Celebrate the Lungs of the Earth on 21st March, the International Day of Forests

Our species took its first steps in a world covered in trees. Today, forests offer us sustenance, shelter, and clean the air that we breathe.

Forests cover one-third of the Planet and play a crucial role for human beings. In fact, 1.6 billion people depend on them for their livelihoods. These ecosystems are also an incredible treasure trove of biodiversity, home to 80 per cent of terrestrial animal and plant species. Moreover, thanks to photosynthesis, forests are our best allies in reducing atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

International Day of Forests

In 2012, the United Nations established 21st March as the International Day of Forests, an occasion to raise awareness about the vital importance of all the trees that make up the Earth’s “green lung”.

Trees can absorb huge quantities of atmospheric carbon dioxide, lowering temperatures and playing a vital role in the fight against climate change © Ingimage

Despite the many environmental, economic, and social advantages, and the evidence that our survival is deeply intertwined with that of forests, our species is destroying this precious resource. Deforestation continues at an alarming rate, with over 13 million hectares of forests destroyed globally every year. The destruction of the Amazon, the planet’s last major green lung, has also been on the rise again.

“Deforestation is the second contributor to climate change after fossil fuels. Simply consider the fact that every year, two billion tonnes of CO2 are absorbed by trees, which act as a major carbon sink,” explains Douglas McGuire, Coordinator of the Forest and Landscape Restoration Mechanism at the FAO. In fact, 20 per cent of trees’ mass is made up of carbon.

forests, children
Having knowledge about forests is the first step in keeping them safe and healthy. This is why education is vital © Ingimage

There are many reasons to save our forests, but trying to give an economic value to a tree might actually be demeaning – like putting a price tag on a priceless resource. Trees are the most ancient living beings on the planet. When our species was in its infancy, trees had already been around for hundreds of millions of years, providing shelter from predators and giving us oxygen, food, and resources, just like they keep doing today. We need to protect them, at all costs.

Forest Restoration: a path to recovery and well-being

The 2021 edition is dedicated to forest restoration, promoting the sustainable management of these precious resources. A restorative approach to forests can be a powerful way of preserving our planet’s biodiversity, fighting climate change, and fostering economic activity, helping to create jobs and improve people’s lives. The theme chosen for this year is in keeping with the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, whose goal is to restore 350 million hectares of degraded land by 2030.

All over the world, people and institutions are invited to organise activities at the local, national, and international level to promote the safeguarding and restoration of forests and trees.

Previous editions

2020 – Forests and Biodiversity

The 2020 edition of the International Day of Forests was dedicated to the indissoluble union between forests and biodiversity. These ecosystems – home to four-fifths of terrestrial species – are severely threatened, given that we are witnessing what many scientists believe to be the sixth mass extinction in the planet’s history.

“The health of our ecosystems is declining at unprecedented speed and species extinction rates are accelerating,” declared UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “We must act quickly to reverse this. Safeguarding forests is part of the solution”.

2019 – Forests and Education

In order to safeguard and give value to our forests, we first need to know them. This is why the 2019 edition was dedicated to the importance of environmental education, using the motto “Learn to love forests“. Education plays a vital role in sustainable forest management and the protection of biodiversity. Knowledge generates respect and, often, love.

First of all, it’s important to teach children that safeguarding forests is crucial to our future and that their importance will only increase as the world population grows. Teachers and parents thus have a vital role in helping children feel connected to nature, fostering an awareness of the benefits of forests and trees among the next generation. Investing in forest education should be seen as a priority – because you’re never too young to get to know and love forests.

2018 – Forests and sustainable cities

In 2018, the International Day of Forests was dedicated to “Forests and sustainable cities”, aiming to highlight the importance of green spaces in urban environments for people’s well-being.

The world’s urban population has never been higher, and it’s set to keep growing: by 2050, six billion people – 70 per cent of the global population – will live in urban areas. However, rapid urbanisation should not necessarily mean out-of-control urban pollution. Trees and parks help make cities greener, healthier, happier places, offering natural spaces, filtering unhealthy pollutants, and mitigating the effects of climate change.

2017 – Forests and Energy

The theme in 2017 involved promoting the idea of forests as “nature’s powerhouse”, highlighting their importance in providing renewable fuel and energy for our species since we discovered fire.

“To build a sustainable, climate-resilient future for all, we must invest in our world’s forests. That will take political commitment at the highest levels, smart policies, effective law enforcement, innovative partnerships and funding.  On this International Day of Forests, let us commit to reducing deforestation, sustaining healthy forests and creating a climate-resilient future for all,” said former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

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