Leading Article: A burning question of motes and logs

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The Independent Online
DEVELOPED nations have been quick to attack Latin America for destroying its rainforests. Rich countries, purporting to repent centuries of indiscriminate logging at home, are evangelical in their efforts to persuade poorer nations not to repeat these mistakes. The earnestness of celebrities, the emergence of environmentally-friendly consumers - not to mention tree-hugging - all suggest that forests have little to fear from rich northern countries.

National Tree Week offers an overdue opportunity to debunk such sanctimonious nonsense. The rich countries are still more sinners than saints with respect to trees. Europe's few surviving ancient woodlands are still being chopped down. Much replanting is monoculture: single species woodland that bears little resemblance to natural forests whose variety was ideal for flora and fauna. Pollution is being blamed for premature defoliation.

Britain, having lost great swaths of old growth forest in this century, has yet to develop a state grant regime that encourages planting of diverse species. As far as trees are concerned, this country is one of the most barren in Europe.

In Siberia and Russia a logging boom is under way as US, Japanese and South Korean timber companies rush to clear vast forests. Deforestation threatens a treescape that is believed to soak up 10 per cent of human-made carbon dioxide emissions every year. Where areas of permafrost are denuded, the land tends to warm up, leaving behind boggy terrain that is difficult to reafforest. The release of methane from previously frozen ground contributes to global warming.

Nor has the United States offered much example to countries in the poor southern half of its continent. The first English settlers may have marvelled at smelling the great pine forests from 100 miles offshore, but they cleared almost all the old growth except on the Pacific coast - and the Eighties saw even those survivors endangered.

So it was the height of hypocrisy for Western governments to demand at last year's Rio summit that developing countries introduce sustainable forestry management by the year 2000. This will simply not happen until rich nations cease destroying their own native forests and those of other countries. We in Britain should use National Tree Week as a chance to engage in a little soul-searching.