The world is losing millions of hectares of forest to deforestation each year. According to the United Nations (UN), almost two billion hectares of forest are also impacted by land degradation, which affects the well-being of 3.2 billion people.
“Every year, seven million hectares of natural forests are converted to other land uses such as large-scale commercial agriculture, and other economic activities,” said Liu Zhenmin, head of the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA).
“And while the rate of deforestation has slowed over the past decade, tree cover loss has continued unabated in the tropics – largely due to human and natural causes.”
The UN reports that nearly a third of emerging infectious diseases like COVID-19 are linked to land-use changes, such as deforestation.
Last month, during a virtual event to commemorate the International Day of Forests, Zhenmin said that recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic should lead to stronger action to safeguard the world’s forests. He pointed out how natural resources have helped to protect health and well-being during the global crisis.
Green spaces, parks, and forests became much-needed refuges during times of social distancing. Furthermore, healthy forests act as natural buffers against zoonotic diseases, lowering the risk of future pandemics.
“Yet, despite their obvious importance, forests continue to be under threat,” said Liu. He noted that while COVID-19 has been “a harsh wake-up call,” it also presents a unique opportunity to recover better and stronger.
Qu Dongyu is the Director-General of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). He emphasized that restoring forests, and managing them sustainably, benefits both people and the planet.
This investment will also contribute to economic recovery from the pandemic, Dongyu added, as forest restoration activities create green jobs, generate incomes, improve human health, and increase human security.
Individual countries have already made commitments under the Bonn Challenge, which is a global goal to bring 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested landscapes into restoration by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030.
According to WWF, every forest in the world today is affected by human disturbance – either directly by destruction or indirectly by the impacts of climate change.
Forest restoration involves improving soils, protecting wildlife habitats and corridors, managing land sustainably, and – of course – planting trees.
To learn more about how you can get involved in the restoration of forests, visit Trees.org as the nonprofit agency celebrates Earth Month 2021.
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer