Sustainable Development Goals

Forests and mountains

  • Forests make vital contributions to biodiversity and provide myriad environmental goods and services. They sustain a range of industries, generate jobs and income and act as a source of food, medicine and fuel for more than a billion people. But today forests face unprecedented and unrelenting pressures.
  • Forests and forest land currently retain as much carbon as in the whole atmosphere. Conserving and enhancing forests are a prerequisite – and one of the most appropriate measures – to address climate change.
  • Mountains are the major storehouses of the freshwater that sustains life on Earth. Virtually a quarter of the world’s forests are in mountain areas. Yet, despite their immense ecological and socio-economic value, mountains are being subjected to increasing pressure by human activities and climate change.
  • Mountain people and forest dependent local communities are usually among the world’s poorest and most hungry. More efforts are required by States to adopt and implement long-term and integrated approaches that include forest and mountain-specific policies into national sustainable development strategies.
  • Reforestation, forest landscape restoration, and reducing the rate of deforestation and forest degradation are essential. The Sustainable Forest Management concept can be effective in protecting and promoting the value of forests, but requires inclusive governance approaches where all stakeholders participate in decision-making.


Forests cover 31 percent of global land area and alone they contain over 80 percent of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. They make a direct and very tangible contribution to global food security, and provide a range of goods and services that include acting as a source of renewable energy, and playing an irreplaceable role in climate change adaptation and mitigation.

  • Three quarters of the freshwater used for household, agricultural and industrial needs is provided through forested watersheds;
  • An estimated 2.6 billion people worldwide are dependent on wood fuel, including charcoal, for cooking and heating;
  • Over half of all wood produced is used for energy.

The contribution of the formal forest sector to the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is estimated at nearly USD 468 billion annually. The value of other benefits from forests - through the provision of energy, food, fodder, shelter and medicine - is estimated to be two to three times greater than this, yet often is not taken into account in economic decision-making and national statistics. Indeed, forests provide indirect yet reliable pathways out of poverty, particularly for the more vulnerable people such as indigenous communities and women.

Equally important for livelihoods and for environmental products and services, mountains cover almost a quarter of Earth’s land surface and are home to more than one tenth of the human population. They have immense ecological and socio-economic significance, not only for the people living there, but also for those living in lowland areas. Mountains hold 23 percent of the Earth’s forest cover and are a particularly important source of water, energy, timber, plant genetic resources of major food crops, minerals and recreation. They harbour a quarter of global terrestrial biodiversity and diverse ecosystems. Globally, mountains provide 70 percent of the world’s freshwater.

Most people understand that forests could play a role in a green economy, but not many realize that for a sustainable world this role is not optional; it is mandatory.


Key Challenges

Despite their multiple benefits, forests are under severe threat. Each year between 2000 and 2010, around 13 million hectares of forests were converted to other land uses or lost through natural causes. While afforestation and natural expansion of forests reduced the net loss of forests globally, this remained alarmingly high at about 5.2 million hectares per year in this same period. Deforestation results not only in a decrease in biodiversity and clean water, increased land degradation and soil erosion and the release of carbon into the atmosphere, but also in the loss of valuable economic assets and livelihood opportunities.

Ecosystems in mountain areas are more fragile than those in lowlands. The increasing demand for water and other natural resources, the consequences of global climate change, the growth in tourism and the pressures of industry, mining and agriculture, all threaten the extraordinary web of life that mountains support and the globally important environmental services that mountains provide. These threats are causing rapid – and in some cases irreversible – changes to mountain environments and to mountain people, who are already among the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.

National development plans and agricultural and food security strategies often fail to take into account the many contributions of forests and mountains to agricultural development, food security and nutrition and overall economic growth. This is mainly because of the lack of knowledge and data to support and inform effective policy-making processes on the role of non-wood forest products, mountains, wildlife and forest ecosystem services in food security, nutrition and sustainable livelihoods.

What needs to be done?

Greater understanding of forests’ and mountains’ interconnectedness with other sectors and their importance to a healthy planet has led to concepts like sustainable forest management, which aims at maintaining and enhancing the economic, social and environmental values of all types of forests for the benefit of current and future generations. Sustainable forest management is assessed according to a wide range of criteria and indicators. At all levels, inclusive governance approaches, where all relevant stakeholders and actors participate in the decision-making processes to ensure that outcomes are fair, equitable and implementable, are crucial. Broadening and diversifying the range of revenues for and from forests is critical to sustainable forest management.

More efforts are required by countries to adopt and implement long-term and integrated approaches that include forests and mountain-specific policies into national sustainable development strategies to provide an urgent response to current challenges, including climate change, hunger and poverty eradication. These approaches should be informed by principles of transboundary cooperation, upstream-downstream linkages, inclusive governance and institutions, compensation of local people for ecosystem goods and services, and a balance between conservation and development actions.

Forest and mountain countries recognize that, thanks to their crucial importance for global sustainable development and the serious challenges being faced, forests and mountains deserve specific attention in development plans and strategies at all levels – global, regional and national.

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