Global Standard-Setter: Norway

At the 2016 Rainforest Alliance gala last week, Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment Vidar Helgesen accepted our Global Standard-Setter Award on behalf of his country–the first government to ever receive this honor. We could hardly fail to recognize what Norway has done for forests: Through its International Climate and Forest Initiative, Norway has paid US$1 billion to Brazil for successes in reducing deforestation of the Amazon, and is working with Colombia, Guyana, Peru, Liberia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and the Congo on similar measures. In addition, Norway’s sizable civil society program will spend US$40 to 50 million per year through 2020 to support organizations working on indigenous peoples’ rights, deforestation-free supply chains, international law enforcement, and other key issues.

Here, we share Helgesen’s acceptance speech, in which he explains why Norway puts forests at the center of its efforts to combat climate change:

Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends, and Colleagues:

It is an honor to be here and a great encouragement to receive the Global Standard-Setter award on behalf of the Government of Norway. I want to thank the Rainforest Alliance first, for its decade long leadership for the protection of the world’s rainforests, and second, for recognizing our contributions to the same cause.

I watched some exciting news this morning. You know, when you arrive from Europe and wake up early and jet-lagged, turning on American morning TV news is always quite a wake-up call. What I learned this morning on CNN was that NASA’s Kepler telescope has discovered 1,284 new planets outside our solar system, boosting the chances of finding another Earth-like world. The surest sign that this is significant news is the fact that it was able to compete for airtime the morning after the primaries in West Virginia.

Some would say, of course, that the US election season has a slightly extra-terrestrial character…

But my point is this: this planet is our home. If you point a flashlight towards our closest star, it will take 4.2 years for the light to arrive there. The fastest space ship imaginable given current knowledge would need a thousand years to cover the same journey. In other words: we have no use for those possibly habitable planets outside our solar system. While we do not know if we are alone in the universe, we do know that we have nowhere else to go. This is our planet. And the well-being of planet Earth is fundamental to our existence.

" This is our planet. And the well-being of planet Earth is fundamental to our existence.”

Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment

The natural resources that are sustaining human life on this planet, meanwhile, are finite. And, since the beginning of the industrial revolution, we have been consuming them at an increasingly terrifying speed. This cannot continue. Recognizing this, in the New York Declaration on Forests, in September 2014, governments, civil society, and the business community committed to ambitious goals and actions to halt deforestation by 2030.

The broader point was made by world leaders agreed in this city last September, when they adopted the Sustainable Development Goals. They reaffirmed it again through the Paris Agreement on climate change in December. The Paris agreement recognizes forests’ essential role in stabilizing our climate. The Sustainable Development Goals include a common pledge to halt deforestation by 2020.

Not only will we have to end tropical deforestation. We will have to restore vast areas of forests to something close to their natural state. And we will have to fundamentally change the way we produce food, feed, fuel, and fiber for a growing and increasingly affluent population.

The Government of Norway firmly believes that this can be done. We also believe that doing it will not only deliver a more sustainable environment, but also yield stronger, more equitable socioeconomic growth and development. As Brazil has shown us through their reductions in Amazon deforestation while growing the Amazon agricultural economy at the same time, saving forests is within reach, and can be done in combination with economic growth.

Taking Brazil’s achievements one step further, and then replicating the feat globally, will not be easy. It will require novel patterns of collaboration and innovation to succeed at the necessary speed and scale. Public-private partnerships of unprecedented scope and scale will be indispensable.

That is why I’m so delighted the private sector is so heavily represented here tonight. Without the innovation, finance, and inspiration of the private sector we will not succeed. Corporations increasingly see that sustainability is serving their own interests. A former recipient of the Global Standard-Setter award, Paul Polman of Unilever, visited Oslo last week. He made the point that if, in India for example, there is no water, people will not be able to wash their hair, and Unilever will not be able to sell shampoo.

For some reason, I never thought of that shampoo perspective myself…

While we really need leadership from the private sector, at the end of the day deforestation is a public policy issue, and needs to be resolved by governments. Tropical forests are found in developing countries. Reducing deforestation requires transformational change, which is costly and complex, politically and financially. Those countries cannot be expected to carry this burden on their own. That is the basic rationale for Norway’s climate and forest initiative. Working in this area over the past eight years, we have not been able to find one single recipe for achieving this transformation. But what we have learned, is that progress and positive change comes when good forces align. Change happens when government, business, and civil society organizations find ways of working together–alternating in demands for higher standards and better practices and searching together for scale-able win-win solutions.

Ladies and gentlemen, had forests been a human invention, a result of decades of research and investments, cutting them down would have been unimaginable. Their inventor would surely have been a multiple Nobel Laureate. Given the services tropical forests provide to us, the fact that clearing them are still often ignored or even encouraged, constitutes a market and governance failure of massive proportions. Forests are the only proven, cost effective carbon capture and sequestration technology we have. And that is only one of its innumerable benefits. Forests protects watersheds and local and regional rainfall. They sustain treasures of biodiversity yet unexplored. And they provide food and shelter for some of the world’s most vulnerable communities, as well as the indispensable cultural basis for thousands of unique indigenous peoples’ communities.

For all these reasons, and for their sheer beauty: Let us save–and restore–the forests for future generations. Thank you so much.

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Forests Gala
Burning Peruvian forest - photo by Mohsin Kazmi

Forests are falling at an alarming rate.

Each minute, 85 acres are destroyed.

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