Tropical forests are key to addressing climate change.
Rainforests play a critical role in regulating the Earth’s climate. They are the only safe, proven, natural solution that exists for carbon capture and storage.
Tropical deforestation is a key source of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. When forests are cleared and trees are burned or decay, the carbon stored in them is released into the atmosphere. Forest destruction not only generates carbon emissions, it diminishes nature’s capacity to absorb them.
After fossil fuel burning, deforestation is the largest emitter of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Halting and reversing tropical deforestation, however, could result in a 30 percent reduction in net global greenhouse gas emissions.
It simply won’t be possible to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement without decisive action to end tropical deforestation. Among the many strategies available to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protecting tropical forests is among the most affordable.
The longer the world waits before reversing current deforestation trends, the more the capacity of the remaining forests to serve as a natural carbon capture and storage system is eroded.
Tropical forests support sustainable development.
Tropical forests are highly undervalued assets in addressing one of the most significant challenges of our time: sustainable development.
Around the world, rainforests supply many ecosystem services, including removing carbon from the atmosphere; providing protection against floods, landslides, avalanches and ocean surges; providing clean water, fish, medicines and crops; space for recreation and exercise; and places sacred to the world’s various faiths.
Forest loss and degradation is estimated to cost the world economy up to £3 trillion each year in losses to the "natural capital" that provides us with these ecosystem services. If protected and restored, rainforests can provide an indispensable contribution to sustainable development.
Forests contribute to more than half of the UN Sustainable Development Goals agreed by world leaders in 2015. Deforestation actively undermines efforts to address poverty, hunger and equality.
Tropical forests contain more biodiversity than any other ecosystem.
Due to millions of years of unbroken growth and evolution, tropical rainforests contain the greatest biodiversity of all the world’s ecosystems.
The number of species that live in the world’s tropical forests is estimated to be up to 50 million, and many of these are found nowhere else in the world. About 80% of the world's documented species can be found in tropical rainforests, even though they cover only about 6% of the Earth's land surface. For example, rainforests contain 170,000 of the world’s 250,000 known plant species.
Rainforests are also home to increasingly threatened populations of some of the most unique animals on the planet. As tropical forests are destroyed, iconic parts of creation are being lost forever.
Protecting tropical forests is a human rights issue.
Many societies have developed their culture, knowledge, wisdom and way of life in intimate interaction with the highly complex ecosystems of the rainforest. For centuries, indigenous peoples and forest communities living in and near tropical forests have served as stewards and managers of rainforests.
Indigenous peoples and forest communities have official legal rights to at least 513 million hectares of forests, which is about one-eighth of the world’s total forest area. Most of these forests are in countries where pressures to exploit forests are high.
Studies show that when indigenous peoples land rights are legally recognized and protected by governments, deforestation rates and carbon dioxide emissions are significantly lower. Yet research also suggests that indigenous people and forest communities lack legal rights to almost three quarters of their traditional lands.
In many parts of the world, indigenous peoples face grave threats as they defend their forests from incursion by industries like mining, logging and agribusiness. Given their cultural and spiritual connections to forests, their vast stores of traditional knowledge, and the fact that much of the world’s remaining forest lies within their ancestral and customary lands, indigenous peoples are essential partners in any efforts to protect rainforests.
Global deforestation is a major environmental crisis.
Despite some significant progress, the international community is not on track to protect forests as a climate solution. Instead of forests slowing climate change, forest destruction is still driving climate change.
Data from Global Forest Watch shows a loss of tree cover equivalent to the area of France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined in the last decade alone. We are losing 7.6 million hectares of forests annually, equivalent to 27 football pitches every minute.
In the past, forest loss was blamed on the clearing of land by poor farmers for subsistence. Now, a large and increasing proportion of deforestation across tropical countries is driven by forest clearing – much of it illegal – to cultivate global commodities such as soy, beef, palm oil and fast-growing timber to make pulp and paper. The commercial-scale clearing of forests for agriculture is now the primary driver of deforestation.
If the global deforestation crisis is not addressed now, future generations will be left a planet in ecological collapse.
Halting and reversing tropical deforestation is not only necessary, it is highly achievable.
The case for taking action to end tropical deforestation is stronger than ever.
Over the last 10 years, understanding of the science, economics and politics of reducing deforestation as a win-win opportunity to address both climate change and development have advanced dramatically.
This has included major innovations in policy and technology, which have converged to demonstrate that slowing deforestation is feasible and to show how international support can help. This work has created a new opportunity for action and for a major international effort to conserve tropical rainforests.
Lowering deforestation rates offers many developing countries the single most attractive option for contributing to reduced global emissions in a way that is compatible with their own development objectives and one that is particularly aligned with the interests of their poorest citizens.
No-one questions the benefits of halting and reversing tropical deforestation, nor the disastrous consequences of inaction. There is simply no way of preserving biodiversity, the climate system, or freshwater supplies without stopping forest loss. And the longer we wait, the less attractive our options.