Forests are vital for safeguarding and regulating the climate, enhancing urban health and sustainability, and achieving of the Sustainable Development Goals. Covering one third of land globally, forests sustain life everywhere and are a home to 80 percent of land-based wildlife. More than 1.6 billion people depend on forests for food, water, fuel, medicine, traditional cultures and livelihoods and forests generate $720 million for global economies.
This year’s theme for the International Day of Forests is “Forests and Sustainable Cities” and it is a global celebration of the importance of woodlands and trees for protecting and sustaining life on earth, especially in urban areas. Urban forests have been shown to provide a diverse array of human health and social benefits to people in living in cities: from improving physical activity, to reducing crime rates, to decreasing stress levels and supporting social cohesion – all qualities especially valuable considering the estimation that two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2030.
Forests further provide urban areas with improved water security and air quality. Trees and vegetation can help manage storm-water runoff, reduce erosion, and protect water resources. Currently, more than three-quarters of the world’s accessible freshwater comes from rivers in or around forests and about one-third of the world’s largest cities obtain a substantial proportion of their drinking water from forested areas. Cities can further improve their water security by protecting forests while also generating other benefits like recreation space and improved air quality. Trees absorb pollutants in the air, such as sulfur dioxide and ozone, which improves overall air quality, and also help lower air temperatures through evaporation, thereby helping to reduce energy demands and make urban areas more inhabitable for people and wildlife. Globally, the value of the benefits that urban forests provide is calculated at over $500 million per year.
While the benefits from forests are vast for humans and wildlife, investment in forests remains insufficient. For example, public international finance for agriculture in deforestation countries is nearly 40 times greater than mitigation finance for forestry. Land accounts for only a small percent of the finance in climate change mitigation, but forests have the potential to provide one third of the cost-effective natural climate solutions mitigation needed to hold warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Forests are one of the most efficient and cost-effective climate solutions and cannot be overlooked if we want to achieve our global climate commitments as well as accelerate our ambition to alleviate poverty, enhance food, energy and water security, and improve livelihoods and community welfare.
In response to the growing international commitment to forests and recognition of forests as a key piece of the climate solution, the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) was launched at the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit in September 2014. The NYDF is a shared commitment to achieve ten goals to help end deforestation by 2030, protect and restore forests, and eliminate deforestation from private-sector supply chains by 2020. The NYDF has grown to more than 190 endorsers across countries, companies, communities and NGOs and integrates goals expressed in a number of individual pledges and agreements, including the Paris Agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals, the Bonn Challenge, the 2020 Strategic Plan on Biodiversity, climate and forest financing pledges, and supply chain commitments.
Multi-stakeholder commitment and action is essential for realizing these ambitious goals, which, if achieved, would eliminate emissions of between 4.5 and 8.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year. That is equivalent to removing the carbon emissions produced by approximately one billion cars.
The Global Platform for the New York Declaration on Forests is committed to accelerating achievement of the ten global goals by:
- Providing a multi-stakeholder platform to convene and facilitate dialogue and collaboration across sectors,
- Sharing best practices, resources, and lessons learned to strengthen forest action implementation,
- Forging new partnerships, and
- Supporting monitoring and awareness of challenges and progress.
The NYDF is currently open for endorsement and we are dedicated to engaging actors committed to forest and climate action and those with broad potential for impact including cities, faith groups, the extractive industry, airlines and more. With its cross-sectoral reach, the NYDF is an acknowledgement that the key to successful forest and climate action lies in multi-stakeholder collaboration. We hope you will join us in this collective commitment to end deforestation and protect and restore the forests that sustain us all.
About the Author
Nicole DeSantis is the Programme Specialist & Policy Adviser of the
UNDP's Global Platform for the New York Declaration on Forests, in New York.
Follow her on Twitter at @nicoledesant
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