Protecting biodiversity, protecting forests
The United Nations General Assembly declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests to raise awareness on sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests. Forests provide shelter; are a source of food, medicine and clean water; and provide a wide range of environmental services, including biodiversity conservation, water supply, carbon sequestration, flood control, and protection against soil erosion and desertification. They play a vital role in maintaining a stable global climate and environment. Forests are vital to the survival and well being of people everywhere, all 7 billion of us.
A source of livelihood
It is estimated that 1.6 billion people— including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures—depend on forests for their livelihood. In addition to food and shelter, forests offer a wide range of marketable wood and nonwood products, such as timber, fuelwood, fruits, nuts, and medicinal plants. In 2004, forest products accounted for about 3.7% of international trade in commodities. Forests are among the most productive terrestrial ecosystems. This makes them attractive both for climate change mitigation and agricultural uses. The latter underlies the currently high deforestation and degradation rates in tropical and subtropical regions, leading to about one-quarter of anthropogenic CO<sub>2</sub> emissions.
Shelters of biodiversity
The broad variety of forest types—in tropical, sub-tropical, Mediterranean, temperate, and boreal regions—together account for two-thirds of all terrestrial ecoregions. They are home to millions of species of plants, animals and insects: some 80% of the planet’s biodiversity is believed to depend on healthy forest ecosystems.
Tropical forests are particularly rich in species. While covering only about 10% of the total terrestrial surface, they are home to considerably more than 60% of all terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity.
Forests play a vital role in the global carbon cycle: they act as carbon stores, absorbing greenhouse gases and preventing their release into the atmosphere. On a global scale, forest ecosystems are estimated to contain about 80% of above-ground and 40% of below-ground terrestrial carbon. At present, there is more carbon stored in forests than in earth’s atmosphere (220%), and their role as important carbon reservoirs has gained remarkable attention in the global climate change discussion. However, some 20% of all CO<sub>2</sub> emissions are derived from activities related to deforestation and forest degradation. This figure exceeds the entire contribution of the global transport sector. According to the FAO, the main threats to tropical forests are rapid population growth and the associated need for farming and grazing land.
Maintaining forest ecosystems can help to increase our resilience to climate change. Protected areas (such as biosphere reserves and national parks) are considered one of the most efficient and cost-effective options for conserving forests. Find out how you can get involved on the official Forest 2011 website.
- Official Forest 2011 website
- UNESCO Man and the Biosphere programme: Tropical forests
- The United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-Redd programme)
- Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF)
Publications and data
- FAO facts and figures
- FAO State of the world’s forests 2009
- Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010
- IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007. Working Group II Report "Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability", Chapter 4
- A New Climate for Forests: GEF Action on Sustainable Forest Management