Forests are often taken for granted, but their existence is crucial for supporting human life on Earth – we need them to survive. The rate of net forest loss has been declining over the past decades. However, the main reason behind the decline in forest loss in the most recent decade is still due to a reduction in forest expansion rate rather than a decrease in deforestation. As of 2020, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) assessment that measures the status and trends in more than 60 forest-related indicators in more than 246 countries, the world has an area of 4.06 billion hectares of forest, which is 31% of the total land area, and this is equivalent to 0.52 ha per person. More than a half, 54%, of the world’s forest land is located only in five countries – the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, United States of America, and China.
Worldwide, forests hold many associated benefits. They provide watershed conservation and regulation, helping to keep organic matter in the soil while holding and slowly releasing water, reducing food, and avoiding erosions. Forests are also a critical biodiversity repository, both in terms of the total number of species and species distribution. Biodiversity rates are much more significant in forests than in grasslands, croplands, or urban areas. Forests are a powerful carbon sink. A high mature one, for instance, might absorb up to 450 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare, and the carbon absorbed in the wood might be as high as carbon absorbed in the soil.
Nevertheless, forests are not only about trees and animals. The largest forests in the world are represented by their people. In many countries, livelihoods, including indigenous peoples, are based on forests. In this sense, forests’ intrinsic spiritual value is unquestionable. Many individuals also find joy within forests, and their aesthetic value can provide not only recreation but also the human need for nature and happiness. Forests are also a source of food and subsistence. However, grazing and cropping on a large scale have resulted in commodity-driven deforestation, which is the dominant driver associated with 27 percent of gross global tree cover loss between 2001 and 2015. The urban forests also play a crucial role in cities – they provide shade, energy conservation, are habitats for wildlife. Finally, it is worth highlighting that the many benefits forests provide interact with each other and are mostly complementary, resulting in one of Earth’s most valuable ecosystems. Human survival necessarily depends on the existence of forests.
A growing number of actions have been discussed, from different perspectives, to tackle deforestation and provide climate and environmental justice solutions. It ranges from innovative agricultural methods and land-use practices, passing through financial solutions, changing consumer behavior, and policymaking. Although there have been vital milestones already pursued, there are still significant challenges to avoid deforestation and ensure forest many benefits, especially in forest-rich countries. However, the first step to achieving any given solution is to assimilate the many benefits that forests provide.
David Perry, Ram Oren, and Stephen Hart; Forest Ecosystems; Second edition; 2008; Johns Hopkins Press.
FAO. Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020: Key Findings. Rome, Italy: FAO, 2020. https://doi.org/10.4060/ca8753en. Accessed March 01, 2021.
World Resources Institute. “When a Tree Falls, Is It Deforestation?,” September 13, 2018. https://www.wri.org/blog/2018/09/when-tree-falls-it-deforestation
Fernanda Ferreira is a Masters’s candidate in Sustainability Management at the Earth Institute, Columbia University. Her main areas of interest are forests, carbon markets, and environmental policy in Latin America. She is enthusiastic about solutions that bring climate change and environmental justice to the fore and supports Ashley Schiff in spreading the word for environmental awareness.