Deforestation is the second leading cause of global warming and produces about 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Scientist say that deforestation in tropical rainforests adds more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than the sum total of all the cars and trucks on the world’s roads. In some countries, such as Brazil and Indonesia, deforestation and forest degradation together are by far the main source of national greenhouse gas emissions.
Reductions in the rate of deforestation have multiple benefits—avoiding a huge source of carbon emissions and reducing the environmental and social problems associated with deforestation. Globally, around 350 million people reside close to or within forests and rely on forests for their food and livelihood. Almost 60 million people, especially those living in indigenous communities, are entirely dependent on forests. The livelihoods of 1.6 billion people depend on forests. Forests provide US$ 75–100 billion per year in goods and services. Forests are home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, according to the International Union of Concerned Scientists.
Combatting deforestation has been identified as one of the most promising and cost-effective ways to lower emissions. Halting the loss and degradation of natural systems and promoting their restoration have the potential to contribute over one-third of the total climate change mitigation required by 2030 Meeting the Bonn Challenge—a global effort to restore 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded lands by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030—would capture about a sixth of the carbon necessary to close the emissions gap.
In addition to mitigating climate change, stopping deforestation and forest degradation and supporting sustainable forest management conserves water resources and prevents flooding, reduces run-off, controls soil erosion, reduces river siltation, protects fisheries, preserves biodiversity and preserves cultures and traditions.
With the Paris climate agreement in 2016, for the first time ever, reducing deforestation and promoting forest conservation is prominently included in a global climate agreement. REDD+ (Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) sets forth a pathway to achieve net-zero emissions in the second half of this century, cutting emissions by providing financial incentives—backed by international funds—to reduce deforestation and forest degradation, promote forest conservation and sustainable management, and enhance forest carbon stocks in developing countries. With the Paris Accord, REDD+ became permanent Article 5 of the Agreement, politically protecting and mobilizing local and global action around forests.
Now that the new Agreement explicitly endorses REDD+, the future is brighter for forests and their potential role in climate mitigation, says the the World Resources Institute. “New funding is coming in, the guidelines are clear, and governments and the scientific community are slowly closing the data gaps that have presented hurdles in the past.” Countries finally have the resources they need to ramp up action on forests and reach a net-zero emissions goal in the second half of this century.
What can you do?
- Leave forests standing. Plant more trees.
- Reduce your use of products made from trees including paper and cardboard.
- Recycle the forest products that you use.
- Choose recycled when you do buy products made from the forest.
- Demand forest products from sustainable sources and deforestation free supply chains.
- Avoid products that include palm oil.
- Support organizations that reforest and conserve.
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