Efforts to save the world's last, critically important forests should initially focus on just a handful of countries, with wealthy ones helping poorer nations pay for measures to protect the threatened woodlands, a new United Nations-backed report says.
According to the report, sponsored in part by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), a unique satellite-based survey of the planet's remaining closed forests has found that over 80 per cent of them are located in just 15 countries.
Closed forests are defined as having a canopy closure of more than 40 per cent, which is considered vital if the forest is to be considered healthy and able to perform all its known environmental and ecological functions effectively. Such forests are also home to some of the world's rarest and most unique species, including the elusive cloud leopard of Russia and the lion-tailed macaque of the Western Ghats in India.
The survey has revealed that 88 per cent of the remaining closed forests are sparsely populated, giving well-focussed and well-funded conservation efforts a real chance of success.
Speaking in London at the launch of the report, UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said short of a miraculous transformation in the attitude of people and governments, the Earth's remaining closed-canopy forests and their associated biodiversity were destined to disappear in the coming decades.
"Knowing it is unlikely that all forests can be protected, it would be better to focus conservation priorities on those target areas that have the best prospects for continued existence," he said. "I believe this new study provides this new focus. I urge governments, communities and international organizations to act on our findings and recommendations."
The report, entitled "An Assessment of the Status of the World's Remaining Closed Forests," calls on governments in the 15 key countries to draft action plans detailing how they propose to conserve their remaining closed forests. The level of protected areas also needs to be sharply increased and backed by tougher policing of such sites for smuggling and poaching of trees and wildlife.
The report further suggests that wealthy countries should invest in the protection of the last remaining closed forests situated in poorer countries, even going so far as saying that "debt-for-nature swaps," in which developing country debts are reduced by industrialized countries in return for closed forest protection, should be "vigorously encouraged."