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Earth’s biodiversity depends on the world’s forests

22 May 2020
Nepal Binit Sharma 227839 Unsplash

The conservation of global biodiversity is utterly dependent on the way in which we interact with and use forests, according to The State of the World’s Forests report.

On the International Day for Biological Diversity (22nd May), the report shows that urgent solutions are needed to safeguard the forests’ biodiversity amid alarming rates of deforestation and degradation.

Since 1990, some 420 million hectares of forest have been lost through conversion to other land uses, although the rate of deforestation has decreased over the past three decades. Some 10 million hectares are still being lost each year.

The COVID-19 crisis has put into sharp focus the importance of conserving and sustainably using nature. Protecting habitats and biodiversity is crucial to “building back better” following the current crisis.

Protecting forests is key to this - they cover almost a third of the global land area and harbour most of the Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity. Forests contain 60,000 different tree species, 80 percent of amphibian species, 75 percent of bird species, and 68 percent of the world's mammal species.

The report says the Aichi Biodiversity Target (the global targets under the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020) to protect at least 17 percent of the earth’s terrestrial area by 2020 has been achieved for coverage of forests, although progress is still required to ensure the effectiveness of such protection and that the network adequately covers all the world’s forest types.

Analysis from the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) shows that the largest increase in protected forest areas occurred in broadleaved evergreen forests – such as those typically found in the tropics. Further, over 30 percent of all tropical rainforests, subtropical dry forests and temperate oceanic forests are now located within protected areas.

Global cooperation is also needed to restore degraded and damaged forest ecosystems. Much of the world’s forests has become fragmented, with 20 percent of the global forest area being located in more than 34 million patches across the world – the vast majority less than 1,000 hectares in size.

Will Simonson, Senior Programme Officer, Climate Change and Biodiversity, UNEP-WCMC said:

“We cannot protect the Earth’s biodiversity without protecting our forests. They harbour most of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity and support food security, jobs, and livelihoods for millions of people. Conservation, restoration and sustainable use are key to curbing deforestation and protecting the world’s forests into the future.”

When we protect forests, people benefit too. Forests provide more than 86 million green jobs. Of those living in extreme poverty, over 90 percent are dependent on forests for wild food, firewood or part of their livelihoods.

The State of the World’s Forests report was produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in partnership – for the first time – with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), with technical input provided by UNEP-WCMC.

Read the full report here.