Today on #Biodiversity Day, Trillion Trees is giving a shout out to #Forests.
By John Lotspeich, Executive Director, Trillion Trees
Forests host more than half of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity (that we know about — probably much more) and are strongholds of communities who have long understood how to live in harmony with #nature, and continue to offer enormous #climate benefits if we can manage to protect and restore them.
If you’re reading this blog you probably already know much of that, but even so, we think it’s important to not just always think in global terms, but to give real examples of where good things are happening, and where the news isn’t so good, to better understand what we need to do.
So we’re taking the time to focus on five special landscapes — the Atlantic Forest on the east coast of Latin America, the Maya Biosphere in Central America, the Congo Basin, and the rich and diverse forests of Madagascar and Indonesia.
Why these five?
Put simply these forests are some of the most precious places on earth that not only cannot afford to be lost, but urgently need to be restored if we are to avoid dangerous climate and biodiversity tipping points. These five forests tick both boxes — and more — in multiple ways.
Most crucially, these forest landscapes are home to and provide livelihoods for millions of people — who live with and within these landscapes for food, medicines and jobs. When forests disappear, so do life opportunities for thousands of people.
On a local level these forests from a fundamental part of the structure of these particular landscapes, providing watershed protection for local communities, maintaining the quality of soil so that food can be grown and preventing natural disasters such as landslides.
But let’s take a look at each in turn ….
The Atlantic Forest
Recently made a UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration flagship landscape, the Atlantic Forest of South America is an incredible collection of eco-regions with biodiversity rivalling the Amazon. There are thousands of unique #species not found anywhere else — including around 8,000 plant species and 200 types of birds. Ten of those birds are critically endangered — some down to just a few surviving adults. Two endemic bird species became extinct in just the past 20 years. The forest also supplies water for people and nature, countering and building resilience to climate change and helping create jobs. But there is incredible momentum to bring this forest back, and you can read more about it here.
The Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR)
The MBR forms the heart of the largest intact forest in Mesoamerica — the Selva Maya, linking Guatemala, Mexico and Belize. The cultural significance of the area is immense — it holds the epicentre of the ancient Maya civilisation and its spectacular abandoned cities. It is home to endangered species such as the jaguar, and the Central American spider monkey. There are also around 500 bird species — including the iconic scarlet macaw.
The area has seen forest loss of more than 10,000 hectares (almost 20 football fields) per year over the past decade. One of the biggest challenges is illegal cattle ranching, exacerbated by the fact that this is sometimes used as a front for organised crime and drug trafficking. Governance is in the most part inadequate to the challenge. Only 67% of the reserve now remains intact — time is running out to save this critical landscape.
The Indonesian archipelago
Indonesia is home to one of the largest tropical forests in the world which harbours countless species, including over 25,000 species of flowering plants and many critically endangered animals, such as the Sumatran tiger and orangutan.
Local communities are highly dependent on the forest for water catchment, agroforestry and ecosystem services. In December last year, the Indonesian government for the first time put state forest into the custody of Indigenous communities in the eastern region of Papua, covering a combined area the size of New York City.
This is a milestone in putting forests back into the hands of indigenous peoples — which, evidence shows, lowers deforestation rates, and better protects biodiversity.
Madagascar is like nowhere else on Earth. It is home to incredible endemic biodiversity — more than 80% of Madagascar’s plants and animals are unique to the island, including many species of the iconic lemur, the puma-like fossa and the radiated tortoise.
A recent report predicts that it could take millions of years to recover from species extinctions on the island, leading to a deep evolutionary impact.
The rainforest is also of crucial importance for people. Degradation of lands for agriculture has affected rainfall levels. Recent severe droughts have had a catastrophic effect and devastating storms caused by climate change have caused widespread damage.
In 2019, Madagascar’s government made reforestation a national priority, pledging to restore 40,000 hectares annually. WCS’s work in the Makira Natural Park involves local community groups to help restore this lush, uniquely biodiverse rainforest through reconnecting forest patches to increase the resilience of the landscape. In BirdLife International’s work in the Tsitongambarika forest, local people are again central to the initiative.
The Congo Basin
The world’s second largest tropical rainforest is in the heart of the African continent.
It spans c. 210 million hectares of forest cover and six countries in central Africa. This forest’s role in the stabilisation of the global climate is globally critical, and the biodiversity within it is vast. The forests of the region support the livelihoods of more than 75 million people.
Quite simply it is the forest we shouldn’t lose in the way we are struggling to not lose the Amazon.
We must stay the course to deliver the COP26 pledge to the Congo Basin countries to cap forest lost through reduction in deforestation and by restoring eight million hectares of degraded land and forests.
This is the place where we can see local communities lead the way, with international financial support to place 30% of national areas under a protection status, and deliver incalculable benefit to the planet.
A global call to action
The world is marshalling its forces, but we are not on track to deliver the pledges we’ve already made.
It’s our hope that by focusing on specific #Forests2Follow — and the solutions that are working within them — that we can help individuals, forest actors and the global climate action community to make better choices and investments in our natural world.