Safeguarding the world’s forests – our best bet for sustainable societies

10,000 years ago, at the end of the last great ice age, 6 billion hectares of forests covered 45 per cent of the Earth’s land. Over the last 5,000 years, 1.8 billion hectares were lost, and most of this loss, 1.4 billion hectares, happened in the last 300 years. Today, forests cover about one third of land on our planet. An estimated 75 per cent of global forest loss and degradation today, can be attributed to deforestation for agricultural expansion. Per FAO figures, by 2050 global agriculture production will increase by 60 per cent, and meat production by 76 per cent. Meeting this global demand for food, without impacting forests and taking environmental risks, poses a significant challenge.

In the past two years, we have seen a groundswell of support for forests. Starting with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015 and culminating in the adoption of the UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2030 by the UN General Assembly last year, the message from the international community has been loud and clear – now is the time to invest in reversing forest loss, increasing forest area – to create a greener, cleaner, future for us all.

SDG 15 of the 2030 Agenda calls upon us to “protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss” by 2030. The UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2030, envisions “a world in which all types of forests and trees outside forests are sustainably managed, contribute to sustainable development and provide economic, social, environmental and cultural benefits for present and future generations.”

The Strategic Plan includes 6 Global Forest Goals and 26 associated targets, including groundbreaking targets to increase forest area globally by 3 per cent or 120 million hectares, and to eradicate extreme poverty for all forest dependent people, by 2030. The Global Goals and targets also cover combating climate change, increasing forest protected areas, mobilizing financing and inspiring innovation, promoting governance, and enhancing cooperation across sectors and stakeholders.

Forested watersheds and wetlands supply 75 per cent of the world’s freshwater for household, agricultural and industrial use. Forests contribute to increased rainfall and help control erosion and flooding. A recent study on climate impacts of tropical forest loss found that deforestation in South America, South Asia and Africa could cause warming and altered rainfall patterns and alter crops growing conditions in the tropics and beyond; as far as the US Midwest, Europe and China.

One third of the world’s largest cities, including Bogota, Durban, Jakarta, Madrid, New York and Rio de Janeiro draw their drinking water from forest watersheds. Trees and green spaces in cities provide many benefits for urban communities, from reducing energy use and lowering greenhouse gas emissions, to improving air quality and stormwater management. Forests and trees thus impact the daily lives of people everywhere, and for this reason the theme of the 2018 International Day of Forests on 21 March is “Forests and Sustainable Cities.”

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