Earth Day 2020: Why global reforestation will restore the earth’s health

Image: Photo by Kristen Sturdivant on Unsplash

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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. It arrives during a global health crisis that scientists have long predicted. Suddenly, we find ourselves in a real nightmare scenario that science warned us about, with human and social tragedies unfolding globally. The economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic will stay with us for years.

Science has of course also warned us about the unfolding climate and environmental crises. For example, we know that:

  • 75% of terrestrial ecosystems are “severely altered” by human actions
  • Up to 1 million species are threatened with extinction
  • Over 85% of wetlands have been lost
  • We continue to lose forests at the rate of one football field per minute every day: one of the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions that have increased by about 90% since 1970

These trends simply cannot continue and need to be reversed.

If we are to avoid the unbearable risk of far-reaching environmental collapse, Earth Day must become an annual reminder of what we are gaining, restoring and reducing, rather than what we are losing, destroying and emitting.

Science tells us that the current decade will need to see a rapid decline of global emissions and restored ecosystems if we are to meet the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreements. For businesses, policy-makers, innovators and consumers, this will mean transformational shifts in individual and collective behaviours. Forests need to be a centrepiece of this transformation of a new stakeholder capitalism.

Have you read?
  • Forest loss could make diseases like COVID-19 more likely, according to study
  • Why collective action is the key to saving our forests

Indeed, healthy forests are one of those critical ecosystems that human civilization cannot live and thrive without. Forests are among the most productive carbon sinks, they store water and help regulate weather, they are a source of food and medicine, and they help clean the air in cities and across whole land masses.

A growing body of research also highlights they improve our health and well-being. Increases in deforestation have spurred new outbreaks; loss of tree cover has been rising steadily over the past 17 years, and 31% of outbreaks of new and emerging diseases, such as the Nipah virus, Zika and Ebola, are linked to deforestation.

And, still too often, overlooked: forests provide us with urgently-needed jobs: the forestry sector already provides jobs for more than 54 million people worldwide, according to the World Bank. US research suggests that $1 million invested in reforestation and sustainable forest management can create seven times more jobs than the same amount invested in fossil fuels. Close to 1.6 billion people – more than 25% of the world’s population – rely on forest resources for their livelihoods and most of them (1.2 billion) use trees on farms to generate food and cash.

Image: The World Bank

It is against this backdrop that we launched the Trillion Trees Platform at the 50th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum this past January, with support from leaders from government, business, civil society and grassroots movements. is the global platform to support the conservation, restoration and growth of 1 trillion trees by 2030. aims to inspire, empower, and mobilize a global reforestation community of millions, unleashing their potential to act at scale and speed, to ensure the conservation and restoration of one trillion trees within this decade. Doing so, aims to make a major contribution to the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, led by FAO and UNEP.


What’s the World Economic Forum doing about deforestation?

We know that forest restoration is a critical part of global climate and sustainable development solutions. We also know that forest restoration must be complemented by the ambitious decarbonization of industry and protection and conservation of existing forests – all in an inclusive and ecologically responsible way. If we do this and we embed restoration as a top priority in our economic, social and policy agendas, we have a significant opportunity to ensure that the 60th Earth Day will be a celebration of a successful Decade of Delivery during which humanity embraced the restoration of nature as part of the solution we all need.

As we emerge from the ravages of COVID-19, we have an opportunity to stimulate a different green growth paradigm, where the vision of restoring the earth to health is a corollary for how we restore human health. And without a healthy planet we cannot have healthy societies or economies.

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