Nature and Biodiversity

8 reasons we need to protect forests

Here’s eight reasons the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization says we need to protect forests.

Here’s eight reasons the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization says we need to protect forests. Image: Unsplash/Maxim Hopman

Natalie Marchant
Writer, Forum Agenda
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One Trillion Trees

  • Some 1.6 billion people rely on forests for their livelihoods.
  • Forests are also home to over 80% of terrestrial species.
  • They can play a vital role in combating climate change.
  • Sustainable management can also aid future generations.

From cleaning the air we breathe, to providing food we eat and the medicines we take when we’re ill, it can be easy to forget the range of ways forests touch on our everyday lives.

About 1.6 billion people – including over 2,000 indigenous cultures – rely on forests for their livelihoods. They are also one of the most biologically-diverse ecosystems on land, home to over 80% of terrestrial species of animals, insects and plants.

Forests also play an invaluable role in combating climate change and contributing to the prosperity and wellbeing of future generations - so long as they and their resources are sustainably managed.

But despite all these environmental, health and social benefits, forests across the world are being destroyed at an alarming rate.

Nicole Schwab, Co-Director, Platform to Accelerate Nature-Based Solutions &, an initiative aimed at helping to conserve, restore and grow one trillion trees by 2030, says:

"Forests play a critical role for life on our planet. And yet, just like oxygen, we risk taking them for granted until they are gone. The International Day of Forests is a moment for us all to celebrate trees and forests everywhere – from snow-covered pine to tropical jungle, from baobab to mangrove. Now is the time to double our commitment and efforts to protect and restore these vital ecosystems."

In 2012, the UN General Assembly designated March 21 as the International Day of Forests, celebrating these woodland ecosystems that cover a third of the Earth’s land mass.

Why we need to protect forests

Here’s eight reasons the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization says we need to protect forests.

1. Healthy forests mean healthy people

Forests provide people with an array of resources including fresh air, clean water and nutritious foods. Many also associate them with physical recreation and good mental health.

What is perhaps less known is that forests are also a vital source of medicine. Up to a quarter (25%) of all medicinal drugs in the developed world are plant-based and this rises to as much as 80% in developing countries, the UN estimates.

A chart showing how global forest expansion has been outstripped by deforestation for many years
Global forest expansion has been outstripped by deforestation for many years. Image: UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme)

2. Forest food provides healthy diets

Indigenous communities usually consume over 100 types of wild food, many of which are harvested in forests. Access to forest-based food systems has also been linked with increased dietary diversity, often leading to better health outcomes.

Deforestation not only threatens food sources, it can also have serious consequences – with nearly one in three emerging infectious diseases linked to land-use change, the FAO says.

3. Restoring forests will improve our environment

Some 10 million hectares of forest – about the size of Iceland – across the world were estimated to have been lost each year between 2015 and 2020. A much larger area suffers land degradation each year.

Deforestation also emits a large amount of greenhouse gases as well as threatening the many species that call forests their home. At least 8% of plants and 5% of animals in forests are at extremely high risk of extinction.

Sustainably managing and restoring forests can address climate change and biodiversity loss, while also producing services and goods required for sustainable development.


4. Sustainable forestry can create millions of green jobs

Forests support over 86 million green jobs and the livelihoods of millions of others. More than 90% of those who live in extreme poverty are forest-dependent.

Wood from sustainably-managed forests can support a range of industries, including paper production and construction.

Investment in forest restoration can therefore also help create more jobs – something which could prove particularly relevant post-pandemic.

5. Degraded lands can be restored at huge scale

The Great Green Wall project seeks to create a 8,000 km green belt across Africa’s drylands and restore 100 million hectares of degraded land, while also creating 10 million jobs and improving food security.

Once complete, it is expected to be the largest living structure on the planet – three times larger than Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

6. Every tree counts

Even small-scale tree planting can make a difference. The benefits of planting urban forests in megacities alone have been estimated at $500 million a year thanks to their ability to clean air, provide food and reduce energy usage.

The World Economic Forum’s One Trillion Trees platform seeks to help the global movement to conserve, restore and grow a trillion trees worldwide to restore biodiversity and fight climate change.

a graph showing that South America and Africa have seen particularly high levels of deforestation
South America and Africa have seen particularly high levels of deforestation. Image: UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme)

7. Empower people to sustainably use forests

Getting people involved at local level so communities can effectively manage and govern the land on which they depend is vital to creating a healthy environment.

Community empowerment also offers an opportunity to rebuild forest landscapes that are equitable and productive, helping avert some of the risks posed by deforestation.


What’s the World Economic Forum doing about deforestation?

8. We can recover from our planetary, health and economic crises

Investing in ecosystem restoration has enormous benefits for individuals, communities and the environment alike.

The target of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, set to launch this year, is to halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems across the world.

By planting and restoring forests at a massive scale, communities can increase ecological resilience and productivity – offering a nature-based solution for building back better.

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