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"Promoting a policy designed to safeguard our forests"

Caroline Nicaise's tribune, Head of CSR at Crédit Agricole Assurances

Forests cover 31% of France, i.e. nearly 18 million hectares. This proportion has been increasing since the mid-19th century. However, this encouraging statistic should not cause us to overlook the many challenges posed by the conservation and protection of this natural heritage. Forests clearly play an essential role in the fight against global warming, but they are also a tool for preventing natural disasters, an important economic sector, and a source of health and well-being.

 An antidote to impending disasters

Political or financial tools are often mentioned as possible responses to the ambitious objective set at the COP21 Summit of limiting the rise in global temperatures to less than +2°C by 2100. These strategies should not blind us to the fact that one of the most effective ways of dealing with the climate emergency is easily accessible, and sometimes on our doorstep. We are talking about our forests, which remain the largest carbon sink on the planet, offering the unique advantage of being able to store CO2sustainably and then transform their wood into materials or products. Another major asset is that forests help to regulate temperatures. Trees planted in strategic urban locations can reduce the ambient temperature by 2 to 8 degrees, due to the combined effect of the shade they provide and the humidity they generate. They also help mitigate extreme weather events such as heat waves. 

By capturing CO2 emissions and reducing temperatures, forests contribute to the two main means of combating global warming, and should now be an integral part of such policies. For anyone who still finds it hard to look ahead to 2100, the headline events of the last few months – marked by floods, landslides and rising river levels – plead for greater awareness of the urgent need to protect forests. Forest soils have six times the water absorption capacity of grass-covered areas. 

Forests can obviously provide many more essential services if they are protected by a dedicated development and conservation strategy. For example, the diversification of tree species planted on the same plot of land enables the preservation of plant and animal biodiversity. And the effective management of forest-covered areas helps to increase freshwater resources, as this water is absorbed and filtered by the soil. 

Ecosystems and interconnections

Thinking about the best ways to manage our forest heritage means considering the needs of our society as a whole. Forests are not sacred places that can be contemplated without considering the role of people. They are essential to our well-being, a true common good, and the legacy we will leave to our children, but they have also become a major economic asset. In France, the forestry sector accounts for 440,000 jobs, which obviously cannot be relocated. 

While the benefits of our national forest resources are beyond any doubt, we must now consider the issues relating to their conservation and exploitation, and the stakeholders who must be involved. 

The conservation of our forests should not be left to public policies alone, or become the sole burden of their owners. I share the conviction with a growing number of companies that all stakeholders in society can make a contribution to preserving what is a common good. 

By engaging in numerous initiatives such as sustainable reforestation, CO2 neutralisation, storm and fire insurance, and public awareness campaigns, we will contribute to the regeneration of ecosystems. Our collective response to the climate emergency must not be limited to finding ways to offset our actions, without actively questioning them. We must change our practices, while measuring and then reducing our emissions. This commitment must be made at all levels of society and can involve each of its stakeholders. 

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