In 2012, the UN General Assembly designated March 21 as the International Day of Forests.
Here are eight reasons forests need protection, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
- Healthy forests mean healthy people: Forests provide people with an array of resources including fresh air, clean water and nutritious foods. Many also associate them with physical recreation and good mental health.
What is perhaps less known is that forests are also a vital source of medicine. Up to a quarter (25%) of all medicinal drugs in the developed world are plant-based and this rises to as much as 80% in developing countries, the UN estimates.
- Forest food provides healthy diets: Indigenous communities usually consume over 100 types of wild food, many of which are harvested in forests. Access to forest-based food systems has also been linked with increased dietary diversity, often leading to better health outcomes.
Deforestation not only threatens food sources, it can also have serious consequences – with nearly one in three emerging infectious diseases linked to land-use change, the FAO says.
- Restoring forests will improve our environment: Some 10 million hectares of forest – about the size of Iceland – across the world were estimated to have been lost each year between 2015 and 2020. A much larger area suffers land degradation each year.
Deforestation also emits a large amount of greenhouse gases as well as threatening the many species that call forests their home. At least 8% of plants and 5% of animals in forests are at extremely high risk of extinction.
Sustainably managing and restoring forests can address climate change and biodiversity loss, while also producing services and goods required for sustainable development.
- Sustainable forestry can create millions of green jobs: Forests support over 86 million green jobs and the livelihoods of millions of others. More than 90% of those who live in extreme poverty are forest-dependent.
Wood from sustainably-managed forests can support a range of industries, including paper production and construction.
Investment in forest restoration can therefore also help create more jobs – something which could prove particularly relevant post-pandemic.
- Degraded lands can be restored at huge scale: The Great Green Wall project seeks to create a 8,000 km green belt across Africa’s drylands and restore 100 million hectares of degraded land, while also creating 10 million jobs and improving food security.
Once complete, it is expected to be the largest living structure on the planet – three times larger than Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
- Every tree counts: Even small-scale tree planting can make a difference. The benefits of planting urban forests in megacities alone have been estimated at $500 million a year thanks to their ability to clean air, provide food and reduce energy usage.
The World Economic Forum’s One Trillion Trees platform seeks to help the global movement to conserve, restore and grow a trillion trees worldwide to restore biodiversity and fight climate change.
- Empower people to sustainably use forests: Getting people involved at local level so communities can effectively manage and govern the land on which they depend is vital to creating a healthy environment.
Community empowerment also offers an opportunity to rebuild forest landscapes that are equitable and productive, helping avert some of the risks posed by deforestation.
- We can recover from our planetary, health and economic crises: Investing in ecosystem restoration has enormous benefits for individuals, communities and the environment alike.
The target of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, set to launch this year, is to halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems across the world.
By planting and restoring forests at a massive scale, communities can increase ecological resilience and productivity – offering a nature-based solution for building back better.
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