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Saving forests for future generations on #IntlForestDay and beyond

March 21, 2016

Acting as natural water filters, forested watersheds along with wetlands supply 75 percent of the world’s accessible freshwater. About one-third of the world’s largest cities obtain a significant proportion of their drinking water directly from forested protected areas. Forests also conserve water by increasing infiltration, moderating floods, and enhancing precipitation. Photo via Shutterstock.

These days, one might think understanding the importance of forests for our planet should not be hard - even a fifth grader knows that forests are the lungs of the Earth. Yet despite this common knowledge, the world’s forest area continues to decrease at alarming rate due to the expansion of agriculture, timber production, urbanization, and road construction.  According to the last Global Forest Resources Assessments released last year by FAO, each year more than 7 million hectares of natural forests are lost and 50 million hectares of forestland are burned.

Since 2013, the International Day of Forests (IDF) is held annually on March 21 to raise awareness of the importance of forests to people. This year, the theme chosen for the IDF is the role of forests in supplying freshwater.

Acting as natural water filters, forested watersheds along with wetlands supply 75 percent of the world’s accessible freshwater. About one-third of the world’s largest cities obtain a significant proportion of their drinking water directly from forested protected areas. Forests also conserve water by increasing infiltration, moderating floods, and enhancing precipitation.

But availability and quality of fresh water in many regions of the world is increasingly endangered by overuse, misuse and pollution, which makes forests more and more essential for life and for humanity.

To face this dangerous degradation of our vital environment, the Global Environment Facility is actively engaged in the development and the implementation of several important programs conducive to the protection, restoration and the sustainable management of significant areas of forests worldwide. Through these programs, the goal of the GEF is to maintain the range of environmental products and services derived from forests, including water resources, as well as enhancing sustainable livelihoods for local communities and forest dependent people. 

In the current replenishment cycle 2014-2018 the GEF will invest over $700 million in grants in a wide range of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) initiatives. The outcome target of this initiative is to reach 20 million hectares of forest landscapes under improved management. 

Some national projects that benefit from the SFM financing address specifically the nexus forest-water, as the project in Myanmar “Ridge to Reef:  Integrated Protected Area Land and Seascape Management in Tanintharyi”.

Myanmar is the jewel in the crown of Asia’s biodiversity. The country’s southern-most Tanintharyi Region is a relatively undeveloped area with high biodiversity and endemism that provides invaluable ecosystem services. Approximately 20% of Myanmar’s Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) are located in Tanintharyi. 

The whole Tanintharyi region, as well as a small part of the Mon and Kayin States, fall under the Sundaic Subregion Priority Corridor and are protected by the “Ridge to Reef:  Integrated Protected Area Land and Seascape Management in Tanintharyi” project. The corridor includes the largest areas of lowland wet evergreen forest remaining in the Indo-Myanmar (Indo-Burma) Hotspot. The Priority Corridor also includes a significant portion of coastline, a large number of offshore islands and significant areas of key wetland habitats, including mangrove and intertidal mudflats. Although the Priority Corridor has received little recent biological study, there are indications that it supports rich lowland evergreen forest communities and globally threatened wildlife, such as Asian tapir (Tapirus indicus) and plain-pouched hornbill (both are Vulnerable). 

The outstanding biodiversity of the Tanintharyi region is under increasingly severe threats. The lowland forests in the Tanintharyi Range Corridor that support significant populations of globally threatened species, such as the endemic Gurney’s pitta, are under immediate threats from land conversion to oil palm and rubber plantations. These and other initiatives do not only threaten the habitat, but also endanger the functioning of the Tanintharyi River watersheds, which discharge into the Andaman Sea. Any erosion in the watershed could lead to sedimentation and pollution impacting marine ecosystems in the Myeik Archipelago. Unsustainable and illegal logging, and illegal wildlife trade also pose major threats. 

GEF’s other key recent forest-related investments focus on specific region, stakeholders or issue to bring a more adapted and effective response to the forest degradation or loss. The Amazon Sustainable Landscapes Program is a regional program spanning Brazil, Colombia and Peru that benefits from a $113 million GEF grant and is expected to leverage $682 million in additional financing over five years. It aims to maintain 73 million hectares of forest land and promote sustainable land management in 52,700 hectares.

The Integrated Approach Pilot called “Taking Deforestation Out of Commodity Supply Chains” seizes the opportunity to change commodity production pathways by placing long-term sustainability at the heart of the supply chain. This initiative uses a $45 million grant from GEF in combination with $440 million in co-finance from a range of public and private sources to introduce sustainability measures in palm, soy and beef supply chains.

The program aims to bring 23 million hectares of land under sustainable management practices. The Moringa Agro-forestry Fund for Africa benefits from $13 million GEF grant with $50 million co-finance from African Development Bank, European Investment Bank, various national banks and investment funds, as well as the private sector.

One fundamental characteristic of the GEF is its unique position, as financial mechanism of the three Rio Conventions, to integrate the different drivers of the environment degradation and thus to maximize the possibility to support the maintenance of the multiple benefits of forests. The GEF is also actively engaged in global platforms such as the United Nations Framework on Forests (UNFF), to help developing countries find and establish a long term vision for their forests. 

In addition, the GEF is also a member of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, to find ways of improving forest management and conservation and the production and trade of forest products whilst forming increasingly close and valuable strategic partnerships with one another, benefiting from shared expertise and pooled resources.

GEF’s approach is fully aligned with current global efforts that address forests in a holistic manner and recognize the links between poverty alleviation and the sustainable management of forest resources.

Submitted by Pascal Martinez, Senior Climate Change Specialist, Programs Unit.