The United Nations declared 21 March as the International Day of Forests in 2012. Since then, this day celebrates and raises awareness of the importance of all types of forests. On each International Day of Forests, countries are encouraged to undertake local, national, and international efforts to organise activities involving forests and trees, such as tree plantation campaigns. The Collaborative Partnership chooses the theme for each International Day of Forests on Forests, FAO.The theme for International Day of Forests 2020 is “Forest and Biodiversity - Too Precious to Lose” that illustrates the vital role of forest and biodiversity in poverty eradication, environmental sustainability, and food security as well as achieving sustainable development goals. This day illuminates the preciousness of forest and biodiversity in addressing global societal challenges such as water scarcity, food security, human health, disaster risk reduction, and climate change. Moreover, it states that sustainable management of all types of forests and biodiversity has to be put at the heart of unlocking the country’s environmental challenges for the benefit of current and future generations.
Forests cover about 33 percent of the Earth’s landmass, performing vital functions, for instance, improving air quality, provision of food, filtering and storing drinking water, providing timber and other raw materials, and providing medicines and materials for pharmaceuticals. Around 1.6 billion people, including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures, depend on forests for their livelihoods, medicines, fuel, food, and shelter. Forests are the most biologically diverse ecosystems on land, home to more than 80 per cent of the terrestrial species of animals, plants, and insects.
Biodiversity, the diversity within species on Earth, is essential to the well-being of our planet. Rich biodiversity serves numerous purposes, such as increasing ecosystem productivity, protecting freshwater resources, promoting soil formation, maintaining climate stability, and others.
Yet despite all of these priceless ecological, economic, social and health benefits, global deforestation and biodiversity loss continue at an alarming rate. For example, 13 million hectares of forest are destroyed annually. Deforestation accounts for 12 to 20 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
Biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in human history, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report shows. This report also indicates that past and on-going rapid declines in biodiversity, ecosystem functions, and many of nature’s contributions to people mean that most international societal and environmental goals, such as the SDGs, will not be achieved based on current trajectories. To these ends, the International Day of Forests 2020 conveys key messages for urgent action.
First, forests are home to about 80 per cent of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. The significance of sustainableforest managementis more urgent than ever before for the sake of reducing biodiversity loss. Since the loss of biodiversity is just as catastrophic as climate change, IPBES report states. Moreover, studies demonstrate biodiversity is key to action on climate change: mitigation and adaptation. A study in the journal ‘Nature’ offers the most persuasive evidence yet that biodiversity strengthens ecosystems, increasing their resistance to extreme climate events, and improving their capacity to stem climate change.Second, forests and woodlands are made of over 60,000 tree species, which are the lifeline of the human being. Trees have “mind-blowing” potential to tackle the climate crisis. Research shows trees (forests) are by far the most prominent and cheapest way to address the changing climate. A recent paper in the journal ‘Science’ entitled “the global tree restoration potential” explains the restoration of trees remains among the most effective strategies for climate change mitigation. However, planting trees is not a silver bullet for climate change; it should be a part of the inclusive action plan for the climate crisis. Planting trees is no substitute for natural forests. The country has to place emphasis on proforestation (i.e., protecting, restoring, and stewarding natural forests), afforestation, and reforestation. At the same time, it is crucial to consider, “are we planting the right trees — for the present, for the future?”
Third, more than a billion people depend directly on forests for food, shelter, energy, and income. Bangladesh’s forests have been encountering a plethora of human-made and natural (climatic)challenges. Bangladesh is among Asian countries with less forest area. Rohingya influx has been a new pressure for deforestation - they need eight hundred tons of fuelwood daily, FAO reports. Experts say Cox’s Bazar forestland may entirely disappear soon. Sundarbans plays an essential role in the national economy. It is the single largest source of forest produce in the country. Moreover, it serves as a natural shield against natural disasters. The government requires practical and scalable solutions for protecting all types of forests as well as securing the sources of people’s livelihoods.
Fourth, genetic diversity helps forests to cope with climate change and other threats. The greater the genetic diversity, the higher is the opportunity for resiliency to future climate change. Genetic diversity and biodiversity are dependent upon each other, the National Science Foundation finds. A pertinent question is why forest and tree genetic diversity matters? Answers include trees are the foundation species of the forest, different trees provide various goods and services, and forests and trees provide ecosystem services. Moreover, forest genetic diversity is crucial for enhancing landscape restoration efforts, providing nutrition all-year-round, and empowering women. Specific species conservation strategies (e.g., biological corridors) and forest management practices (e.g., dysgenic selection) are indispensable to strengthen forest genetic diversity.
Fifth, biodiversity is under serious threat from deforestation, forest degradation, and climate change. Bangladesh is exceptionally endowed with a wide variety of flora and fauna due to its unique geophysical location, which is maintaining a balanced ecosystem. For instance, the Sundarbans has around mammals 113, birds 628, reptiles 126, amphibians 22, 708 fishes, insects 2,493, mites 19, alges 164, and 4 species of echinoderms. However, due to human pressures, uncontrolled dredging, hydrological intervention, pollution, chemical fertilizers have been directly affecting habitat, biodiversity, and aquifer. Approximately, mammals 40, birds 41, reptiles 58, and amphibians 8 have been listed in red data book of threatened animals of Bangladesh, IUCN reports. More than 85 percent of the Modhupur forest has been cleared in the last 40 years. All-out actions for sustainable forest management (e.g., maintaining a stable forest land base, and strictly implementing regulations) need to be formulated and implemented.
And, sixth, managing forests sustainably, and restoring them when needed, is crucial for people, biodiversity, and climate. The country has to be fostered ‘sustainable forest management’ to provide a range of forest ecosystem goods and services at the local, national, regional, and global levels. The government must protect and restore the existing forest land. The respective authority must also realise that implementing (and reorienting) existing forest regulations are a sine qua non of growing intact forest ecosystems. Afforestation, reforestation, and proforestation require explicit support of the (updated) “Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan.”
In sum, revamping forest governance and effective and efficient implementation of it is a high expectation of the International Day of Forests 2020 in Bangladesh. The application of the governance approach requires a conducive policy and regulatory framework across sectors and institutions. Importantly, strengthened forest governance can only work where there is strong societal recognition of, and demand for, the multiple functions of forests and a willingness among policymakers to prioritise the long-term benefits of forests, over short-term economic gains.
The writer is an Associate Professor, Department of Agricultural Extension and Information System, Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University, Dhaka-1207.
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