Key messages: forests for people

Forests 2011 is a celebration of the central role of people in the management, conservation, and sustainable development of the world’s forests. The Year will highlight the multiple roles forests play in our lives: they provide shelter to people and a habitat for biodiversity; they are a source of food, medicine, fresh air, and clean water; and they are a crucial part of the equation for maintaining a stable global climate and environment. In short, forests are vital to the survival and well being of people everywhere, all 7 billion of us.

As a start for communicators, the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) has provided the following key messages for outreach initiatives, noting that there is much to say about forests and each organizations will have its own messages to communicate.

Forests and air

  • Over 40 percent of the world's oxygen is produced from the rainforests. 
  • Forests contribute to the balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide and humidity
    in the air.

Forests and water

  • A tree releases 8-10 times more moisture into the atmosphere than the
    equivalent area of the ocean.
  • Forests protect watersheds which supply fresh water to rivers.
  • Loss of forests could affect rainfall patterns globally, especially in food
    growing regions in Latin America, the American mid-West and Central Asia. 
  • Deforestation leads to soil erosion and rivers being silted, which reduces
    access to clean wate

Forests and biodiversity

  • Forests are home to over 80% of terrestrial biodiversity. 
  • In the Amazon basin alone, more than 1,300 species of forest plants are
    used for medicinal or cultural purposes.
  • 12% of the world’s forests are designated for the conservation of biological
    diversity (FRA 2010).
  • Deforestation of closed tropical rainforests could account for the loss of as
    many as 100 species a day.

Forests build resilience to natural disasters 

  • Nearly 330 million hectares of forest are designated for soil and water
    conservation, avalanche control, sand dune stabilization, desertification
    control or coastal protection. (FRA 2010)
  • Mangrove forests act as a barrier against tsunamis, cyclones and
  • ‘Green Wall for the Sahara’ The European Union and African Union are
    implementing a project to build a ‘green wall’ of trees across the Sahara
    to push back desertification and to secure agriculture and livelihoods in
    the sahelo-saharan zone.

Forests and land

  • Forests cover 31% of global land area
  • Forests and tree cover combat land degradation and desertification by stabilizing soils, reducing water and wind erosion and maintaining nutrient cycling in soils.

Forests are a key part of the climate change solution

  • The carbon in forests exceeds the amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere.  FRA 2010 estimates that the world’s forests store 289 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon in their biomass alone.
  • 17.4% of global greenhouse gas emission resulted from deforestation and forest degradation.
  • Forests offer the quickest, most cost-effective and largest means of curbing global emissions. It would save the world approximately $3.7 trillion between 2010 and 2200 if we halve greenhouse gas emissions (The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, 2006).

Healthy forests, healthy people

  • Tropical forests provide a vast array of medicinal plants used in healing and healthcare, worth an estimated $108 billion a year.  
  • More than a quarter of modern medicines originate from tropical forest plants.
  • Forests curb infectious diseases. Undisturbed tropical forests can have a moderating effect on insect- and animal-borne disease: 
    • 40% of the world’s population lives in malaria infested regions. Heavily deforested areas can see a 300 fold increase in the risk of malaria infection compared to areas of intact forest.
    • 72% of emerging infectious diseases transmitted from animals to humans come from wildlife as opposed to domesticated animals. Deforested areas increase contact between wildlife and humans and affect pathogen transmission.

Forests are our livelihoods/wealth

  • 1.6 billion people around the world depend on forests for their livelihoods and daily subsistence needs.
  • The global gross value-added in the forestry sector is US$ 468 billion.
  • The global trade in primary wood products is US$ 235 billion.
  • Tropical forests provide pollination services to agriculture valued at US$12 billion per year. 
  • Given that more than 1 billion hectares of degraded areas throughout the world are suitable for forest landscape restoration, community-based forest management could be woven into other existing rural economic activities.

last updated:  Wednesday, March 2, 2011