Forests are a necessity for life on earth, providing habitats for up to 80% of the terrestrial biodiversity and preventing soil erosion, desertification, and land degradation. They also play a vital role in maintaining global climate stability, absorbing 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon emissions per year. Nevertheless, 5.2 million hectares of forest are lost on an annual basis. These alarming facts are indicative of the crisis that is facing the world’s forests as a result of unsustainable land-use and the over-exploitation of forest resources.
The long-term effects of destroying our forests are numerous and severe. A lack of effective stewardship leads to the loss of habitats for millions of species, a disruption of water cycles and the destruction of homes and livelihoods as well as contributing to climate change. Effective forest management is therefore key to passing on healthy forests to future generations.
National forest policies must integrate considerations of agriculture, biodiversity conservation and social justice as well as being supported by effective institutions. Future-just policies can have a beneficial impact on the environment and livelihoods of both present and future generations if they address these complex cross-sector challenges on the ground. Such exemplary policies do exist, yet they need wider legally binding implementation if the destruction of our forests is to be reversed. Ultimately, the health of our forests is synonymous with the health of our planet.
The UN General Assembly defines sustainable forest management as a ‘dynamic and evolving concept that aims to maintain and enhance the economic, social and environmental value of all types of forests, for the benefit of present and future generations.’ The United Nations Forum on Forests targets a reversal of the loss of forest cover worldwide through sustainable forest management (SFM) including protection, restoration, afforestation and reforestation, and an increase in efforts to prevent forest degradation as one of the Global Objectives on Forests.
Illegal logging and the international trade in illegal timber has been recognised as a major global problem in environmental, social and economic terms, particularly for timber-producing countries of the developing world. It causes environmental damage, costs producer countries billions of dollars in lost revenue, promotes corruption, and undermines the rule of law and good governance. Consumer countries contribute to these problems by importing timber and wood products without ensuring that they are legally sourced.
Community involvement in forest management can play a vital role in tackling forest degradation and fostering the conservation of our remaining forest lands. Secure forest tenure, often a key advantage of community-based management, can also contribute significantly to community livelihoods and poverty alleviation. Worldwide, the livelihoods of over 1.6 billion people depend on forests while about 60 million people, mainly members of indigenous and local communities, reside in forests.
Institutional and policy arrangements for forest tenure and management have undergone significant changes and reform over the past decades. Limited rights to access and utilisation of forest resources can result in disengagement from forest protection, the unchecked spread of forest fires, and unsustainable practices such as illegal logging and forest clearances for agriculture and settlement.
Celebrating the world's best forest policies
In the International Year of Forests 2011 the World Future Council presented its Future Policy Award to the National Forest Policy of Rwanda. To learn about these awarded as well as other exemplary policies that contribute to the conservation and sustainable development of forests, download our brochure.