary forests – the preservation of which is a mainstay of the Forests.org network's message. Such areas are referred to within the forest conservation movement as primary, old-growth, wildlands, wilderness, ancient, first-growth and/or endangered forests. I realize we are striving for a term that encompasses more than just primary forests – that captures more of the spectrum of regenerating fragments and late successional secondary growth – but why can't the forest conservation movement be more precise and consistent with terminology? The term “intact forests” remains worryingly nebulous.
Such tentative undertakings, however promising, do raise other issues. The agreement does not adequately address the appropriateness of commercial financing of forest plantations (perhaps even genetically modified) as a climate change strategy. And measures to prevent replacement of secondary forests (that are less than intact) with plantations is weak. Sustainable economics will require restocking stores of natural forest capital, yet the agreement fails to achieve commitments to fund natural forest regeneration and restoration.
I note that World Resources Institute (WRI), who is to define “intact forests” and map where these forests occur, also takes financing from African logging companies. Both WRI and RAN must remain vigilante that advocating for protection of natural forests, while simultaneously partnering with commercial forest interests, does not become a conflict of interest. Monitoring and reforming forest destruction need some separation. WRI's analytic and RAN's campaigning skills must not be used as greenwash for continued, albeit slightly less damaging, diminishment and loss of intact and other forests.
And finally, I encourage RAN to make clear that these agreements with the financial industry are only the beginning of policies and reforms necessary to sustain natural capital – the store of nature's goods and services upon which all life and human economy depends. They are not the final word, and the expectation is they will become more strict, compulsory and ubiquitous. If RAN is to legitimately negotiate on behalf of the greens the rules that will determine a not insubstantial portion of the fate of the world's forests and climate, including giving a stamp of approval to reformed development activities in ancient forests that others have worked for decades to stop, they must be as inclusive and self-reflective as possible.
This said, I can think of few I would rather see on our side of the bargaining table. It is clear that RAN's finance campaign is on the cutting edge of environmental conservation and continues to rack up major victories. A good start indeed…

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