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Healthy forests and landscapes provide services that are critical for people and economies, such as biodiversity habitats, clean water, climate regulation, erosion prevention, crop pollination, soil fertility, and flood control.

Deforestation and forest and land degradation, however, are threatening these ecosystem services and reducing the productivity of 23 percent of land worldwide. Land degradation impacts an estimated 3.2 billion people worldwide, with 40 percent of the world’s poorest living on degraded land.

Approximately 12% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to deforestation and forest degradation. The 2019 IPCC special report on Climate Change and Land affirmed that planting forests and protecting existing forests is key to limiting global warming to 1.5ºC or well below 2ºC increase. Such investment is urgently needed as many of the world’s remaining forests are increasingly threatened by activities such as agricultural expansion, timber extraction, and fuelwood collection. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) estimates that investment in nature-based solutions could contribute about 37 percent of the climate change mitigation needed by 2030. This in turn has the potential to generate jobs and biodiversity co-benefits.

Goods from forests provide an important hidden harvest for rural populations, keeping many people out of extreme poverty. An estimated 4.17 billion people – 95 percent of all people outside urban areas – live within 5 km of a forest, and 3.27 billion live within 1 km. In many tropical countries, forest-adjacent people earn about one-quarter of their income from forests.

The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the importance of healthy forests and terrestrial ecosystems. More than 30 percent of new diseases reported since 1960 are attributed to land-use change, including deforestation, and 15 percent of 250 emerging infectious diseases have been linked to forests. Deforestation, particularly in the tropics, has been associated with an increase in infectious diseases such as dengue fever and malaria. Clearing forests for agriculture, extractive industries, urbanization, and other land uses causes the loss or degradation of habitat, bringing humans and wildlife into closer contact and increasing the risk of infectious diseases such as SARS, Ebola, and HIV. Now, more than ever, we see the urgent need for an integrated or “one health” approach to landscape management that collectively considers human, animal, and ecosystem health.

Forests and landscapes provide 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. Landscape programs can be scaled up further to create jobs, support livelihoods and market access, food security and long-term natural resource resilience. Such projects support participatory community resource management mechanisms and direct investments in economic activities.

Last Updated: Apr 03,2024

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Liam Mullins
Washington D.C.