12 reasons why forests are important

Forests may not often be at the forefront of our minds, but they surely are of inestimable value. In fact they are crucial to be able to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We list 12 reasons why they are so important.

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Two people walking in the woods

© iStock

1. Forests provide jobs and incomes

The economic value of the services provided by forests worldwide is estimated at 16.2 trillion dollars. In addition to the supply of clean water and air, these services include numerous indispensable products, including wood (construction, furniture, paper, energy, etc.), resins, fruits, honey, ingredients for medicines, cosmetics, detergents… to name just a few. They also have a role to play in tourism. On top of that, forest are said to create jobs for more than 13 million people. It is also important to note that about a third of the world's population still depends on forests and trees for their daily needs, especially for cooking and heating.

Timber frame house

Wood is only one of the products that forests provide. © iStock

2. Forests host 80 % of all terrestrial biodiversity

All these animals, plants, fungi and bacteria provide essential services for nature and the survival of mankind. They also hold enormous economic significance.

3. Forests are vital to our health

As a guardian of terrestrial biodiversity, forests are a treasury of medicinal plants and pharmaceutical ingredients. Some 75 % of the most commonly prescribed medicines source their ingredients from forests. Not to mention the healing effects of clean water and air and a healthy walk in the woods. 

Okapi in forest

Forests host 80% of all terrestrial biodiversity. Here an opkapi. © Kim Gjerstadt

4. Forests give us oxygen

A single mature deciduous tree generates enough oxygen for two to ten people. Without oxygen, life as we know it would not be possible. Although the phytoplankton in the oceans accounts for at least half of the world's oxygen, forests thus also play a key role.

5. Forests account for 75 % of freshwater resources worldwide

Water is better absorbed into the soil thanks to trees and forests which improve groundwater recharge and feed springs and rivers. At high altitudes, cloud forests can extract moisture from fog and clouds.

6. Forests regulate precipitation worldwide

Normal rainfall patterns are heavily dependent on forests, not only because they massively evaporate water, but also because they emit biological particles such as pollen and fungal spores, which can serve as the nuclei of rain droplets or snowflakes. Coastal forests draw in moist air from neighbouring seas and carry it all the way into the drier inland regions, the effects of which can be felt over thousands of kilometres. Forests are therefore essential in times of climate change, when longer periods of drought occur more frequently.

Tribal people with face tattoos

A third of the world's population still depends on forests and trees for their daily needs. © WWF

7. Trees and forests are natural cooling systems

Under the crests of trees and forests, the temperature is noticeably lower than in open areas or in the city, as trees use solar energy to evaporate moisture, which has a cooling effect. A single tree displays a cooling effect similar to the aircons of two average households. As a result, the surface temperature of forests can be up to 20 degrees cooler than that of buildings or road asphalt.

8. Forests slow down global warming

After oceans, forests are the world’s largest carbon sink. More forests means less CO2 in the air and less global warming. This comes on top of the natural cooling effect of forests (see point 7). Approximately 18 % of current global warming is due to loss of forests.

River in mangrove forest in Thailand

Mangrove forests protect the coast from tsunamis. © Shutterstock

9. Forests protect us from disasters

Floods are less common in areas where forests grow. One reason for this is that, during heavy rainfall, much more water seeps into the soil, instead of flowing directly into the rivers. Mangrove forests protect the coast from tsunamis. Forests also reduce the risk of landslides, avalanches and sand storms.

10. Forests and trees grow on more fertile soils

Thanks to forests and trees, fewer fertile soil particles flow away during precipitation. The roots of trees bring nutrients from the deep soil to the surface, while fallen leaves feed the soil and ground-dwelling animals.

Dog rose bush, red berries on bush

Forests are a treasury of medicinal plants and pharmaceutical ingredients. © Shutterstock

11. Forests purify soil, water and air

Not only houseplants, but also forests purify the air of pollutants, including carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and fine dust. They can also help purify contaminated soils.

12. Forests contribute to our well-being

Green makes you happy, and forests even more so. Taking in the atmosphere of a forest calms us down.

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