Trees: Not Just for Tree Huggers

March 20, 2015

Photo: Carolina Hoyos Lievano / World Bank

  • International Day of Forests is celebrated on March 21, with the aim of raising awareness of how forests have significant ecological, economic, social and health benefits.
  • The World Bank is engaged in activities that combine conserving and regenerating forests with economic growth for poverty reduction.

Washington, D.C.—Forests and trees provide many economic, social and environmental services and values, from creating jobs to providing housing, food and energy to delivering carbon sequestration and watershed protection.

So, in celebration of International Day of Forests, the World Bank would like to shine a spotlight on the importance of forests and sustainable development. Here are five things to know about this critical resource in 2015:

  • An estimated 1.3 billion people—nearly 20 percent of humanity—rely on forests and forest products for their livelihoods, with the majority living on less than $1.25 a day. The most recent evidence, drawn from more than 300 communities living in or near forested areas in 24 developing countries, suggests that the contribution of forests to household incomes in such areas is surprisingly large—28 percent. This is roughly the same as earnings from agriculture.
  • An estimated 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation, unsustainable agricultural practices and land-use changes. At the same time, forests absorb about 15 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions, and while 13 million hectares of forests are lost worldwide each year, an area the size of Greece, deforestation rates have declined globally since the 1990s and in some regions (e.g. Asia, Europe) forest cover is actually increasing. 
  • Forests are home to about 80 percent of the worlds’ remaining terrestrial biodiversity. Forests are also vital for climate regulation and help maintain the fertility of the soil, protect watersheds and reduce the risk of natural disasters. 
  • Some two billion hectares of lost or degraded forests and landscapes could be restored and rehabilitated to functional and productive ecosystems. This would help deliver improved rural livelihoods and food security, greater climate resilience and greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation while taking pressure off natural forests. The Bonn Challenge is helping to seize this opportunity. 
  • Forests are an important source of energy. For example, 65 percent of the total primary energy supply in Africa comes from solid biomass such as firewood and charcoal. 

The World Bank supports countries’ efforts to harness the potential of forests to alleviate extreme poverty, increase economic prosperity, and protect and strengthen the environmental role forests play, locally and globally.