Today we celebrate World Environment Day, a global day for positive action for the environment. This year’s theme, ‘Forests: Nature at Your Service’, highlights the variety of services that forests provide us with and urges us all to take action to protect them. IUCN also calls for the voices of forest-dependent communities to be heard and taken into account in the way forests and their resources are managed.
A total of 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods. Most of them, 1.4 billion, live in the developing world, with 1 billion living in extreme poverty – including many women, indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups.
But their voices are rarely taken into account in decisions on how forests and their resources are used and managed.
“Only a small fraction of what governments and aid agencies spend on the forest sector each year goes to help communities living in and near forests manage their resources’, says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General. “If we want to combat global poverty and stop the loss of biodiversity, these communities must have a say in decisions on how forests – which are, after all, their lifeline – are being used and managed.”
Forests support 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity that provides us with food, medicines and many other services that are essential to our lives. They are globally important in regulating climate and locally important in sustaining communities and supporting biodiversity.
But with unsustainable logging, and agriculture and biofuel producers competing for land, forests, and the people who depend on them, are under increasing pressure. As a result, about 13 million hectares of forests are lost every year and we're losing about 200 square kilometres of forest each day.
Improved, locally-controlled management of forests that would involve forest-dependent communities could help curb deforestation and illegal logging and restore around 1.2 billion hectares of deforested or degraded areas.
It could also significantly improve the quality of life of those communities.
With more ownership and an increased role in the management of forest resources, communities would be in a better position to start businesses based on forest products. Such income opportunities could then lead to improved food security, investments in children’s education as well as increased engagement in community and social improvement activities.
“On this World Environment Day, let us seize the opportunity to improve the quality of life for more than one billion of the world’s poorest people and, at the same time, significantly contribute to the conservation of forests and their biodiversity,” says Marton-Lefèvre.