Forest are a critical part of our efforts to protect biodiversity and manage global warming. In fact we cannot talk about addressing climate change without also talking about protecting forests.
On March 21st 2016 we celebrated the sixth International Day of Forests. On this day efforts are made to make people aware of the immense importance of forests.
A New York Times article titled, “With Deaths of Forests, a Loss of Key Climate Protectors,” makes this point emphatically. Some scientists have said that the extent to which our planet is habitable is related to the number of trees on Earth.
Forests provide significant economic, social and health benefits. Forests contribute to every aspect of sustainable development and to all the Sustainable Development Goals. By serving as carbon sinks, forests combat climate change. They are also important economic contributors. One fifth of the global population or 1.3 billion people directly depend on forests for employment and as a source of resources. As explored in this infographic, forests combat climate change and contribute to the economy. Forests also contribute to clean water, biodiversity and food security.
We are seeing alarming rates of deforestation continue particularly in tropical countries. The was the conclusions of the World Resources Institute’s Global Forest Watch. As reported by Think Progress Their research shows that in 2014 alone, the planet lost more than 45 million acres of tree cover, with tree cover loss in tropical countries accounting for more than half of that total or 25 million acres. It should be noted that tropical forests store 25 percent of global carbon. Sadly the rate of deforestation appears to be accelerating. Commonly deforestation can be attributable to slash and burn agriculture.
The COP21 climate agreement reached in Paris, identified stopping deforestation as a crucial part of keeping temperature increases within acceptable limits. For many countries conserving and restoring forests are the best ways they can achieve their emissions reduction targets.
The COP21 agreement incorporates many elements of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). Specifically Article 5 sections 1 and 2. As quoted in a Mongabay article, Rosalind Reeve, a senior fellow in climate change and the environment at Ateneo School of Government in Manila, Philippines said that the importance of forest inclusions in the agreement cannot be understated.
“It is essential that we reduce deforestation to zero,” Reeve said. “We need to do the same with forest degradation [which selectively removes trees and biodiversity from forests, leaving them less intact and thus less effective as a carbon sink]. We need to preserve ecosystems. All of that will help us to [reach] 1.5 degree C, and stay under 2 degrees C [of warming]. If we don’t [preserve forests], we can’t. It’s that simple.”
Here is a Video that marks the sixth anniversary of the United Nations International Day of Forests. In this video Peter Holmgren, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and Tony Simons, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), sit down together in a special three-part video interview series to discuss the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for forests and for our planet.
Part 1 discusses the contributions of forests and trees to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as the interconnections between forests and water. Indeed, the theme of the 2016 International Day of Forests was “Forests and Water: Sustaining Life and Livelihoods.”
In addition to conserving existing forests we also need to plant trees on a massive scale. There are some novel approaches that suggest we may be able to help reverse the deforestation trend by planting trees. One such program employs drones with the goal of planting a billion trees. The drones tasked with reversing deforestation are from UK based BioCarbon Engineering which won £20k in funding from the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship. BioCarbon Engineering’s drone system is both cheaper and capable of planting more trees than traditional methods.
These drones perform “precision planting activities” by firing a pregerminated seed pod into the soil with pressurized air. The pod is encapsulated in a nutrient-rich hydrogel for “high up-take rates.” After planting, the drones will also be used to audit and monitor the reforested sections to assess the recovery of the areas.
Other less sensational efforts to support forests are also underway. This includes massive organizations like the World Bank and small non-profits like Ecosia. The latter is a search engine company that has already planted a million trees and by 2020 they hope to plant a billion more.