If you ever wondered how it would be possible for you to save an entire forest then look no further than making simple lifestyle changes. Forests play multiple roles in our lives, including providing a source of livelihood, refuge for many species, and clean air for all.
As a result of the growing global pollution levels forests have often come to be referred to as the ‘lungs of the earth’. This is particularly because deforestation and forest degradation account for nearly 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which forests would absorb if carefully managed.
Broadly, there are three main sources of forest degradation: commercial logging, fires, and gathering wood for fuel. Insects and pests also cause considerable forest degradation.
Difference between deforestation and degradation
Deforestation is the reduction of forest cover, notably viewed by the loss of trees. Commercial logging and fires are examples of causes of deforestation. It is however possible to use forests in a properly managed way that maintains their existence. There is therefore no deforestation if there is a guarantee of continuity in maintaining the forest cover.
Degradationrefers to the loss of quality of the forests, rather than coverage. The quality of a forest can be observed through monitoring the survival rates of its ecosystem, for example vegetation layers, soil, flora and fauna. Some of the causes of forest degradation are the gathering of wood for fuel, and insects and pests.
Benefits of forests
As a resource, forests provide many important natural resources, such as timber, fuel, rubber, paper and medicinal plants. Forests also help sustain the quality and availability of freshwater supplies. More than three quarters of the world’s accessible freshwater comes from forested catchments. Water quality declines with decreases in forest condition and cover, and natural hazards such as floods, landslides, and soil erosion have larger impacts
Climate change Mitigation
It’s well known that forests play a key role in our battle against climate change; storing carbon and sucking in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locking it into their biomass.
Products / Benefits (water)
But what’s less well known is that the products and services they provide are essential to every aspect of life. By regulating water for many of the world’s rivers, they help secure water quality, and supply nearly half of the world’s largest cities from Caracas to New York. They also help decrease the impacts of storms and floods, whilst helping control erosion.
As the most biologically diverse ecosystems on land, forests are home to more than half of terrestrial species, from the great apes to the smallest of creatures.
Economics and Livelihoods
They also provide homes, security and livelihoods for 60 millionIndigenous peoples, whilst contributing to the livelihoods of 1.6 billion people worldwide.
Products & Biodiversity
The impact of forests reaches even further. In many developing countries more than 80% of total energy consumed by people and industry derives from forests. Such as fuel wood and charcoal. Trade in timber and other forest products, is estimated at almost 330 billion US Dollars /year. Its value multiplies as its processed into a myriad of products used globally every day. Use of the genetic diversity within forests enables the development of new medicines; progress in healthcare and science.
Forests cover 31% of total land area while at the same time supporting 80% of terrestrial biodiversity that live in them. Many of the world’s most threatened and endangered animals live in these forests, making them crucial to sustaining ecosystems. Not only animals live in the forests, as they also provide a home to more than 300 million people worldwide.
World Environment Day and forests
Beyond supporting the natural habitat, forests sustain economic growth. In 2004 trade in forest products was estimated at $327 billion. Continued and uncontrolled deforestation therefore not only has devastating consequences for the environment, the wildlife and communities, but for economies around the world.
Rather shockingly, 36 million acres of natural forest are lost each year. World Environment Day (WED) chose this year’s theme, ‘Forests: Nature at Your Service’, to encourage forest conservation and sustainable consumption for green growth, and in support of the UN International Year of Forests initiative. Preserving forests throughout the world has to be in our collective consciousness so as to change our lifestyles.
What are we doing?
In September 2008, United Nations launched a collaborative initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) in developing countries.
The UN-REDD Programme assists developing countries prepare and implement national REDD+ strategies, and builds on the convening power and expertise of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The Programme currently has 29 partner countries spanning Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America. REDD+ is seen as one of the most cost-effective ways of stabilizing the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to avoid a temperature rise of two degrees Celsius.
But standing forests also conserve carbon while supporting the livelihoods of a large number of Indigenous Peoples and forest-dependent communities as well providing essential ecosystem services such as habitat for biodiversity and provisioning clean water supplies.
What can you do?
A quick and easy way to get involved is to make others aware of the forests issues by sharing this website, organizing an event, or participating in this years WED celebrations.
Governments should develop and implement policies that encourage sustainable use of forests. They should consider cordoning off areas inhabited by endangered species and promote forest restoration where they have been depleted.
Private companies have an opportunity to invest wisely into the new Green Economy whilst developing a socially responsible status with its consumers. They can develop procurement processes that buy only into sustainably managed forests, such as products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Be the first in your organization to shift your company policies towards green growth!
Civil society can play a significant role by independently monitoring all parties involved, raising awareness on forests and supporting grassroots initiatives.
Like private companies, individuals can make wise premeditated choices over what products they will buy and only purchasing forest products that originate from sustainable sources. This means checking that furniture, wood, paper and other products you buy are verified as coming from legal sources. A quick and easy way to do this is checking for an FSC certification logo.
Most importantly, taking action on forests requires an ongoing commitment to changing lifestyle and therefore is not a one-off action. Your new lifestyle demands that you are forest-conscious in all your choices, consumption and actions.