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We face twin-crises and forests are a key solution

Environmental issues affect us all. As is it, the planet is moving towards a global warming of 3°C by 2100. This is not the future we want. Forests, our first carbon sink within submerged land, are however in critical danger, with the possible savannahisation of the Amazon and tropical forests that could eventually turn into proper CO2 emitters. Faced with these projections, that involve unimaginable socio-economic consequences, our absolute priority can be summed up in a single word: reduction. Reducing our carbon footprint. Reducing deforestation. Reducing the degradation of forests. Reducing them increasingly and continuously.

Globally, forests absorb and store about 30% of current carbon emissions in their biomass, their soils and within the wood products derived from forestry. Far from being a silver bullet or simple carbon pumps, the forest ecosystems are a central element in the fight against global warming. The world’s forests are priceless natural settings, home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, their main home. They also provide services, such as CO2 storage, oxygen production, water filtration and regulation of the climate cycle, that are essential to human life. However, this treasure of biodiversity is now under threat, notably due to deforestation, a phenomenon largely fueled by industrial agriculture. Between 1970 and 2014, the animal populations of the world’s forests decreased by 53%.

We count on strong nature-based solutions in the 2021 super-year-for-nature

While we are currently feeling the full brunt of the coronavirus pandemic, the protection and restoration of forests are emerging – at last! – as real political issues. The shared belief that the health of ecosystems is directly linked to that of animals and humans is gaining momentum. It took a deadly epidemic to confront us with our responsibilities: the destruction of nature – forests particularly- poses the risk of even more violent and frequent pandemics. Today, we are fully aware of the economic and social implications engendered. Not to mention the issues related to food security: 2.4 billion people use wood for cooking, while 75% of the fresh water accessible to human beings comes from forested watersheds. One should also keep in mind that forests have the power to reconnect us, humans, to our true self as members of the living world. A living world we ought to cooperate harmoniously with. Although we should protect the intrinsic value of forests, regardless of their human utility, they still play a major role within our economies. Their estimated value is $150 trillion. 45 million small and medium-sized forest enterprises thus constitute the basis for a circular and low-carbon economy. This is tremendous. As with the energy and wood construction sectors, the economic potential of forests could create up to 13 million jobs by 2030. And while carbon is already subject to an international market, other forest ecosystem services are beginning to generate income locally.

In this context, although deforestation has decreased since the 1990s according to the FAO, it continues to rage. 10 million hectares were deforested each year between 2015 and 2020, fueling global warming and revealing the failures of some international commitments: the no. 1 objective of the UN Strategic Plan on Forests for 2017-2030, which aimed at halting deforestation, restoring degraded forests and significantly increasing afforestation and reforestation at the global level by 2020 is a good example.

We need both Protection and Restoration

In 2021, the world’s forests are at a turning point. The need to accelerate and unite our efforts has never been so urgent. We must stand together, to accelerate the protection of existing forests and the fight against deforestation, including imported deforestation. It is no less urgent to accelerate the development of sustainable forest management. It is equally important to accelerate the large-scale restoration of lost forests. The latter remains the poor cousin of climate financing, since nature-based solutions currently account for only 1% of the funds dedicated to the fight against global warming. Yes, a massive restoration of the world’s forests is fundamentally necessary. The IPCC estimates that among the measures to limit global warming to +1.5°C by the end of the century, it is necessary to increase forest areas in the world by 10 million km2 by 2050. In this respect, international initiatives to restore forests are developing at an increasing pace, following the example of 1T, driven by the World Economic Forum, and the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration which begins in 2021. To fully achieve their objectives of fighting the climate crisis and the sixth mass extinction, these initiatives must promote as well as rely upon a high-quality reforestation, one that respects biodiversity, involves local communities and gets massive financial support.

In 2021, history is watching us. The future of the living world commands us. Future generations urge us more than ever to accelerate our actions, to take concrete, rapid and sustainable steps on a global scale. We’re talking here about the actions that emanate collectively from the States, international organizations, investment funds, companies, NGOs and, of course, local and indigenous communities, project leaders and forest managers who carry out priceless actions on the spot. These actions are complementary and will provide altogether a substantial part of the global response to the twin crisis of climate and biodiversity. For all these reasons, ahead of the COP 15 on Biodiversity, the IUCN World Conservation Congress and the COP 26 on Climate, Reforest’Action and the Open Diplomacy Institute are joining their forces to organize the Global Forest Summit. In this opening year of the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration, the Global Forest Summit puts forests at the top of the international agenda. Let’s protect them faster, let’s restore them stronger.

Co-founded by

Reforest’Action is a B Corp certified company whose mission is to preserve and restore the world’s forests in response to the twin crisis of climate and biodiversity.

The Open Diplomacy Institute is a French think-tank working on global affairs. The Institute aims at involving citizens in the design of international public policies.