Forests cover around one-third of all land on Earth and breathe life into our world, but it’s not just the planet that suffers when they are destroyed.
Forsts are important for people's lives, homes and livelihoods and have a crucial role to play in tackling the biodiversity and climate crises.
Why forests are important for people
Have you had breakfast today? Sat on a chair? Written in a notebook? Blown your nose into a tissue? Forest products are a vital part of our daily lives in more ways than we can imagine, from obvious paper and wood products, to the by-products used in medicines, cosmetics and detergents.
Over 1.6 billion people depend on forests for food or fuel, and some 70 million people worldwide - including many Indigenous communities - call forests home. Forests provide us with oxygen, shelter, jobs, water, nourishment and fuel. With so many people dependent on forests, the fate of our forests may determine our own fate as well.
Forests help prevent erosion and enrich and conserve soil, helping to protect communities from landslides and floods and producing the rich topsoil needed to grow plants and crops. Forests also play an important role in the global water cycle, moving water across the earth by releasing water vapor and capturing rainfall. They also filter out pollution and chemicals, improving the quality of water available for human use. The destruction of forests has a knock-on effect on agriculture and can affect the production of the food we eat.
Human health is inextricably linked to forest health. Deforestation has serious consequences on the health of people directly dependent on forests, as well as those living in cities and towns, as it increases the risk of diseases crossing over from animals to humans. Meanwhile, time spent in forests has been shown to have a positive benefit on conditions including cardiovascular disease, respiratory concerns, diabetes and mental health.
Why forests matter for nature
As forests are home to over 80% of terrestrial biodiversity, including 80% of amphibians, 75% of birds and 68% of mammals. Deforestation of some tropical forests could lead to the loss of as many as 100 species a day. Our ability to stop biodiversity loss is heavily dependent on our ability to stop forest loss.
When we take away the forest, it is not just the trees that go. The entire ecosystem begins to fall apart, with dire consequences for all of us. Forests provide habitats for plants and animals, including some of our planet’s most iconic species like the tiger, giant panda, gorilla and orangutan.
Habitat loss is one of the main causes of biodiversity loss, as land that once was forest is cleared for other uses. Forest-dwelling wildlife populations (which include mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians) have declined on average by 69% since 1970, with tropical forests such as the Amazon the worst hit.
Why forests are so important for the climate
Forests are the largest storehouses of carbon after the oceans, as they absorb this greenhouse gas from the air and lock it away above and below ground. So, it is no surprise that when we cut down or damage our forests, we release huge amounts of carbon emissions that contribute to the climate crisis.
But forests are also important as they can help protect people and nature from the consequences of a warming world. As the impacts of climate change - including floods and storms from rising sea levels and increased precipitation - become more frequent and severe, forests can provide a crucial buffer for our communities.
Extreme events caused by climate change, such as more frequent wildfires, limit the ability of our forests to regenerate. At the same time, deforestation contributes to climate change by increasing the risk of fires. Stopping deforestation and restoring forests is a crucial part of climate action.
Posted on 21 Mar 2023
Call for proposals: modelling biodiversity and ecosystem services loss to advance resilience
WWF, Swiss Re Foundation, EY and AXA Research Fund launch a call for proposals in the light of a brand new Biodiversity and ...
Posted on 07 Nov 2022
WWF releases new stop-motion film that uses real fire to tell the story of the devastating effects of wildfires
"A Flammable Planet" uses an innovative combination of a highly flammable set and props to show how catastrophic fires affect ...
Posted on 24 Oct 2022
New Forest Declaration Assessment shows alarming trajectory of forest loss
World is not on track to meet 2030 targets for halting deforestation and restoring degraded land.