UNITED NATIONS — Urgent action is needed to halt deforestation, prevent forest degradation and restore forests, according to a UN report released on Monday.
Progress in protecting the world’s forests and the people who rely on them is at risk due to the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the escalating climate and biodiversity crises, said the Global Forest Goals Report 2021 by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
The world had been making progress in key areas, such as increasing the global forest area through afforestation and restoration. However, these advances are being threatened by the overall worsening state of the natural environment, including land degradation, pests and invasive species, fires, storms, and droughts. Increasing rural poverty, unemployment and population growth, combined with greater competition for land, are also putting growing pressure on forests, said the report.
“Before the pandemic, many countries were working hard to reverse native forest loss and increase protected areas designated for biodiversity conservation. Some of those gains are now at risk with worrying trends of increased deforestation of primary tropical forests,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wrote in the report’s foreword.
“I urge all actors, including governments, the business community and civil society, to take urgent action to halt deforestation, prevent forest degradation and restore forests,” Guterres wrote.
Forests provide 80 percent of biodiversity on land and some 1.6 billion people worldwide depend directly on forests for food, shelter, energy, medicines and income.
Forest-dependent communities tend to be from marginalized and vulnerable groups, and many of them, including indigenous peoples, are finding themselves even further sidelined from socio-economic safety nets. Indigenous peoples and local communities, as well as returning migrants and urban workers, are now being pushed deeper into the woods to seek food, fuel, shelter, and protection from the risks of COVID-19, placing additional stress on the ecosystems.
“At present, it is still too early to assess the full impact of the current pandemic on the world’s forests. However, there are indications that the pandemic is exacerbating challenges faced by countries in managing their forests,” wrote UN Undersecretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Liu Zhenmin in the preface of the report.
“The well-being of forests is ultimately linked to the well-being of people, and the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic will undoubtedly affect our capacity to manage the world’s forests sustainably.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a harsh wake-up call. But it also presents countries with a unique opportunity to take concerted action to recover better and stronger, re-think and re-engineer their economies, and adopt more sustainable policies and action plans.
Forests offer nature-friendly solutions to many global challenges, from combatting climate change, land degradation and biodiversity loss, to building resilience against future crises, according to Liu.
“We must strengthen our global efforts to protect and restore forests and support the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities. Only then can we realize our shared vision for a more just, equitable and sustainable world,” he said.
The Global Forest Goals Report 2021, the first evaluation of where the world stands in implementing the UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2030, was launched to coincide with the start of the 16th session of the UN Forum on Forests.