Endangered forests

Fire clearances in the tropical rain forest in border regions of Cameroon and the Central African Republic

Almost one third of the Earth’s surface is covered by forest. Forests also provide a large proportion of humankind with their livelihoods. Yet although our civilisation depends on forests, we are destroying them. According to a report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on forest genetic resources, 7.6 million hectares of forest are destroyed every year.

The report notes that forest loss has slowed down compared to the 1990s, thanks for instance to increased reforestation efforts. The destruction of so-called "primary forest” is continuing, however, chiefly in the tropical zones of Africa, Asia and South America.

Deforestation is often irreversible. Since the entire biomass of a rainforest is contained in the plants and a relatively thin layer of humus, once deforestation occurs, the soils left behind are infertile. The loss of large areas of forest leads to soil erosion, flooding, mudslides and desertification. The impacts of deforestation on the global climate are particularly severe.

Politically neglected

River in the federal state of Amazonia, Brasil

For a long time, politicians paid insufficient attention to the special importance of forests for species diversity, the climate and ultimately human beings. This is reflected among other things in the poor availability of data. The FAO estimates that there is insufficient knowledge concerning genetic diversity and the socio-economic benefits of forests. This makes it difficult to take forward-looking political decisions on their protection and sustainable management. Only recently have efforts been made to systematically capture such data, and place forests right at the top of the international political agenda.

Harmonising economic interests with forest protection

A worker in Indonesia sorting through used tropical timber

Nonetheless, many countries have recognised these dangers resulting from deforestation, and are endeavouring to protect their forests. The industrialised countries have largely succeeded in halting the destruction of their forests. According to the FAO, positive economic development is one of the main preconditions for enabling countries to protect their forests. At the same time, a growing economy also poses a threat to the forest, for instance when valuable raw materials are stored beneath it.

For the future, strategies are therefore needed to reconcile macroeconomic development with the protection and sustainable use of forests. Germany is assisting its partner countries in drawing up and realising such strategies through a wide variety of development programmes.

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