Benefits of forests

Why forests are so important to us and to the world.

Benefits of forests

Forests play a critical role for the global environment, population and economy. Besides alleviating the effects of climate change and natural disasters, they represent some of the richest biological areas on Earth. They also provide food, renewable raw materials for many of our products, and livelihoods for millions of people.

Climate change and natural disasters

Trees are a renewable resource that can replenish themselves. Sustainable forest management ensures that young trees are planted when old ones are harvested.

Forests can mitigate climate change. By capturing and storing carbon, forests remove significant volumes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. A tree will continue to store carbon after it has been harvested and used – furniture and wooden homes can store carbon for hundreds of years. That is why it is so important to use wood-based products.

Sustainably produced wood and paper-based goods are a wise, renewable and environmentally friendly choice compared to other materials such as plastics, which alone, use 4% of the total global oil production. Similarly, energy production from forest-based wood and biomass can replace other more greenhouse-gas intensive products, such as oil and coal.

Forests also influence nature’s capacity to cope with natural hazards, acting as barriers against heavy rains, flooding and strong winds. They help control or reduce the risk of soil erosion, landslides and avalanches. Forests therefore have an important role in protecting the homes and communities (FAO) of animals and people, and they help to maintain the environmental conditions needed for agricultural production.

 

Biodiversity

Biodiversity is a term used to refer to the diversity of life on earth.

Forests are among the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet and are home to about 80 percent of the world’s land-based animals and plants (FAO). Thanks to their presence and interaction, ecological processes such as pollination, seed dispersal and soil fertilization can take place.

Biodiversity forms the basis of many of the values and services that society derives from forests, including food, fibre, biomass, wood and shelter for people and wildlife.

Water and soil

Forests play a key role in the protection of the world's water resources and in the global water cycle. Much of the world’s drinking water comes from forested areas, and millions of people depend on high-quality freshwater flowing from forests (FAO).  

About one-third of the world’s largest cities obtain a significant proportion of their drinking water from forested protected areas. FAO

Forests absorb water as direct rainfall from the atmosphere and through their roots from the ground. Through a process of evapo-transpiration, they then re-release water to the atmosphere. Without this process, a key part of the global water cycle would be interrupted, resulting in increased drought and desertification.

Through stabilization of soil, forests minimize erosion and reduce the impairment of water quality due to sedimentation. Woodlands protect water bodies and watercourses by trapping sediments and pollutants from other up-slope land uses and activities. 

Forests also help to maintain nutrient cycling in the soil. Soil contains a myriad of organisms, such as earthworms, ants, termites, bacteria and fungi. This soil biodiversity helps regulate pest and disease occurrence in agricultural and natural ecosystems, and can also control or reduce environmental pollution.

“Forested watersheds supply 75 percent of the world’s accessible fresh water for domestic, agricultural, industrial and ecological needs”

Indigenous people and social issues

Forests have numerous social benefits, ranging from indigenous peoples’ rights to contributions to sustainable livelihoods, rural development, and local employment.

Forests contribute to the livelihoods of some 1.6 billion people worldwide, including 60 million indigenous people who are fully dependent upon them. Fuelwood and charcoal are the main sources of energy for an estimated two billion people around the world. Two billion people also rely on traditional medicines from forests for their health. 

Forest-based activities such as hunting and fishing provide over 20% of household protein requirements in developing countries. Non-timber forest products such as fruits, vegetables and mushrooms are important components of the diet in rural areas, especially for poor households or during times of food shortage.

Forests also contribute significantly to national and regional economies. In developing countries, forest-based enterprises provide about 13–35% of all rural non-farm employment, that’s equivalent to 17 million formal sector and 30 million informal sector jobs (IUFRO). In some developed countries, such as Canada, Sweden, Finland and parts of the United States, where the forestry sector is a major part of the rural economy, the forest sector is an important contributor to rural development (FAO).

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