Germany’s forests are in a bad way. Two summers of extreme heat and a plague of pests and timber diseases have reduced their area by the equivalent of 200,000 football fields. Now the government has promised to take action to help restore them to health.

Forests have a special place in the hearts of Germans. “For Germans, the forest poses nothing short of a landscape of longing, the epitome of protective nature,” writes Dieter Borchmeyer, Professor Emeritus of Modern German Literature at the University of Heidelberg.

And, of course, they play a vital role in combating rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, absorbing 62 million tonnes every year in Germany – equivalent to 7% of the country’s carbon emissions. But their role as guardian of the nation’s environment is under threat.

Proportion of Germany covered by forests - 1990-2016
Image: Statista

Climate change is at the root of the problem. Storms, droughts, heat waves and wildfires have been compounded by an infestation of beetles and the spread of harmful fungi. Most at risk are traditional woodland species such as spruce, beech, ash, Norway maple and sycamore.

What is the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact summit?

It’s an annual meeting featuring top examples of public-private cooperation and Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies being used to develop the sustainable development agenda.

It runs alongside the United Nations General Assembly, which this year features a one-day climate summit. This is timely given rising public fears – and citizen action – over weather conditions, pollution, ocean health and dwindling wildlife. It also reflects the understanding of the growing business case for action.

The UN’s Strategic Development Goals and the Paris Agreement provide the architecture for resolving many of these challenges. But to achieve this, we need to change the patterns of production, operation and consumption.

The World Economic Forum’s work is key, with the summit offering the opportunity to debate, discuss and engage on these issues at a global policy level.

Protecting woodland

Forests cover almost a third of the German landscape, although that figure has fallen recently amid the driest conditions in 50 years. Agriculture minister Julia Klöckner says the future of the nation’s forests is under threat.

“Only if everyone unites will we manage the mammoth task that lies ahead of us – to save our forests not only for ourselves but for future generations,” she recently said.

There is disagreement about what to do. Foresters want to introduce new species able to cope with climate change like Douglas firs and Northern Red Oaks, but ecologists warn of the risk to forest ecosystems of introducing alien species.

Europe is home to 5% of the world’s forests – 182 million hectares – which cover 43% of the EU’s land area. The European Commission earmarked €8.2 billion ($9.1 billion) to reforestation and protecting existing woodland between 2015 and 2020.

In the 10 years to 2015, Europe’s forests grew by the equivalent of 1,500 football pitches every day, thanks to conservation and reforestation. In Scandinavia, forests used for wood pulp production expanded by an area the size of Switzerland.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about deforestation?

Halting deforestation is essential to avoiding the worst effects of global climate change.

The destruction of forests creates almost as much greenhouse gas emissions as global road travel, and yet it continues at an alarming rate.

In 2012, we brought together more than 150 partners working in Latin America, West Africa, Central Africa and South-East Asia – to establish the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020: a global public-private partnership to facilitate investment in systemic change.

The Alliance, made up of businesses, governments, civil society, indigenous people, communities and international organizations, helps producers, traders and buyers of commodities often blamed for causing deforestation to achieve deforestation-free supply chains.

The Commodities and Forests Agenda 2020, summarizes the areas in which the most urgent action is needed to eliminate deforestation from global agricultural supply chains.

The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 is gaining ground on tackling deforestation linked to the production of four commodities: palm oil, beef, soy, and pulp and paper.

Get in touch to join our mission to halt to deforestation.

Shrinking forests

Around the world, the picture is less positive. The Worldwide Fund for Nature says Earth is losing its forest cover at the rate of a football pitch every two seconds. It says 10% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions are caused by deforestation, much of it due to illegal logging.

Last year, an area of rainforest the same size as Belgium was lost, according to the charity Global Forest Watch. The greatest loss was in Brazil, where forest fires and clearing for agriculture reversed a trend of reducing deforestation over the previous eight years.

Image: Statista

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization says there are signs of hope, however. Although the area of the globe covered by forest decreased from 32% to 31% between 1990 and 2015, the rate of loss has slowed and more forests are now being managed sustainably.