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Forests and all terrestrial ecosystems are critical not only to flora and fauna but also to communities that depend on them, contributing to poverty reduction, economic growth and employment. Healthy forests and terrestrial ecosystems provide critical ecosystem services important to people and economies such as habitat for biodiversity, provision of drinking water, water and climate cycle regulation, erosion prevention, crop pollination, soil fertility, and flood control.

However, deforestation,  and forest and land degradation threaten these ecosystem services and the well-being of people that depend on them. Land degradation impacts an estimated 3.2 billion people worldwide, and some 40 percent of the world’s poorest live on land that is classified as degraded. Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23 percent of the global land surface (IPBES 2019).

The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the importance of healthy forests and terrestrial ecosystems. Several studies have shown a link between deforestation and other changes in land use to pathways for zoonotic disease transfer from animals (wild and domesticated) to humans. More than 70 percent of emerging infectious diseases are from zoonotic origin. Clearing of forests for agriculture, extractive industries, urbanization and other land uses leads to the loss or degradation of habitat and brings humans and wildlife into closer contact, increasing the risk of spillover of infectious diseases such as SARS, Ebola and HIV. Better integrated or “one health” approaches to landscape management that consider human, animal and ecosystem health are needed.

Forests and all terrestrial ecosystems can also contribute to building back better by supporting livelihoods for communities and providing much-needed employment opportunities for vulnerable populations. Some of the poorest and most vulnerable segments of the population live in fragile natural resource environments. In the short term, these communities can receive income support through land rehabilitation and forest work schemes. Landscapes, programs can be scaled up further to create jobs, support livelihoods and market access, food security and long-term resilience through enhanced productivity of local natural resources assets. Such projects support participatory community resource management mechanisms and direct investments in economic activities.

Goods from forests and all terrestrial ecosystems provide an important “hidden harvest” for rural populations, keeping many people out of extreme poverty. For example, about 350 million people who live within or close to dense forests depend on them for their subsistence and income. Forests are an important aspect of rural livelihoods, with rural households living near forested areas deriving as much as 22 percent of their income from forest sources according to the Poverty and Environment Network (PEN). This contribution is greater than that of wage labor, livestock, self-owned businesses or any other category aside from crops.

Deforestation and forest degradation contribute about 12% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The 2019 IPCC special report on Climate Change and Land affirmed that planting forests and protecting existing forests is key to all pathways for limiting global warming to 1.5ºC or well below 2ºC increase. Investment in planting trees and forest conservation is urgently needed as many of the world’s remaining forests are under increasing threat due to agriculture expansion, timber extraction, fuelwood collection and other activities. The IPBES estimates that investment in nature-based solutions could contributes about 37 percent of the climate change mitigation needed by 2030 to keep global temperatures below a 2ºC increase while generating jobs and biodiversity co-benefits.

Last Updated: Oct 01,2021

Additional Resources


Laura Ivers
Washington D.C.