Forests: What future do we want?

Cover of Living Forests Report, Chapter 1.
© / Anup Shah / WWF
WWF’s Living Forests Report is part of an ongoing conversation with partners, policymakers, and business about how to protect, conserve, sustainably use, and govern the world’s forests in the 21st century.

Download the Living Forests Report, Chapter 2: "Forests & Energy"
As the world’s population grows and competition for land becomes more acute,  can we produce more bioenergy and still achieve WWF’s goal of no overall loss of forest area or forest quality – Zero Net Deforestation and Forest Degradation (ZNDD)?
Download the Living Forests Report, Chapter 3: "Forests & Climate"
Reducing forest loss helps people and ecosystems by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, sequestering carbon, preserving ecosystems services and maintaining intact, functioning forests that have the best chance of withstanding and adapting to climate change.
Download the Living Forests Report, Chapter 4: "Forests & Wood Products"
Can we produce more wood without destroying or degrading forests, in a world where competition for land and water is increasing? Our research suggests it’s possible, and that it could even be good for the planet. But it’s a challenge that spans the whole supply chain.

In 2000, tropical forests in our world looked about like this:

LFR11 rel=
Equatorial map showing forested areas in 2000.

If we did nothing, and carried on depleting our forests at the rate we do today, then by 2100, here's what we'd be left with:

LFR11 rel=
Equatorial map of forested area of the world in 2100 if we carried on at 2010 rates of deforestation.
WWF advocates Zero Net Deforestation and Forest Degradation (ZNDD) by 2020 as a target that reflects the scale and urgency with which threats to the world’s forests and climate need to be tackled.

Achieving ZNDD will stem the depletion of forest-based biodiversity and ecosystem services, and associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It addresses many targets of the Millennium Development Goals, Convention on Biological Diversity and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
ZNDD means no net forest loss through deforestation and no net decline in forest quality through degradation.

ZNDD: What does it really mean?

To understand what ZNDD would mean in practice, WWF developed the Living Forests Model with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). The model allows us to explore various global land-use scenarios. It calculates the effect of forces such as population growth and consumer demand, and describes possible consequences on key areas such as food production, climate change, biodiversity, commodity prices and economic development.

The Living Forests Model helps us understand the implications of certain choices, but also raises questions. As we seek answers, we must remember that models can’t account for the idiosyncrasies of real life. The model suggests:
  • It is possible to achieve ZNDD by 2020, through better governance, a shift to sound forest stewardship and more productive use of arable non-forest land. By failing to make that shift, we squander valuable forests.
  • Maintaining ZNDD after 2030, as population and incomes grow, requires forestry and farming practices that produce more with less land and water, and new consumption patterns that meet the needs of the poor while eliminating waste and over-consumption. With such changes, ZNDD can be maintained without creating shortfalls in food, timber, biomaterials or bioenergy.
  • Delaying ZNDD until 2030, or taking “half-measures”, would lead to huge and irreversible losses in biodiversity and ecosystem services.
  • To prevent runaway climate change, we need to address emissions from deforestation and forest degradation now; the longer we leave this, the harder it will become.
WWF aspires to a future where humanity’s global footprint stays within the Earth’s ecological limits and the planet’s natural resources are shared equitably. People everywhere can lead happy, healthy lives using their fair share of the Earth’s resources, leaving space for wildlife and natural landscapes.

We believe forests make a vital contribution to this vision. That's why we need to halt deforestation and forest degradation. 
Aerial view of an unpaved road dividing a soy (Glycine max) monoculture from the native Cerrado, in the region of Ribeiro Gonçalves, Piauí, Brazil.
© Adriano Gambarini / WWF-Brazil

Of course, there’s a gap between theory and practice, findings and solutions. Our analysis identifies 5 key issues that are crucial to achieving ZNDD and avoiding negative consequences:
  • Biodiversity: ZNDD should never be at the expense of biodiversity conservation; for example, agricultural expansion in highly biodiverse grasslands to take pressure off forests. Strategies should immediately prioritize forests with highest biodiversity, so these are not lost during the time it takes to achieve ZNDD.
  • Governance: ZNDD is only possible under good governance: forests with secure land tenure, effective laws and policies, and empowered communities whose rights are respected.
  • Market demand: much destructive forest use is encouraged by market demand, but markets can also drive better management. Incentives for high social and environmental standards in forestry and farming, and bans on trade in illegally sourced timber can help achieve this.
  • Lifestyle and consumption: crop and livestock production play a major role in forest loss. Strategies are needed to reduce food waste, meat and dairy intake, energy use and over- consumption among richer people, and to ensure poor people have the food, energy and materials they need to lead healthy, productive lives.
  • Local livelihoods: global plans must recognize local needs. ZNDD needs to be adapted nationally, regionally and locally to ensure that conservation doesn’t harm people’s welfare.

Conserving our forests is possible – and urgent.

But it won’t be easy.

We face some uncomfortable choices and trade-offs, and WWF doesn’t have all the answers.

But the questions raised in the Living Forests Report can’t be put off for another generation. The time to act is now.

More information

  • Gretchen Lyons

    Head, Conservation Communications

    WWF International,

    +41 22 3649043

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