Forests are a fundamental asset to achieve Goal 15, “Life on Lands”
“You are the last, best hope of Earth. We ask you to protect it. Or we, and all living things we cherish, are history.” — Leonardo DiCaprio, United Nations, 2016
Goal 15, "Life on Lands," was established with the aim of preserving and restoring the use of terrestrial ecosystems by 2030.
Although often overlooked, forests represent a fundamental asset in the effort to address this goal. Covering 30.7 percent of the Earth’s surface, they are an important source to combat climate change, protect biodiversity, and increase land productivity. They also provide food security and shelter to several animal species and indigenous populations.
Although many countries are taking steps to implement sustainable forest management plans, the severity of the situation requires a radical transformation of our relationship with natural resources. According to the U.N., deforestation and desertification are indeed posing major challenges to the achievement of Goal 15. The growing intensity of wildfires and their spread to new corners of our planet, largely witnessed this year in particular, has resulted in the loss of huge portions of forest soil, raising fears that climate change is worsening the dangers.
But what exactly are the causes of the increasing rate of deforestation and wildfires? A report given last week by Kendra Pierre-Louis, environmental journalist with the New York Times, provides significant insights to answer this question.
According to the report, deforestation in the Amazon area was on the decline between 2004 and 2012. However, this pattern changed in 2013, and last year, deforestation rates started to increase again. Instead of implementing protective policies, the Brazilian government is supporting the expansion of the farming industry and denying protection to indigenous groups that live in the forest.
A similar trend is playing out in Southeast Asia, where 71 percent of peat forests have been lost across Sumatra, Borneo, and peninsular Malaysia since 1990. In many cases, the forests have been replaced by palm oil-producing farms.
In California, as well as the entire Western and Southeastern U.S., wildfires are caused by what researchers define as “fire-adapted ecosystems,” which indicates that some landscapes have evolved over time to not only tolerate fire but also need it to release seeds.
A comparable situation that has recently drawn the world’s attention can be seen in Sub-Saharan Africa, where rising temperatures, decreased rain, and logging have made forests more vulnerable to "out-of-control" blazes. Decreased rain amounts and logging make soil drier and forests less dense, and thus more vulnerable to fire.
Perhaps surprisingly, wildfires also broke out this summer in the Arctic region, particularly in Alaska, Greenland, and Siberia. Even in this part of the globe, fires are due to rising temperatures that dry out plants and make them more likely to ignite.
As pointed out by Kendra Pierre-Louis, the severity of the situation lies not only in the fact that fires are striking new places and destroying huge portion of forest soils but also because they can accelerate climate change by adding significant amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
In order to promote the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems and forests, combat desertification, reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss, countries around the world should implement targets suggested by the U.N.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s message about the importance of taking action when it comes to environmental causes is perhaps the best concluding thoughts highlighting the urgency of the current situation.
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