Investing in healthy forests is not only vital for human and environmental well-being but also crucial in the transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient green economy, says the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Over a billion people worldwide depend on forests for shelter, jobs, food, water, medicine and security. Forests also serve as carbon sinks and stabilize global climate, regulate water cycles and provide habitats for biodiversity while hosting a wide variety of genetic resources.
“Forests provide essential services to all of us,” said UNEP’s Tim Christophersen, Senior Programme Officer dealing with forests and climate change.
“It has a lot of multiple benefits for the work that we do for livelihoods, for water security, for food security, for landscape management and also for agriculture,” he added in an interview during the tenth session of the UN Forum on Forests (UNFF10) in Istanbul.
“Forests provide a lot of essential services for food production – for example, by generating the rainfall that we need for agriculture, by retaining drinking water and water for irrigation, and by providing also the habitat for insects that pollinate agricultural crops. Without forests, there would be no functioning agricultural landscapes.”
Yet despite the myriad benefits derived from forests, they are still being destroyed at a rate of 13 million hectares annually, according to UNEP, which stresses that investing in forest management and reforestation activities could contribute significantly to the transition to a green economy – one that is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive.
“Practically speaking, a green economy is one whose growth in income and employment is driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services,” the agency stated.
Investing in forest management and reforestation, it added, would also reduce the vulnerability and risk posed by increasing climate change.
The UN Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) – joint venture by UNEP, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – seeks to create financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions and invest in low-carbon technologies to sustainable development.
“The aim,” said Mr. Christophersen, “is to support developing countries to reduce deforestation so the forests can capture more carbon, mitigate climate change, help those countries adapt to climate change and make a contribution to their national economies.”
“One of the best things about forests is that they are renewable,” he continued. “You can actually harvest from the forests but still retain the natural capital that the forests present. That’s called sustainable forest management. You can take from the forest but maintain it at the same time.”
He noted that REDD+ is not a “hands-off approach.” It focuses both on conservation as well as on improving sustainable forest management.
“It’s about how you can restore forests so that they are more productive, produce more for the local populations and store more carbon.”
Among the projects connected with REDD+ is a programme called Socio Bosque in Ecuador that provides funding to forest owners and communities to better manage their forests. The programme was launched in 2008 with the aim of conserving over five million hectares of forest, avoiding 13.5 million tons of carbon emissions per year and providing additional income to more than two million poor people in the country.
“The money that those communities receive has to be reinvested into the community infrastructure into education and healthcare services,” Mr. Christophersen said. “And for the rural population in Ecuador, this is a very important incentive for them to keep their forests.”