The world’s primary forests maintain ecological systems essential for life on Earth. Despite this, these magnificent primary forests are under threat.
August 2009: The world's primary forests maintain ecological systems essential for life on Earth. These ancient forests are home to millions of indigenous peoples and forest communities who depend on them for their survival - both physically and spiritually. These forests regulate water flows and rainfall – even at long inter-continental distances.
Forests also play an extremely important role in biodiversity conservation, with over half of the world's land-based species of plants and animals living in them. Biodiversity is vital to mankind’s continued existence, since it is an essential component of the healthy ecosystem needed to provide the clean water and breathable air, among other ecosystem services, that all life depends on. In addition, there is a substantial economic cost of losing biodiversity; a recent study estimated that, for example, we are losing biodiversity on an annual basis that would have produced ecosystem services worth around €50 billion each year.
Forests play a vital role in stabilising the world’s climate by storing large amounts of carbon that would otherwise contribute to climate change. They store nearly 300 billion tonnes of carbon in their living parts - roughly 40 times annual fossil CO2 emissions. When forests are destroyed, the stored carbon is released into the atmosphere through the rotting and burning of vegetation. Furthermore, it has recently been shown that primary forests take up - or sequester - an important amount of CO2 from the atmosphere, roughly equal to the amount of CO2 emitted from deforestation.
Despite all this, these magnificent primary forests are under threat. Forests are vanishing at a rate of 13 million hectares per year, which is comparable to losing a forest area the size of a football pitch every 2 seconds. Most of this loss is in tropical forests, which are highly valuable in terms of both carbon uptake and biodiversity.
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