Story | 07 Dec, 2023

Rooted in Health: The Contribution of Forests to National Biodiversity Plans

Forests, crucial for global biodiversity, play a vital role in public health. This brief urges policymakers to integrate health considerations into forest conservation efforts for a holistic approach to environmental and public health challenges through the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP).

Home to approximately 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, forests are essential for maintaining a healthy planet and our collective well-being.[1] Research shows that degraded forests pose significant risks to human health, including disease transmission and reduced air and water quality. Unsustainable exploitation of forest resources contributes to forest degradation and increases risks to public health and biodiversity. By conserving and restoring forests, we can significantly enhance public health and reduce health risks associated with forest biodiversity loss. 

Despite forests being essential for our health, their role in promoting human health is often overlooked in conservation and restoration efforts. The conservation and broader environment sectors are missing a key opportunity to engage with the health sector and mobilize support for forest conservation and restoration. In their national biodiversity plans, national governments linking forest conservation and restoration with human health can develop robust policies that mutually reinforce ecological conservation and health objectives. For example, leveraging health sector expertise could improve forest conservation and restoration public messaging, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation.

The conservation and restoration of forests can also be considered a cost-effective solution for preventive healthcare. Governments should consider investing healthcare spending towards protecting, managing, and conserving forests for potential long-term savings in health expenditure. One study found that protecting Amazon Indigenous territories and conserving forested areas could prevent over 15 million respiratory and cardiovascular cases annually, saving the Brazilian government approximately USD 2 billion in health costs.[2] Communities living in or near forests, including Indigenous Peoples, rely significantly on forest ecosystem services for their health. For example, forests provide traditional medicines; some studies suggest up to 50,000 plant species are used for medicinal purposes.[3] Efforts to conserve and restore forests will likely enhance the health and well-being of many Indigenous Peoples and other forest-dependent communities.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has developed the brief titled "Promoting Human Health through the Global Biodiversity Framework: Linking Forests and Human Health in National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs)." This document highlights the crucial interlinkages between forest ecosystems and human health, underscoring forests’ pivotal role in enhancing biodiversity and promoting public health.