An unlikely alliance of the Queen, Prince William, the Labour MP Frank Field, Commonwealth countries and Canadian ecologists join forces today to protect one of the largest coastal temperate rainforests in the world: the Great Bear rainforest along the central and west coast of British Columbia.
Prince William is in the Canadian province for a weeklong visit and will announce on Monday that the forest will join an international network of forests designed to involve all 53 countries in the Commonwealth.
The network of forests is part of the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy (QCC), a forest conservation initiative launched in the monarch’s name at the Malta Commonwealth summit last year.
Field said: “The aim is to form a network and collective voice that rivals the Amazonian rainforest in size, and makes a permanent contribution to fight against climate change. The existence of many Commonwealth nations is directly imperilled by climate change, and this is now a subject that is at the heart of the Commonwealth’s purpose.”
Field, better known for his campaigning work in the field of welfare, launched the Cool Earth charity in 2007 with the businessman Johan Eliasch, with the aim of providing local people with an alternative to quick cash from loggers.
The charity has worked with indigenous communities in Peru, Ecuador and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to put local people back in control of the forest.
Since the Commonwealth was created in 1949, nearly half of its forest has been lost, about a quarter depleted and the remainder has been at great risk. The Commonwealth forest still represents as much as 20% of the world’s total.
The aim of the network, apart from accrediting sustainable forestry schemes within the Commonwealth, is to combine knowledge on how best to preserve the forests. It may also give the Commonwealth greater relevance as it searches for an expanded role in the context of Brexit.
Ministers are desperate to show energy in international forums in an effort to show that the referendum result does not signal isolation for Britain.
The Great Bear rainforest is regarded as a globally significant area covering 6.4m hectares along the central and north coast of British Columbia, stretching from Vancouver to Alaska. It is home to a quarter of the earth’s temperate rainforest.
Increasingly threatened by industrial logging, the government of British Columbia passed historic legislation this year to protect the rainforest’s ecology and indigenous people. About 85% of the land will be permanently protected from logging, and British Columbia claims the logging will only be carried out under the strictest rules.
Michael Lake, the director of the Royal Commonwealth Society, said: “The ecosystem-based management regime for British Columbia’s Great Bear rainforest, developed in collaboration with First Nations, industry and environmental organisations, provides an example that other Commonwealth countries can look to when pursuing their own forest conservation agendas.”
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Canada’s commitment to the Canopy joins those previously received by Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Belize, Jamaica, Malta, Mauritius, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Seychelles, Singapore, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom and Zambia.
Parcels of private land are scattered throughout the Great Bear rainforest, but are going to opt to be protected as part of the plan.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are due on Monday to visit Bella Bella on British Columbia’s remote central coast and fly over the Great Bear rainforest.
It is generally accepted that efforts to save the Amazonian forests had been making some progress until recently. However, Brazil’s Mato Grosso and Para states are now seen as centres of illegal deforestation.
Data released last month suggested deforestation in Brazil has reached its highest level since 2009.