2020: A “Super Year” for forests

WWF has declared 2020 a super year for nature. Forests provide extraordinary opportunities for nature-based solutions with the potential to curb the rising tide of environmental loss.

Tree stands alone in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Photo: Sarah Feder

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has declared 2020 as a “super year” for nature. For many reasons, it needs to be. As the climate crisis intensifies, its impacts are impossible to ignore. Global biodiversity loss, extreme weather events, blazing wildfires: all add urgency to the warnings that the scientific community has been giving for years.

Alongside these dire reminders that action is needed, 2020 heralds a new decade, with world leaders poised to take key decisions on the environment, climate and sustainable development. The super year sets the stage for resetting the global agenda so that the next series of international meetings and frameworks for biodiversity and climate action could mark a decisive moment where we start reversing nature loss, and begin restoring it.

To act boldly in the new decade, many global players are turning to nature itself for solutions. As the UN Environmental Programme puts it, “nature-based solutions offer the best way to achieve human well-being, address climate change and protect the planet.”

Forests are among the ecosystems most impacted by climate change and biodiversity loss, and yet they also provide some of the most promising solutions. Over the inaugural year on MedForest, we have highlighted stories from across the Mediterranean that demonstrate the importance and great potential of forests in the face of these challenges. Here, we present some of the most powerful messages from our top-read articles of 2019.

Forests worldwide play an important role in both capturing and storing carbon. In urban areas, forests provide socially and economically significant services like cooling ambient temperatures, and filtering pollution from the air and water. Trees can also help communities adapt to threats that are exacerbated under climate change; both in urban areas, such as by reducing flood risk, and in rural areas, including by generating income for rural households and supporting grazing in longer (and drier) dry seasons.

Harnessing the power of forest landscapes is not so simple as planting more trees, even if a surge of tree-planting efforts in 2019 have brought international attention to the role of forests in the face of climate change. Yet what is really needed is a more holistic, landscape-level view of resilience and nature-based solutions. For example, in the case of wildfire, rural abandonment and a buildup of fuels in fire-prone regions can actually increase the risk of extreme fire events. Resilient landscapes can thus be strengthened, at least in part, by lifting up rural areas, and closely managing the economic value of forests.

One of the most compelling nature-based solutions in our arsenal is the bioeconomy, with forests as its cornerstone in Europe. The forest bioeconomy has the potential to strengthen resilience to climate change, reinvigorate Europe’s depopulated rural areas, and promote the sustainable use of forest goods and resources. An important component of this concept lies in realising the potential of non-wood forest products, which constitute a valuable and often underrated segment of forest goods and services. The bioeconomy concept has been embraced as a holistic, long-term solution to revitalise rural areas while continuing to provide for human needs in Europe and beyond.

2019 also saw various commitments to proactive forest policy, with first National Report on the State of Forests and Forestry in Italy, steps toward achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement taken at Mediterranean Forest Week, engaged research on how social innovation can contribute to improved forest governance, and new insights on how policy can holistically address growing threats to forests, like wildfire. As EFI Director Marc Palahí wrote in an open letter to the world’s Heads of States to express the need for an Earth Forest Summit, “the benefits of our forests transcend national boundaries, our strategies and actions should too transcend them.”

In the “Super Year” to come, the world will attempt to agree on a new global biodiversity framework, to renew and strengthen commitments on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and to take bold, decisive action on climate change. Our choices, too, as a society, as organisations and as individuals are critical.

As we continue to uncover the challenges we face and look to nature for the solutions to fix them, we must all boldly take up the opportunity we have now to adapt our actions so that all humans and the environment can thrive. And at MedForest, we look forward to another year of great forest stories that can each play their part in making 2020 truly super.

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Sarah Feder
Sarah Feder, based at EFI's Mediterranean Facility, has a particular focus on the socioeconomic dimensions of wildfires in Mediterranean forests. Sarah is also a member of the EFIMED Communications team, contributing articles to this platform and the EFI website. She has a Master of Science in Human Geography from Lund University in Sweden.