December 19, 2017
Forests cover nearly a third (31 percent) of the world's land surface, just over 4 billion hectares. That’s the equivalent of Brazil, Canada, China, and the United States combined.
But forests don’t just span an enormous portion of our planet’s terrain, they also play a vital role in regulating the climate and are critical to addressing the impact of climate change.
Developing countries are expected to suffer the most from changes in climatic patterns. Higher temperatures, changes in precipitation, rising sea levels and increased frequency of weather-related disasters like hurricanes, floods and wildfires are creating immense challenges when it comes to agriculture, food, and water supplies. International and national discussions on forests and climate change have largely been focused on the value of reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation and enhancing carbon stocks (REDD+). At its core, REDD+ aims to change incentive structures in favor of protecting forests.
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Less obvious, yet equally important, is the role of forests in enhancing landscape resilience to climate change. Forests and trees provide environmental services ranging from increasing water quality and quantity to reducing soil erosion and creating micro-climatic conditions that maintain (or in some cases improve) productivity. The sustainable management of forests can also strengthen social resilience, by offering a diversification of revenue sources and product supplies, and building the capacity of local and national institutions.
The World Bank is supporting countries in their efforts to harness the potential of forests to reduce poverty, better integrate forests into their economies, and protect and strengthen the environmental role they play—locally and globally.
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In China, for example, the Shandong Ecological Afforestation Project planted trees on 66,915 hectares of barren mountainous slopes and saline coastal areas, increasing forest cover, reducing soil erosion, and improving the environment and biodiversity. Thanks to positive first results, the government is now scaling up efforts and has planted an additional 84,000 hectares of mixed trees and shrubs beyond the initial program area. Combined, these areas will sequester about 22 million metric tons of CO2 over the project’s six-year lifetime.
As part of Mexico’s ambitious forests and climate change program, an initiative is contributing to improving the livelihoods of about 4,000 forest communities through sustainable management of forest goods and services. Small scale projects proposed, prepared, and implemented by communities and ejidos (communally held lands) will have access to financial support from a $42 million project (with funding made up of both a grant and a loan). Luiz Zarate is an administrative support staff member at an industrial sawmill in the San Pedro el Alto ejido, who is seeing the benefit of this initiative for her livelihood and long-term sustainability. “We know that by taking care of the forest we'll have work; and we'll have a job source for much longer. That's why it's so important for the forest to be adequately managed in the most appropriate way – so it won't run out.”
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Across the globe in Mozambique, where the annual rate of deforestation is about 0.8 percent, 295,000 hectares of forest are lost each year. A new $47-million project is investing in the livelihoods of thousands of small and medium landholders, improving the sustainability of activities that can impact forests - including the production of timber, charcoal and crops – while simultaneously reducing deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. Mozambique’s integrated forest and landscape management portfolio also supports REDD+ efforts and the associated engagement of local communities and civil society organizations, biodiversity conservation, and agricultural development.
These country-driven initiatives are helping to move the needle in the right direction on keeping the global temperate increase within the 2-degree target and conserving forests, but more action is needed. Private sector commitment and action around deforestation free commodity supply chains will also be critical to conserve forest resources and reduce risks for businesses who rely on commodity supplies.
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It’s clear that forests are essential for the future we all want; for people, for economies, and for the health of a planet stressed by climate change and the depletion of natural resources. While there are still challenges when it comes to how climate and development targets will be met over the decades to come, these countries are showing that forests will be a vital part of the solution.