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“Political commitments are not enough”

An Interview with Eva Müller, Director General, Forests, Sustainability and Renewable Resources, BMEL

Forests are among our planet’s most important human life-supporting ecosystems, and we have many expectations with regards to the ecosystem services they provide. But: How do major global challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss affect forests globally, and what can forest governance and management do? How can we deal with rising and changing demands for forest products and ecosystem services due to global population and economic growth, and urbanization?   

In order to discuss these questions, the conference “Governing and managing forests for multiple ecosystem services” brought together policymakers, practitioners and academic researchers from different fields on 26-28 February in Bonn. During this event, EFI in collaboration with the documentary filmmaker Patrick Augenstein, interviewed Eva Müller, Director General, Forests, Sustainability and Renewable Resources at the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL).

For Eva, the conference represented an important opportunity to bring together many different ideas which help to move past the continuous polarized debates of how to manage forests in the future. Her main message at the conference pushed for integration instead of polarization.

Alongside the polarized discussions, Eva says that the reason we have not seen significant restoration progress is because of financial and social factors. As an example, she gives the Bonn Challenge, a political commitment that has fell short of its 2020 deadline. She explains that many political commitments are made, but on the ground, they are much more complicated than they appear. In addition to high costs, there is a great deal of interaction needed with local people living in the area to ensure restoration processes do not comprise these social systems. For this reason, Eva says “we need to go beyond political commitments” if we want to make these restoration goals a reality.

When asked if there is a particular landscape she feels connected to, Eva remembers the tropical forests of Costa Rica where she worked for 10 years. When she began this work the forests were very poorly managed and harvesting was occurring at an unsustainable rate. After working with the local foresters over many years, Eva says she was able to take a trip back to these forests 15 years later. And the result? “They looked fantastic. They looked better than before they were harvested for the first time” she says. This positive impression gave her hope that tropical forests can be managed, despite arguments that they cannot.

However, Eva also thinks of tropical forests when asked for personal stories of forest degradation. On a recent trip to a natural pine forest in Honduras with a German delegation, Eva saw cattle grazing going on within the forest. She says this was particularly worrying for her, as grazing cattle eat the regeneration which would normally make the next generation of trees. This problem among with others is something that she relates to weak land governance, corruption, and poverty.

Eva says she seeks inspiration from the younger generation and movements like Friday’s for Future. The strong and steadily growing engagement from the youth gives her hope for the future of the planet.

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