Between the Arab Spring, the weird weather, and, well, the Casey Anthony trial, you may have missed the fact that 2011 was proclaimed “The International Year of Forests” by the UN General Assembly. This celebration is long overdue: forests not only provide habitat to animals and plants, but also purify air and water, prevent soil erosion, and sequester carbon. Additionally, they’re a critical economic resource: globally, about 1.6 billion people rely in whole or in part on forests for their livelihoods.
All of this value they create makes deforestation a critical threat… and, even though the destruction of forest lands has slowed in recent years, we still lose about 18 million acres annually. Agriculture is the biggest cause of deforestation, followed by logging, wildfires, and overgrazing. With that loss of forests, we lose the ecological services on which we all depend… and many of the world’s poorest people suffer from the inability to grow food on degraded land.
Fortunately, the UN General Assembly isn’t the only organization taking a look at the state of the world’s forests: governments, NGOs, and even for-profit companies recognize the environmental and economic losses caused by deforestation, and are working to restore the health of these important ecosystems. Over past decades, a number of reforestation projects around the world have succeeded in bringing forests back to life and health. The Green Belt Movement in Kenya, founded by Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai, is one of the most well-known, but efforts to revive forests have succeeded around the world. Here are a a handful of them…
Next page: South Korea’s massive reforestation efforts