Francis Hallé’s open letter to UN secretary-general António Guterres

Dear Mr. Secretary-General,

As a botanist, I have been conducting research on tropical trees and forests for a long time. On September 16, 2019, I wrote to you during the Climate Action Summit, calling for the establishment of a true Global Plan for trees and forests, so that they could be considered a “common good for mankind.”

One of the sessions at this summit was called “Agriculture and sustainable forest management.” Today, I would like to draw your attention once again to the fact that linking forests and agriculture offers no other future for forests than to be “sustainably managed,” that is to say, exploited, structurally threatened, with a loss of biodiversity and the risk of eventually being destroyed, as is currently the case in the Brazilian Amazon.

The catastrophic situation of the forests – fires in Amazonia and Australia, excessive logging in Sumatra, in the Congo Basin and in central Europe, replacement by industrial crops in Malaysia, uncontrolled destruction in New Guinea – requires us to completely change the way we look at natural forests and their benefits.

At the closing of last September’s Summit of Heads of State, you declared: “we have a long way to go. […] We need more concrete plans.” The two documents I have attached to this letter deal precisely with a concrete primary forest project in Western Europe.

This is the very purpose of my new letter to you at a time when the global pandemic calls with even greater urgency for solutions that measure up to the problems that we face.

I have three proposal for you, thanking you in advance for your attention. The first is to stop confusing tree plantations with natural forests, despite what the FAO says, because these are two profoundly different and even contradictory realities, particularly regarding climate change and biodiversity.

My second proposal is for the FAO to retain full authority over tree plantations, which are a matter of agriculture, but to hand over responsibility for forests. Obviously, we will always need plantations for production (wood, paper, xylochemistry, etc.) but natural forests must depend on a separate, distinct approach. Under the UN, a “World Forest Agency” could be responsible for the control of natural forests.

My third and final proposal is that the UN launch a “Forest New Deal” for trees and forests, in which the latter would be considered a “common good for mankind” since they are the best response to the demands of climate regulation, long-term carbon storage, maintenance of soil fertility, respect for biological diversity, and protection of human beings’ living environments.

Mr. Secretary General, it is my hope that you will consider these three proposals with an open mind.


Francis Hallé, Montpellier, August 5, 2020

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