Enabling our forests to help us overcome multiple crises

A fisherman sailing on the Pacific Ocean at sunrise in the Uramba Bahia Malaga National Natural Park in Colombia. Uramba Bahia Malaga is one of the planet’s conservation hotspots. It has great marine and continental biodiversity and is one of the favorite places for humpback whales to breed and raise their whales. AFP

The world is facing enormous challenges to overcome the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, food insecurity, war in Ukraine, accelerating climate crisis and biodiversity loss.

In response to these multiple global threats, we need large-scale solutions that are cost effective and equitable and can be implemented quickly. Forests and trees offer such solutions and can help us recover, if we better recognize their value and crucial role in building resilient and sustainable economies.

The latest report on the state of the world’s forests from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which will be presented at the XV World Forestry Congress under the theme “Building a green, healthy and resilient future with forests,” clearly shows three ways in which we can scale up action if we are to unlock their potential:

Halting deforestation and caring for forests could avoid significant greenhouse gas emissions – around 14% of the reduction needed until 2030 to keep global warming below 1.5°C. It could also preserve more than half of Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity, which is a key provider of ecosystem services for sustainable agriculture. Forests are Earth’s largest reservoir of carbon and biodiversity, but they are shrinking.

Restoring degraded land and expanding agroforestry: 1.5 billion hectares of degraded land – an area twice the size of Australia – would benefit from restoration, and increased tree cover could boost agricultural productivity on an additional 1 billion hectares. Restoring degraded land through afforestation and reforestation could cost-effectively remove CO2 from the atmosphere, equivalent to removing 195 to 325 million gasoline-powered passenger cars from the road every year for 30 years.

Sustainable use of existing forests and building green value chains would help meet future demand for more renewable materials. Considering that global consumption of all natural resources is expected to more than double from 92 billion tonnes in 2017 to 190 billion tonnes in 2060, the use of sustainable wood in construction, for example, can store carbon and in the face of the climate crisis, while increasing resilience and sustainability.

There will be no healthy economy on an unhealthy planet. Environmental deterioration contributes to climate change, biodiversity loss and the emergence of new diseases. Despite the crucial role that forests and trees can play in solving these crises, they are consistently undervalued in our economic systems. As a result, forests receive neither the attention nor the investments necessary for their conservation and sustainable management.

We need to dramatically increase investment in these three interrelated forest pathways. There are a number of ways to do this:

It is essential to consider how to redirect existing incentives for agricultural producers – worth around $540 billion a year – to help make the structures governing how our food is produced, distributed and consumed more sustainable. .

More than a quarter of the world’s population depends on wood to cook their food and even more use non-wood forest products for food, feed and medicine. Investments in forestry and agroforestry will help build more diverse and resilient local economies.

New investments must also be scaled up in areas such as climate finance, green recovery programs and support for private investment.

Obtaining financing for small producers is essential. We cannot count on a “trickle down” effect. Instead, we need new solutions that meet their needs and reduce inequalities.

We will only get results if we stop working in silos. The transformation of agrifood systems and the protection, restoration and sustainable management of forests must go hand in hand.

Today’s environmental, health and social crises call for urgent action for a sustainable recovery. Promoting a model where forests and agriculture are mutually supportive requires increased political, financial and technical investment.

More than 20 developing countries have already shown that it is possible. Recent data confirms that deforestation has been successfully reduced in South America and Asia.

Ways to achieve this include national policies that promote sustainable local markets, a green and circular economy; redirected agricultural subsidies; set clear national goals for sustainable agricultural development and the protection and sustainable use of forests; and securing land tenure and the rights of farmers in agroforestry landscapes to use forests and trees.

FAO is committed to working towards more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient and more sustainable agri-food systems and promotes the contribution of forests to this process, through conservation, restoration and sustainable use.

But we must do more to empower rural farmers, smallholders, women and youth, indigenous peoples and local communities. They are guardians of nearly half of the world’s forests and farmlands.

This week, the World Forestry Congress, taking place in Seoul, Republic of Korea, brings together representatives from five continents and provides a unique opportunity to focus on impactful solutions to build a green, healthy and resilient future with forests and achieve the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Scaling up forest- and tree-based solutions can unlock their potential to help alleviate the economic disruptions and food insecurity that affect the most vulnerable. And it will help achieve our fundamental goals of better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all, leaving no one behind.

Qu Dongyu is Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

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