Political parties are busy putting together election programs. We are sure to see proposals to dial back use of nature. But how about a broader perspective: let us continue making sensible use of nature where necessary but obligate beneficiaries to compensate nature for irreversible changes, Ando Eelmaa writes.
Man has altered the natural environment around us and even the Earth's geography unto the current age being called the Anthropocene. Even though the Estonian population has been slowly shrinking, our needs are still great and being satisfied at nature's expense. How could we compensate nature for our sprawling lifestyle?
A considerable part of mankind lives in cities or their outskirts, in private residences, apartment buildings etc. The buildings are surrounded by paved roads, garages, shopping malls, commercial buildings. The continued and unfounded expansion of cities is taking place at the expense of nature. Forests cut down to make room for houses and roads. That is deforestation.
A forest will never grow there again. Unfortunately, people often confuse regeneration felling with deforestation. Regeneration felling lays the foundation for new forest to grow and serves as a replacement habitat for certain meadow butterflies and other insects, according to studies by University of Tartu researchers Mari-Liis Viljur and Tiit Teder from 2016 and 2018. Deforestation ends the existence of forest or other types of natural communities.
Urbanization at the expense of the natural environment
The ecological footprint of deforestation is immense, as areas that used to sequester carbon and serve as habitats for numerous living organisms cease performing those functions for good.
ERR's Novaator portal in August published a piece on University of Tartu researcher Najmeh Mozaffaree Pour's doctoral thesis. Its conclusion was that Estonian cities are growing at the expense of natural diversity. It turned out that residential areas are largely built on forest and agricultural land that directly impacts diversity.
We are the champions of spatial splurging. Eastern border infrastructure, Rail Baltica, Tallinn-Tartu highway – all are important parts of infrastructure, while they amount to thousands of hectares of natural land to be deforested. Not even natural conservation is "free of the sin" of deforestation. Looking to conserve or restore natural meadows or swamps, thousands of hectares of forest are cut down.
Deforestation needs to be taxed
Deforestation must be subject to a tax paid by the perpetrator. A Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) report on ecosystem services pointed out that eco benefits can also be managed through the market, whereas a policymakers play an important role in regulating the market. It is emphasized that for markets that support biological diversity to work, corresponding institutional structures, stimuli, funding and management are needed.
Examples of functional solutions can be found in faraway Australia where a system of deforestation compensation and funding diversity has been in place for over a decade. The obligation to compensate for one's deforestation footprint or, at best, help avoid changing land use and find less environmentally taxing alternatives. Developers are motivated to renovate urban environments instead of building news ones or adopt landscapes ruined by human activity. Taxation of deforestation makes it possible to fund maintenance and creation of equally diverse habitats.
Developers are obligated to contribute to a fund the resources of which can be used for environmental projects elsewhere. Several European countries have schemes for compensating for irreversible changes to land use. For example, developers could pay as much as €10 per square meter for removing the topsoil layer in Germany.
Political parties are busy putting together election programs. We are sure to see high-sounding environmental promises. I can bet that most of them will be geared toward dialing back use of nature. But how about a broader perspective: let us continue making sensible use of nature where necessary but obligate beneficiaries to compensate nature for irreversible changes.
The tricks and ways in which this can be achieved are up to us. Nature can be allowed to recuperate without removing man from nature if we create the possibilities.
Editor: Marcus Turovski