Forests – from the boreal of North America and Eurasia to the rainforests of Latin America, South East Asia and Central Africa – are one of the most important ecosystems on earth. They house 80% of the planet’s known terrestrial species, support the livelihoods of billions of people and provide many of the products we consume in our daily lives. They produce 40% of the world’s oxygen; they soak up greenhouse gases – in so doing, reducing the effects of climate change; and they provide rainfall upon which crops and the food security of billions depend. However, forests are disappearing rapidly. Over the past 80 centuries about half of the world’s original forest cover has been lost – the pace of destruction has escalated in recent decades: now, every two days sees an area of forest the size of New York City cut down.
We are currently focusing on tropical rainforests which - despite covering less than two per cent of the earth’s surface - are home to at least half of the planet’s biodiversity and support the livelihoods of over a billion people. Their future is threatened by large-scale logging for timber and pulp and paper, conversion to agriculture and plantations, mining, subsistence farming and charcoal production.
Deforestation rates in Brazil are at their lowest since the 1970s and whilst deforestation remains worryingly high in Indonesia, NGOs and governments are trying to turn the situation around. However, there is a long way to go and as deforestation rates slow in some parts of the world, damaging activities ‘leak’ into others, particularly parts of West and Central Africa.
Governments in some resource-rich West and Central African countries are keen to attract foreign investment as they emerge from years of poverty-exacerbating conflict. Many focus on short-term development, meaning that there is a worrying trend towards massive land and water grabs across Africa. Already, close to 60 million hectares are under some form of selective logging concession in the Congo Basin. Many forests are now threatened by rapidly expanding agribusiness: proposed commercial palm oil concessions in the Congo Basin potentially cover 1.5 million hectares of land - an area ten times the size of London – threatening species rich forests and the livelihoods that depend on them. Mining for minerals and oil will certainly compound these threats. Corruption, weak governance, non-existent or ineffective land planning and a lack of secure land tenure and rights for local people combine to make these regions some of the most vulnerable to emerging industrial forest threats.
Our forests portfolio supports several important interventions: land use planning with biodiversity and livelihoods at its core; empowering people to secure their rights and protect their forests; capacity building, education and training to support a future generation of conservation leaders; improving transparency and knowledge across the board;piloting and learning from newer approaches such as community forests and forestry.
See the links to the right to read about our partners who are carrying out some of this work.