Researchers at the Wildlife Conservation Society are expressing an urgent need to protect the world’s remaining untouched forests, which are critical in helping to curb climate change. These regions also play a major role in protecting wildlife, indigenous cultures, watersheds, and human health.
The study authors say that the findings of this analysis highlight the immediate need for international policies to protect forest areas that have not already been degraded by human activities.
According to the researchers, legislation is needed to secure and protect the land rights of indigenous people, establish new protected areas, regulate industry and hunting, and target restoration efforts.
Without the implementation of such strategies, many environmental targets will fall short including some of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
“As vital carbon sinks and habitats for millions of people and imperiled wildlife, it is well known that forest protection is essential for any environmental solution–yet not all forests are equal,” said study co-author James Watson.
“Forest conservation must be prioritized based on their relative values–and Earth’s remaining intact forests are the crown jewels, ones that global climate and biodiversity policies must now emphasize.”
The research team examined the potentially catastrophic impacts that human and industrial activities have on forests. Once a forest has been introduced to these activities, they become more susceptible to fire, erosion, disease, and the effects of climate change.
“Even if all global targets to halt deforestation were met, humanity might be left with only degraded, damaged forests, in need of costly and sometimes unfeasible restoration, open to a cascade of further threats and perhaps lacking the resilience needed to weather the stresses of climate change,” said co-author Dr. Tom Evans.
“This is a huge gamble to take, for conservation, for climate change, and for some of the most vulnerable human communities on the planet. Our research shows that a remedy is indeed possible, but we need to act whilst there are still intact forests to save.”
The study is published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.