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Why Forests are Key to Climate, Water, Health, and Livelihoods

21 marzo 2016 - Did you drink water, eat a piece of fruit, or take a deep breath today? You have forests to thank for all of those things. Forested watersheds and wetlands supply 75 percent of the world’s accessible fresh water for domestic, agricultural, industrial and ecological needs and act as natural filters for our air. Forests and trees, celebrated on March 21, the International Day of Forests, are a cornerstone of addressing climate change and achieving sustainable development. Forests are some of the most vital storehouses of carbon on our planet.

However, when forests are cleared to make way for agriculture or infrastructure, they emit large quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change. At the same time, standing forests make a crucial contribution to addressing the impacts of climate change not only by absorbing greenhouse gases but also by building more resilient landscapes through water flow regulation, soil improvement and maintenance for agriculture, protection of coastal communities from extreme events and sea level rise, and migratory corridors for plant and animal species.

Following the Paris Agreement at COP21, a number of countries have shown strong commitment in their climate action plans (known as NDCs, or Nationally Determined Contributions) on adaptation measures and to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, forest degradation, land use change and agriculture. Together these sectors account for nearly a quarter of global emissions, but represent a much greater share of emissions in many developing countries.

These national plans represent trillions of dollars of potential country demand for forest and climate-relevant investments. To meet the goal of limiting temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, these commitments will need to be translated into investments, including in resilient forest and landscape initiatives. Improving the management of forests provides opportunities for reducing current and future vulnerability to climate change, while advancing both mitigation and adaptation objectives. Equally important is the link between forests and people.

An estimated 1.3 billion individuals – about one-fifth of the global population – ¬derive direct and indirect benefits from forests in the form of employment, forest products, and contributions to livelihoods and incomes. Some 300–350 million people, about half of whom are indigenous, who live within or close to dense forests depend almost entirely on forests for subsistence. Hundreds of millions more, including people in cities, depend on forest resources for food, construction materials, and energy sources.

Furthermore, forests contribute to wealth generation and job creation. With a growing demand for forest products, this contribution is expected to increase in the coming decades. The formal forest sector employs more than 13.2 million people, produces more than 5,000 types of wood-based products, and generates a gross value added of just over $600 billion—nearly 1 percent of global GDP—each year.

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