“In this first year of implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the International Day of Forests focuses on their role in supporting water systems… Investing in forests is an insurance policy for the planet.”
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Forests play a crucial role in mitigating and adapting to climate change. Forests are the lungs of the planet, contributing to the balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide and humidity in the air. They cover around one third of all global land area and are home to 80% of earthbound biodiversity. They are the guardians of watersheds, which in turn supply 75% of freshwater worldwide. It is thus fitting that this year’s global celebration of forests goes theme of “forests and water”.
Forests are also central when focusing on sustainable development imperatives – from food security to poverty eradication and to reducing disaster risk. As many as 1.6 billion people, the majority consisting of the rural poor, depend extensively on forest ecosystems for their livelihood and their survival. Nonetheless, despite all of the irreplaceable economic, ecological, and social benefits, global deforestation goes on at a disturbing rate: 36 football fields a minute. This loss of forests adds to approximately 12% of global greenhouse gas emissions (van der Werf et al. 2009) that contribute to climate change. With this backdrop, present discussions about climate change mitigation rarely take place without a link to forests.
Forest conservation and reforestation offer a triple win scenario to the world: forests are a solution for a cooler planet, engines of clean development with social equality, as well as guardians of biodiversity and future opportunity-makers for a thriving bio-economy. A live example of this threefold success can be found in the Kariba REDD+ Project: located in northwestern Zimbabwe on the shore of Lake Kariba, it connects several National Parks and Game reserves as a biodiversity corridor. Prior to the project, farmers cleared natural forests for agricultural expansion to feed their families. This not only destroyed local wildlife and biodiversity, but also contributed to heating up the world´s climate. Now, farmers have acquired improved agricultural techniques to develop higher yields from their existing fields and to better conserve their soil. New forms of revenue generation such as honey production, medicinal plants and handicraft help lift populations out of poverty while conserving forests.
The importance of curbing deforestation has also reached the radar of the private sector: the past year has seen many large global companies make commitments to rid their supply chains of deforestation. These commitments are in part a reaction to the demand from investors for companies to recognise and take action on the risks facing their business.
Major consumer goods companies, including l’Oréal and Unilever, have adopted zero-deforestation strategies in 2014, acknowledging the opportunities such as increased brand value that are associated with sustainable sourcing. Switzerland’s largest retail and wholesale company COOP has struck up a multi-stakeholder collaboration to reduce deforestation and decrease emissions along its supply chain.
This year’s International Day of Forests is devoted to raising awareness about the importance of all types of forests and trees to our economic, environmental, and social well being. However, this awareness must be paired with concrete action if we want preserve our valuable ecosystems.