Continuous shrinkage of forests threatens world’s biodiversity, UN warns

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Ngel Nyaki Forest Reserve [Photo Credit: Nigerian Montane Forest Project]

Amidst the alarming rates of deforestation and degradation, urgent action is needed to safeguard the biodiversity of the world’s forests, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has said.

The FAO, in its latest edition of the State of the World’s Forests (SOFO) report, published May 22, in commemoration of the international day for biological diversity, said that the conservation of the world’s biodiversity is utterly dependent on the way in which we(humans) interact with and use the world’s forests.

The report was produced by the FAO, in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), alongside technical inputs from the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).

Forests are home for most of the earth’s terrestrial biodiversity; they provide water, livelihoods, mitigate climate change and are essential for sustainable food production.

Forests’ biological diversity refers to all life forms found within forested areas and the ecological roles they perform.

It encompasses not just trees, but the multitude of plants, animals and microorganisms that inhabit forest areas – and their associated genetic diversity.

“Yet, deforestation and forest degradation continues at an alarming rate. We must take bold actions to reverse the loss of forests and their biodiversity for the benefit of current and future generation,” the report reads.

Threats

The report says over 420 million hectares of forest have been lost through conversions to other land uses since 1990, while the rate of deforestation has decreased over the past three decades.

“The COVID-19 crisis has thrown into sharp focus the importance of conserving and sustainably using nature, recognizing that people’s health is linked to ecosystem health,” it said.

The FAO and UNEP report said between 2015 and 2020, the rate of deforestation was estimated at 10 million hectares per year, down from 16 million hectares per year in the 1990s, which suggests the area of primary forest worldwide has decreased by over 80 million hectares since 1990.

It said agricultural expansion continues to be the main driver of deforestation and forest degradation and the associated loss of forest biodiversity.

“Large-scale commercial agriculture (primarily cattle ranching and cultivation of soya bean and oil palm) accounted for 40 per cent of tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2010, and local subsistence agriculture for another 33 per cent,” the report highlighted.

The report said the need to provide food and energy for a growing global population is the leading cause of loss of forests and forest biodiversity. While in Africa, population pressure and poverty are said to be the main threats to forest conservation, driving poor farmers to convert forests to cropland

Call for sustainable conservation

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While protecting forests remains a key thing to do, as they harbour most of the earth’s terrestrial biodiversity, the report shows that about 60,000 different tree species, 80 per cent of amphibian species, 75 per cent of bird species, and 68 per cent of the earth’s mammal species are contained in the worlds’ forests.

According to the report, greater restoration efforts are urgently needed to reconnect forest fragments. The FAO and UNEP leaderships expressed deep concerns and commitment towards restoring lost forest territories.

To turn the tide on deforestation and the loss of biodiversity, we need transformational change in the way in which we produce and consume food, FAO’s director general, Qu Dongyu, was quoted to have said.

“We also need to conserve and manage forests and trees within an integrated landscape approach, and we need to repair the damage done through forest restoration efforts,” UNEP executive director, Inger Andersen, said.

The report notes that the Aichi Biodiversity target to protect at least 17 percent of the earth’s terrestrial areas by 2020 has been achieved for forests, although progress is still required to ensure the representativeness and effectiveness of such protection.

Forests provide more than 86 million green jobs. Of those living in extreme poverty, over 90 percent are dependent on forests for wild food, firewood or part of their livelihoods, with eight million extremely poor.



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