Why forests and biodiversity are important

Life on our planet is sustained by an interconnected web of nature: animals, plants, humans and other organisms all interacting with one another and the natural world around them, including forests, rivers, oceans, coastlines, and grasslands. It is this delicate balance of interactions within and between ecosystems which maintains the levels of biodiversity needed for the planet to thrive and for our very survival.

Tropical forests, like the Amazon, are home to diverse ecosystems, and many Indigenous Peoples and animal species. They play an essential role in regulating the climate, for example through oxygen production and carbon storage, and provide livelihoods for over a billion people.

Threats to forests and biodiversity

While biodiversity is constantly evolving, human activity impacts it greatly, causing alarming rates of decline in species and genetic diversity worldwide. Half of the world’s forests have disappeared. Privatisation, trade liberalisation and increased exports of meat and crops, such as soy and palm oil, have led to a massive increase in large-scale plantations, triggering further deforestation. Industrial agriculture fuels poverty by concentrating profits in the hands of transnational corporations, whilst forcing local communities into poorly-paid labour. The heavy use of pesticides and genetically-modified crops also causes water pollution, soil degradation, and a reduction in genetic diversity.

Biodiversity loss is driven by human activity, in the context of a globalised economic system based on endless extraction, production and consumption, with no respect for planetary boundaries. In fact humanity has so depleted biodiversity that around 1 million wild animal and plant species now face extinction, many within decades. As we face the sixth mega-extinction, urgent, “transformative change” is needed to prevent biodiversity collapse.

Solutions to biodiversity loss and deforestation

Humanity’s standard response to biodiversity is conservation – an approach based on preserving nature only so far as it contributes to us and our economy. This reduction of nature to “ecosystem services”, and the related processes of financialisation, strip nature of its intrinsic social, cultural and spiritual values, and contribute further to its destruction.

For centuries, Indigenous Peoples and local communities have lived in harmony with their natural environment. 80% of global biodiversity lies in the hands of Indigenous Peoples, whose traditional, community-based management methods are proven to be the most effective in conserving nature. Solutions like Agroecology and Community Forest Management or Indigenous Communities Conservation Areas (ICCAs) are more effective at preventing deforestation and biodiversity loss than officially protected areas.

Strengthening communities’ rights to defend their territories, ways of life and knowledge systems, and rejecting ‘false solutions’ are crucial to prevent further biodiversity loss and climate change.

Conservation mechanisms which exclude or harm local communities (such as ‘protected areas’) and schemes for carbon or biodiversity offsetting cause more harm than good. They lead to increased militarisation, corruption, and corporate land-grabbing, fuelling environmental destruction and violence, especially in the Global South.

We campaign at the international level, through the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, and at the national level in supporting our member groups to lobby for policy change and implement local solutions to protect forests and biodiversity. We work with local communities and Indigenous Peoples to conserve forests, and strengthen communities’ rights and community management of forests. We urgently need to protect the forests in our fight for a sustainable future for everybody.