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A reflection on World Wildlife Day: How forests sustain people and planet

Ecosystems offer food security, climate regulation and economic stability
A woman in a green dress holds firewood
A woman from the Callería Indigenous community in the Peruvian Amazon. CIFOR/Juan Carlos Huayllapuma

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This year, World Wildlife Day highlights the profound link between human wellbeing and nature, a connection emblematic of a way of life for Indigenous cultures around the world.

Indigenous communities represent less than 5 percent of the human population, but hold 25 percent of land tenure ownership which accounts for over 80 percent of the biodiversity left on earth. Forests and trees are central to this link.

At the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and World Agroforestry (ICRAF), scientists have spent decades investigating the connections between ecological integrity, sustainable use of forests and landscapes.

Forests sustain the livelihoods of over 1.5 billion people globally, most importantly Indigenous communities with deep local knowledge and historic ties with these landscapes. Forests provide numerous ecosystem services such as climate regulation through carbon sequestration through major associated carbon sinks such as forest peatlands.

The global challenges the planet faces, from biodiversity loss and environmental degradation to accelerating climate change, broken food systems and inequality, demand urgent action. Here again forests and trees play a critical role.

“Forests and woodlands have an important environmental role and provide essential services for hundreds of millions of people,” said Ivonne Higuero, secretary general of the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), in a statement. “They sustain the resources so many communities around the world rely on for their livelihoods, as well as the broader food security, climate regulation and economic stability for the entire world.”

The convention has shepherded WWD since it was established as an annual occasion by the U.N. General Assembly in 2013.

“Celebrating these livelihoods and seeking to learn from those who live directly from and within forests will allow us not only to highlight the critical importance of forests for humanity and for the planet, but also to discuss how we can make our relationship with them and all the wildlife species they harbor more sustainable,” Higuero said.

WWD also offers a chance to pause and reflect on other ways that humanity is integrally entwined with nature.

The devastating COVID-19 pandemic sounds a loud reminder of the critical need to conserve forested areas and landscapes. Scientists have hypothesized that the virus is zoonotic, originating in bats and passing through another animal, possibly a pangolin or a dog, before jumping to humans in a market in Wuhan, China.

Evidence demonstrates that land cover changes resulting from ecosystem fragmentation and degradation can be major drivers of the emergence or re-emergence of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19 and Ebola.

The need to recognize and harness Indigenous knowledge in the management of forested landscapes is more important than ever to ensure that the ultimate aims of the U.N Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030 and the  U.N Sustainable Development Goals are met.

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