Forest and Biodiversity

The UN General Assembly proclaimed 21 March as the International Day of Forests in 2012. The Day celebrates and raises awareness of the importance of all types of forests.

Forests are home to about 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. Forests and woodlands are made up of over 60,000 tree species. More than a billion people depend directly on forests for food, shelter, energy, and income.

Deforestation continues at an alarming rate – 13 million hectares of forest are destroyed annually and this accounts for 12 to 20 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change according to the data by climate scientists.

The Global Deal for Nature (GDN)

The Global Deal for Nature (GDN), launched in April 2019, is a time-bound, science-driven plan to save the diversity and abundance of life, avoid catastrophic climate change and secure essential ecosystem services. It is part of the Nature Needs Half (NNH) global network and movement. Climate models confirm an approaching tipping point: if trends in ecosystem conversion and emissions do not peak by 2030, it will become impossible to remain below 1.50C. Similarly, if current land conversion rates, overfishing, and other threats are not slowed/halted in 10 years, “points of no return” will manifest for ecosystems and species. Re-greening through large-scale conservation, restoration, and improved land/sea management – Nature-based Solutions (NBC) – are required to transition to a carbon-neutral economy and stable climate. Protecting/restoring at least 50% of the Earth’s land and sea areas is a prerequisite for preventing mass extinctions and directly applicable to mitigating/adapting to climate change.

To stay below a 1.50C rise, we need, a rapid transition to 100% renewables by 2050 and a global effort to increase the resilience of natural ecosystems, including moratoriums on land conversion by 2030 and a 400 GtCO2 withdrawal from the atmosphere through land and sea restoration. A target to protect half of the Earth by 2030 (30% formally protected areas and additional 20% as Climate Stabilization Areas, CSAs, meeting the criteria for Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures, OECMs9will achieve this.

This year’s International Day of Forest addresses the theme “Forests and Biodiversity”. It will seek to celebrate and raises awareness of the importance of all types of forests.

There is a good reason to celebrate the International Day of Forests because there is an urgent need to conserve at least 30% of the Earth’s surface by 2030. This is viewed as a milestone toward the larger end goal of half of the planet protected by 2050, if not sooner, made elsewhere. The 30% by 2030 milestone has also been proposed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and its member organizations as a critical step for marine conservation (IUCN Resolution: WCC-2016-Res-050-EN).

These global milestones and targets are useful: They are easy to comprehend and help simplify policy and communications strategies. But because biodiversity is unevenly distributed, conservation biologists and planners must be careful to avoid two major risks inherent in a single global percentage: (i) adding more land to reach the global target that is similar to what is already well accounted for at the expense of underrepresented habitats and species, and (ii) the temptation by some governments to protect low-conflict areas that may be the lower priority from a biodiversity perspective.

If we manage forests well, they will give us goods and services that we cannot live without. If forests disappear, we will lose any prospect of sustainable development. Forests and trees are rooted in life and livelihoods. They are a renewable resource that can be grown, improved, and looked after. It would be hard to find a simpler and more universal way of changing the world for the better than by planting and managing trees.

A key target of the Global Deal for Nature would be to reconnect protected areas via corridors along environmental gradients, in riparian networks, and between megafaunal reserves. The amount of area required and how this would affect the protection or restoration target should be subject to a major study based on the needs of the most wide-ranging, area-sensitive species. Replanting native trees or simply allowing degraded forest lands to recover as forest corridors could create an ecological road map guiding where restoration can have the maximum benefits for biodiversity.

Before the industrial revolution, primary or old-growth habitats covered most of Earth’s 846 terrestrial ecoregions. Today, these primary habitats, as represented by unlogged forests, ungrazed deserts, ancient grasslands, and savannas—and in the marine realm, the untrawled seafloor and unfished seamounts—are now remnants. These ancient repositories of rich and vulnerable biodiversity are optimal arenas for life-sustaining processes. Clear, time-bound milestones and targets for the above biodiversity features, including targets for old-growth forests and ever-wet forests, are included in the GDN and are drawn from the scientific literature supporting each target. Protecting habitats that have low anthropogenic disturbance offers the most cost-effective approach to conserve the largest number of species and also for their climate resilience and should become obvious targets under the Global Deal for Nature. As a prime example, tropical forests occur on only 7% of the land area, yet they harbor more than half of the world’s known species and most of these are dependent on the primary forest. The buffering conditions of many complex “old-growth” habitats also enable local adaptation to climate change for many vulnerable species. These biologically important areas also serve as carbon repositories. For example, ancient grasslands are extremely species-rich, including endemics, and they store approximately as much carbon globally as forests. Because most grassland carbon is stored belowground, it is a highly secure and reliable carbon sink, especially in the face of fire and other climate-sensitive disturbance factors.

The central role of indigenous lands

Members of Bakiga community evicted by Hoima Sugar Limited, photo credit: Uhuru/Albertine Watch

The Indigenous land account for 37% of all remaining natural lands across the Earth, and these lands store >293 gigatons of Carbon. Although many of these lands meet the definition of a protected area, many others may be appropriately characterized as well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures OECMs. Both Paris Agreement and the Global Deal for Nature as a conservation policy are concerned with addressing human rights of Indigenous Peoples but indigenous people’s insights, rights, and voices rarely published in scientific journals according to scientists and authors of the Global Deal for Nature. The Global for Nature authors believed that indigenous peoples are to be assisted where needed to keep lands intact for hunting areas, protection of traditional lifestyles, or other features—and provide a mechanism to assist these communities with securing tenure rights. Supporting efforts to maintain these lands, many of which are critical to global terrestrial biodiversity conservation, in many cases would result in lower rates of deforestation and better protection of the biodiversity and ecosystem functions upon which these communities depend.



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