Forests working for people, nature – and climate

The International Day of Forests is an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come with global pledges and ambitious targets set out in commitments such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement, and look forward to how forests can increasingly work for people, nature AND climate.

© Day's Edge Productions / WWF

An aerial view of the Tambopata National Reserve in the Peruvian Amazon.

Forests are essential to life – our life – on Earth, providing vital ecosystem services like clean air, water, food, timber, medicine and much, much more. Did you know that after oceans, forests are the world’s largest storehouses of carbon? In tropical forests alone, a quarter of a trillion tonnes of carbon is stored in above and below ground biomass. With climate change rising on the global environmental agenda, the way we value forests needs to be taken seriously too.

We must act urgently to halt deforestation and degradation of forests to ensure they continue providing essential ecosystem services.

Global commitments need global support – and that means me, you, and millions of others.

The big contribution

Protected, well managed and restored forests are important carbon sinks, helping mitigate climate change by absorbing and storing carbon dioxide.

As part of the Paris Agreement, 131 countries have submitted "national climate plans," called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). It is vital that governments prioritize the protection, management and restoration of forests and rapidly implement their commitments. Some countries have already taken an important first step by including forestry actions in their plans, ranging from the reforestation and restoration of important forest cover to the distribution of improved cook stoves. Ambitious, proactive approaches will help countries not only make big contributions to tackling emissions reductions targets, but also meeting the forest protection targets set out in the SDGs.  

Deforestation-free commitments by some of the world’s largest companies are also a welcome step. The New York Declaration on Forests – endorsed by over 190 parties including governments, indigenous community groups, multi-national companies, and non-government organizations – serves as an important framework for collaboration to halt unnecessary loss of forest worldwide and bring about better decision making on the role and state of these vital resources going forward. Our food, timber and paper needs drive changes in forests, so we need to work together to change the pressures they are under.

Governments and businesses make commitments – but people make them work

No commitment can be made real without involving Indigenous Peoples, the main stewards of forests. In efforts to support governments develop their national climate plans, WWF has been working closely with Indigenous Peoples and local communities to build their capacity to participate in monitoring processes and gain recognition of their land rights.

A good case is the Mai-Ndombe Emissions Reduction Programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the first example of what is termed jurisdictional REDD+ at scale, and the largest forest landscape conservation project ever in Africa. WWF has been involved since 2010, helping initiate the idea with stakeholders, developing guidelines for implementing free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC), contributing technical support, facilitating an open and transparent participatory process, and building capacity among civil society groups, NGOs, Indigenous Peoples and women's groups to ensure broad stakeholder consultation.

The US $170 million programme brings huge opportunities not just for forest conservation – it has the potential to prevent 29 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from being emitted over the next 10 years – but also for local communities through new economic opportunities and poverty reduction.

We want this work to succeed in other important forest places worldwide to make sure we have extensive and resilient forests benefitting people and nature, and have similar capacity building programmes with partners across the world, in Colombia, Guyana, Peru, Indonesia and Nepal. It is by building a common vision of more equitable benefit sharing that we will safeguard forests, and contribute to a stable climate at the same time.

You count too! Forests need you – and you need forests

Global commitments need global support – and that means me, you, and millions of others.

Forests impact every part of our lives – from the chair we sit on to the newspaper we read. As a consumer, your engagement is critical in the fight against climate change. On this International Day of Forests, we need people at all levels to act decisively to safeguard our forests. You can be the champions of conservation by taking simple steps that reduce the pressure on forests, such as saving paper and recycling; buying products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which ensures that the product is from a responsibly managed forest; asking policymakers to keep illegally sourced wood off the market; and using your purchasing power by telling your favourite brands to go deforestation-free.

For WWF, forests are a major part of our conservation strategy, and we will leverage local expertise, embrace innovation and accelerate transformational alliances to mobilize from the local to the global level. Safeguarding forests will require a variety of tools – from protected areas to REDD+ to responsible forest management – and we will work with partners at every level to achieve impact at scale.

Everyone has an important part to play in conserving forests for the future. Together, we can build a future with extensive, resilient forests that benefit both biodiversity and human well-being.

On the heels of the International Day of Forests, this Saturday, 25 March, we will also celebrate 10 years of Earth Hour, a global movement to unite people to protect the planet. We are calling on people to change climate change, one of the most pressing issues of our time. Show your commitment to the planet by becoming part of the Earth Hour movement and sharing what forests mean to you.

Happy International Day of Forests!

Alistair Monument

Alistair leads WWF's Forest Practice. A forester and auditor with 25 years of experience in over 40 countries, Alistair was previously the Asia Pacific Director at the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and was the founding Director of Accreditation Services International, FSC’s accreditation agency.

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