Today, in an effort to focus the world’s attention on the need to increase the protection of forests — and make sure that their high importance for biodiversity conservation, climate stabilization and economic development is not undervalued — the U.N. launched the International Year of Forests.
Forests cover only 30 percent of our planet’s land area, yet they are home to 80 percent of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. They also sustain the livelihoods of 1.6 billion people, who directly depend on healthy forests for income. The trees, flowers, animals and microorganisms found in forests form a complex web of life; their interactions sustain some of our most basic needs, like clean air, healthy soils, medicines, crop pollination and fresh water.
The role of forests in stabilizing the climate must also be increasingly recognized, as emissions resulting from deforestation represent approximately 15 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, and standing forests are superior stores of carbon. In the words of Olivier Langrand, CI’s international policy chief, “Forests are being destroyed at an alarming rate to give room to pastures, agricultural land, mineral exploitation and sprawling urban areas, but by doing so we are destroying our own capacity to survive.”
In addition to their significance to biodiversity and climate stabilization, forests have been increasingly important in the provision of fresh water on a global scale. Over three-quarters of the world’s accessible fresh water comes from forested watersheds and two-thirds of all major cities in developing countries depend on surrounding forests for their supply of clean water.
“During this International Year of Forests, we strongly encourage countries to take a new look at the long-term value of managing and protecting their natural forests, which are globally important assets,” added Langrand. “Healthy forests are an important part of the natural capital and offer us the most cost-effective means of confronting the many environmental challenges of climate change and increased demand for forest products.”
To mark the occasion, CI has compiled a list of the 10 most at-risk forested hotspots around the world. These forests have all lost 90 percent or more of their original habitat, and each harbors at least 1,500 plant species found nowhere else in the world. If these forests are lost, those endemic species also will be lost forever. Close to one billion people who live in or around them rely on the natural resources these forest ecosystems provide. And, ultimately, we all rely on them; these 10 hotspots also store over 25 gigatons of carbon, helping us to cope with the already inevitable effects of climate change.
Here’s our ranking of the world’s 10 most threatened forested hotspots, listed by percentage of remaining original habitat:
|1||Indo-Burma (southern Asia)||5%|
|2||New Caledonia (Pacific Islands)||5%|
|5||Atlantic Forest (South America)||8%|
|6||Mountains of Southwest China||8%|
|7||California Floristic Province (U.S. and Mexico)||10%|
|8||Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa||10%|
|9||Madagascar & Indian Ocean Islands||10%|
|10||Eastern Afromontane (Africa)||11%|