“Why are forests important?
We have long known that forest resources are essential to the daily lives of about a billion people worldwide. Households located near forests in many tropical countries derive about a quarter of their income from forest products. Trees provide timber for construction of houses and boats, and fuel wood and charcoal for cooking and heating homes. Forests also provide a wide variety of non-timber forest products, such as medicinal plants, and honey, gums and resins, wild fruits and nuts, rattan and mushrooms. In rural parts of the Congo Basin, many communities depend on wild meat for up to 80 percent of the fats and proteins in their diets. Deforestation, therefore, is a major threat to these people’s livelihoods.
Tropical forests harbor much of the world’s biological diversity, including wild relatives of important food crops. Maintaining that reservoir of diverse genetic material will be important as a source of resilience in the face of climate change and the need for species to adapt to changing conditions.
It is only in more recent years that society has begun to appreciate the full range of environmental services that forests provide, because in most cases, they are not valued by markets, and remain uncounted in economic statistics. These include helping to support agriculture – for example through the pollination services of forest-dwelling bees and hydrological regulation, such as moderating droughts and floods and providing water for agriculture. Most recently, people have started to realize the significance of the ecosystem service provided by forests of sequestering carbon, which turns out to be a critical component of any solution to climate change. A significant portion of global greenhouse gas emissions comes from deforestation and forest degradation, and we cannot meet global targets of keeping global warming at less than two degrees centigrade without reducing the rate of deforestation.”