Why Experts Saying It’s a ‘Make or Break’ Moment for Forests

By Alison Kentish
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 28 2021 (IPS) – A new global report on forests says that while the COVID-19 pandemic is the latest threat to achieving ambitious forest protection goals, it has brought the importance of forests to global well-being into sharp focus and that this recognition must now be met with collective action. The inaugural Global Forest Goals Report was launched on Apr. 26, as part of the 16th United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) session which runs until the end of this week. It is based on data and information submitted by 52 member states, representing 75 percent of the world’s forests.
The report concluded that while countries have taken action to protect their forests, those efforts must be accelerated to achieve ambitious global goals.
It tracks the progress of countries in meeting the ambitious goals set out in the UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2030. Under that plan, countries vowed to accelerate the pace of forest protection by upgrading an initial focus on achieving net-zero deforestation to increasing global forest area by three percent by 2030 and eradicating extreme poverty for all forest-dependent people.
While it acknowledged the work done by countries in areas such as poverty reduction for forest-dependent people, initiatives to increase forest financing and cooperation on sustainable forest management, it stated that there is a lot more to be done. Noting that Africa and South America lost forest cover during the reporting period, the publication stated that forests remain under threat.
“Every year, seven million hectares of natural forests are converted to other land uses such as large-scale commercial agriculture and other economic activities. And although the global rate of deforestation has slowed over the past decade, we continue to lose forests in the tropics – largely due to human and natural causes,” it stated.
United National Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed said the report is being launched at a crucial time for the world’s forests.
The report cites growing concern by some countries that the economic fallout from the pandemic will lead to reduced donor funding for forests. It states that Africa, the Asia-Pacific Region and some countries in Latin America are facing dwindling forest financing, as scarce public funds are being prioritised on immediate public health needs.
Mohammed said while the COVID-19 crisis has dealt a blow to poverty alleviation and sustainable development goals, it is presenting an opportunity to make peace with nature through a green recovery, with healthy forests as a solid foundation.
“We are at a make or break moment. 2021 provides us a unique opportunity to halt the rapid loss of biodiversity and ecosystem degradation, while addressing the climate emergency and desertification and making our food systems more sustainable, with the sustainable development goals as our guide,” the deputy UN chief said.
UNFF Secretariat’s Officer-in-Charge Alexander Trepelkov presented a note on COVID-19’s impact on forests and the forest sector. It concluded that the pandemic has aggravated hardships for forest-dependent people and exposed systemic gaps and vulnerabilities.
It called for the integration of forest-based solutions into pandemic recovery, accelerated implementation of international forest-related targets and adequate resources for forestry.
Meanwhile, on the fringes of the event, a group of 15 international organisations launched a joint statement on the challenges and opportunities involved in halting deforestation. The Collaborative Partnership on Forests event was chaired by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).
Director of the FAO’s Forestry Division Mette Wilkie told IPS that as ecosystems that are home to the vast majority of land biodiversity and 75 percent of freshwater, without forests, climate goals cannot be met.
“Forests also provide numerous products for everyday life – from the traditional use of wood to the masks, gloves and hand sanitisers that we all use during the current COVID-19 pandemic. They provide more than 86 million green jobs and support the livelihoods of many more people worldwide,” Wilkie said.
“As we increasingly encroach on forests and wildlife habitats to expand agricultural production, settlements and infrastructure, the risk of diseases spilling over from animals to people rises exponentially. It is evident that we cannot achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the future we want unless we halt deforestation and forest degradation and increase our efforts to protect, manage and restore our forests.”
Wilkie, who chairs the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, told IPS that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated deforestation pressures and heightened the urgency of action to support sustainable forest management.
“Lockdowns have led to disruptions in markets and supply chains and caused job losses, triggering reverse migration into rural areas and increasing pressure on forests to provide subsistence livelihoods,” she said, adding that, “on the other hand, investing in forest restoration and the sustainable management of forests can create green jobs and livelihoods, and at the same time create habits for biodiversity and mitigate – and adapt to – climate change.”