INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY – THE INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF THE FORESTS
In total, 80% of the worlds’ forests have been cleared or compromised as a result of human development. Created in order to raise awareness about biodiversity issues, the International Day for Biological Diversity took place on 22 May 2011. This year saw forest biodiversity take pride of place as the theme – and acted as both an awareness raising platform and a call to action.
WHY ARE FORESTS SO IMPORTANT?
Forests cover 31% of land area, are home to 80% of our terrestrial biodiversity, and 300 million people, and are responsible for 1.6 billion peoples’ livelihoods across the globe. 1.4 billion of these people are in the developing world, 1 billion of them live in extreme poverty, and many of them are women, indigenous people or other disadvantaged groups. Moreover , a staggering 40% of the world’s oxygen is produced by rainforests, and more than a quarter of modern medicine originates from forests. According to a recent IUCN report, the lives of more than a billion people could be improved through improved community forest management.
WHY ARE FORESTS DISAPPEARING?
There are numerous drivers of deforestation – the main one being agriculture in the form of livestock, food or tree crops. Increasingly, crops previously used in generating food are being used to create biofuels.
WHAT IS THE BAD NEWS?
Some news pertaining to the future of our forests are dismal. About 13 million hectares of forests continue to be lost every year – which is about 200 square km every day. At this rate, our worlds’ rain forests may have completely vanished in the next hundred years. The deforestation of tropical rainforests may account for the loss of as many of 100 species every day. Deforestation acts as a driver of climate change as trees help to keep water in soil and circulate water vapour back into the atmosphere. However, news as to the issue of climate change has not had as positive an effect on the future of global forests as may have been expected – in order to meet global energy demands, forest resources are increasingly being exploited as they are cleared to make way for biofuel crops.
WHAT IS THE GOOD NEWS?
However, there is a recognition of the huge scope of the issue , and there are organisations and governments across the world that have taken heed. A century ago, France had cleared its forests to well below 10% of its original size, today forest cover is nearing 30% - with an annual growth rate of 30 000 hectares.
In 2008, the Brazilian government announced plans to extend protected areas to cover 600 000 square km of the Amazon by 2016, and UNEP’s Billion Tree Campaign planted more than 2 billion trees in 2006 – with plans to reset its goal to 7 billion. In addition, the IUCN notes that: “There are more than 1 billion hectares of lost or degraded forest lands worldwide which could be restored. This may increase to 1.5 billion hectares—almost the size of Russia—if boreal areas and forested protection of waterways and prevention of erosion in croplands are included”.
There is much to be done in order to reverse the loss of our forests. From government interventions, to the work of NGOs, to grassroot initiatives, it is a combination of activities that need to come from both individuals and global consortiums that will serve to reverse the fate of our forests.