Progress in protecting the world’s forests—and the people who rely on them—is at risk due to the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the escalating climate and biodiversity crises, according to a new report released today by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA).
According to the Global Forest Goals Report 2021, the world had been making progress in key areas, such as increasing the global forest area through afforestation and restoration. Many regions, in particular, Asia, Europe and Oceania, appear to be on track to reach one of the key targets of the Global Forest Goals - increasing forest area by three percent by 2030. However, these advances are being threatened by the overall worsening state of our natural environment, including land degradation, pests and invasive species, fires, storms, and droughts. Increasing rural poverty, unemployment and population growth, combined with greater competition for land with other sectors, including agriculture and urbanization, are also putting growing pressure on forests.
The report is being launched as countries begin meetings of the UN Forum on Forests today, which will review progress of the United Nations Strategic Plan for Forests 2030 and its six Global Forest Goals that were created to strengthen the management of the world’s forests and improve the lives of people who depend on these vital ecosystems.
“Before the pandemic, many countries were working hard to reverse native forest loss and increase protected areas designated for biodiversity conservation,” wrote UN Secretary-General António Guterres in the report’s foreword. “Some of those gains are now at risk with worrying trends of increased deforestation of primary tropical forests.”
Observing that millions of people have turned to forests for their most essential subsistence needs during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Secretary-General urged all actors, including governments, the business community and civil society, “to take urgent action to halt deforestation, prevent forest degradation and restore forests.”
Some 1.6 billion people worldwide depend directly on forests for food, shelter, energy, medicines and income. While it is still too early to assess the impact of the pandemic on the world’s forests, there are indications that the pandemic is exacerbating challenges faced by countries in managing their forests.
“Investing in forests is investing in our future,” says UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Liu Zhenmin. “We must strengthen our global efforts to protect and restore forests and support the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities. Only then can we realize our shared vision for a more just, equitable and sustainable world.”
The report comes at a time when economic contraction and disruptions to global trade and local commerce are continuing to impact the global workforce. A recent study by the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat in UN DESA, found that the pandemic has left forest-dependent populations facing job loss, reduced income, diminished access to markets and information, and women and youth, in particular, are experiencing a contraction in seasonal employment.
Forest-dependent communities tend to be from marginalized and vulnerable groups, and many of them, including indigenous peoples, are finding themselves even further sidelined from socio-economic safety nets. Indigenous peoples and local communities, as well as returning migrants and urban workers, are now being pushed deeper into the woods to seek food, fuel, shelter, and protection from the risks of COVID-19, placing additional stress on the ecosystems.
Recognizing the role of forests in post-pandemic responses and recovery, the Secretary-General emphasized that “In this Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals, and as we prepare to launch the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, every effort must be made to ensure that sustainable forest management is fully integrated into both short-term crisis response and long-term green recovery strategies”.
The Global Forest Goals Report 2021 is the first evaluation of where the world stands in implementing the United Nations Strategic Plan for Forests 2030, providing a snapshot of actions being taken for forests, while stressing that it is necessary to meet the 2030 deadline in the Plan.
The Global Forest Goals Report 2021 can be found at https://www.un.org/esa/forests/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Global-Forest-Goals-Report-2021.pdf