“Reconnecting people with their nearby forests can help encourage more healthy lifestyles, as well as enhance support for forest conservation”
IUCN European Regional Office explores the issues around forest ecosystems and the contributions they can make to global challenges such as climate change in the context of its work for the SINCERE project on forest ecosystem services.
How can innovation in forest ecosystem services help fight climate change, biodiversity loss and other challenges?
Forests and other nature-based solutions for climate change, such as wetlands, can provide over one third of the climate change mitigation needed by 2030. Conserving and restoring forest landscapes is not only a cost-effective way to mitigate climate change, but it also means that many other benefits are provided to local communities and wider society. Healthy forests filter sediments and pollutants from rainwater runoff, protecting the quality of rivers and lakes, including drinking water sources. One third of the world’s largest cities source a significant amount of their drinking water from protected forests. Restoring forest ecosystems, with appropriate species and connectivity between habitats, is critical for biodiversity – approximately 29% of assessed forest species are threatened with extinction, according to IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. Finding innovative ways to manage and restore forests to absorb carbon dioxide, along with the wide range of other benefits from forests, is crucial if we are to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and global biodiversity targets.
What are the main challenges, barriers and opportunities related to forests?
Forests are increasingly threatened by a wide range of pressures, including deforestation, land-use change and invasive alien species, as well as severe droughts and wildfires that are made worse by climate change. In the period 2007 to 2012, only 26% of forest species and 15% of forest habitats listed in the EU Habitats Directive were in favourable conservation status across EU Member States. This is cause for concern as these habitats provide for threatened species and for the genetic diversity of tree species, which has implications for adapting to climate change.
We must continue to innovate to bring together different policy areas and stakeholders to demonstrate and integrate the value of nature much more strongly, which will require good scientific evidence and better monitoring of the value of the services that forests provide.
Nevertheless, there is huge potential to restore degraded and deforested landscapes – underpinned by the Bonn Challenge to bring 150 million hectares of those landscapes into restoration by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030. It is estimated that achieving this restoration will produce approximately US$ 84 billion per year in global net benefits, including providing jobs and additional income for rural communities. Scotland has recently made the first European pledge for forest landscape restoration under the Bonn Challenge. But there is still scope to expand and strengthen sustainable forest management, as called for by the EU Forest Strategy, and to promote protection and restoration of European forests to protect biodiversity and mitigate climate change.
In your point of view, how can the SINCERE project be a part of the solution to address global environmental problems?
The SINCERE project is an important opportunity to develop novel business models and policies for forest ecosystem services. The knowledge that SINCERE provides will help to ensure that forest owners also benefit from forest management that tackles climate change, supports biodiversity and offers numerous other advantages. The way SINCERE is set up ensures that the local scale case studies can learn from each other and transfer that knowledge to policy makers, businesses and others across Europe and beyond. The project also gives us the chance to raise awareness amongst these stakeholders, as well as local citizens, of the benefits that forests provide for human wellbeing and our economy.
Can you describe your organisation’s role in SINCERE and why you got involved in the project?
IUCN European Regional Office is involved in the communications and dissemination of the project – for the moment we are concentrating on raising awareness of the benefits of forest ecosystem services, especially among citizens in the case study areas. Reconnecting people with their nearby forests can help encourage more active and healthy lifestyles, as well as enhance support for forest conservation. Later in the project, we will use our international network to ensure that the outcomes of SINCERE reach an audience beyond Europe and can be taken up in forest policy making.