One Forest Summit: UNESCO highlights unique mandate and proven track record of protecting forests

2023 03 02

Paris, 27 February 2023 – The One Forest Summit will be held in Libreville, Gabon, on 01-02 March, with the goal of making progress on climate action and protecting biodiversity by promoting solidarity between the three major forest basins of the world.  Director General Audrey Azoulay will attend to highlight UNESCO’s unique mandate to protect forest areas and numerous conservation programs.

Forests are the lungs of the earth, but increasing land use pressures and climate change impacts are threatening their very existence. Saving our forests cannot wait.

Through its pluridisciplinary approach, and vast network of designated sites, UNESCO has a unique capacity and mandate to protect the world’s forests:

1.     69 million hectares of UNESCO World Heritage Forests offer crucial safeguards to some of the most biodiverse areas on earth  and absorb 190 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (net) from the atmosphere each year.

2.     738 UNESCO Biosphere Reserves present new ways for humans to live sustainably within these forests, rather than separate.

3.   The UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List preserves the knowledge, values and practices relating to forests, especially those of indigenous peoples, that may hold the key to our future relationship with these ecosystems.

4.   UNESCO’s environmental education initiatives help transmit to the next generations the importance that forests play in our survival, and the need to safeguard them at all cost - UNESCO has set its 193 Member States the goal of having environmental education included in all curricula by 2025.


UNESCO safeguarding Great Apes

Great Apes are our closest living genetic relatives, and can only be found in forested areas, yet they are now under increasing threat from increasing land-use, deforestation, and loss of habitat. It’s estimated that 3000 great apes are victims from poaching each year.

UNESCO is leading the way in creating protected areas where these species can not only survive but thrive. Today, 1 in 10 of all remaining Great Apes live in World Heritage sites, including 80% of all the critically endangered Mountain Gorillas (1,000 left) and 50% of all Sumatra orangutans (15,000 left).

UNESCO is piloting a program that uses drones to monitor Great Ape habitats by collecting data on nesting grounds, deforestation, food sources, habitat loss, illegal activities (poaching, mining, etc.) without disturbing these areas.

In some parts of Africa it’s estimated that 90% of chimpanzees died from Ebola; the use of drones reduces human interaction in the study areas and prevents the spreading of human diseases to local wildlife.

World Heritage Forest Report: Carbon Sinks under pressure

In 2021 UNESCO released a major study that was able to estimate for the very first time how much CO2 is absorbed and released from World Heritage sites. It found that 10 World Heritage forests had infact become net sources of carbon emissions from 2001 to 2020 due to a combination of natural and human-caused disturbances, including climate change.

This wake-up call highlighted the dangers currently weighing on the world’s forests and our need to protect their survival at all costs.

See full report here.

Central Africa World Heritage Forest Initiative (CAWAFI)

Covering an area estimated at 1.62 million km2, the forests of Central Africa are home to vital biodiversity for the planet and play a central role in climate regulation and carbon sequestration. They represent the planet’s second largest carbon sink.

A living space for more than 30 million inhabitants, the region faces various threats such as poaching, deforestation by agro-industry (oil palm and rubber), illegal exploitation of natural resources (timber, minerals, wildlife, etc.) and infrastructure projects (dams, roads).

UNESCO launched the CAWAFI program to strengthen the management of protected areas while improving their integration within the region’s various ecological landscapes. This includes anti-poaching patrol efforts (more than 3,500 patrols and 300,000km travelled), innovative technologies such as trap cameras, drones and remote sensing, as well as the training of eco-guards.

The program has highlighted that this forest region is not only rich in rare minerals, but also of exceptional cultural value. One of the notable results of this initiative was research work in Gabon that enabled the dating of the oldest evidence of human presence in the forest of the Congo Basin back to 400,000 years.

Yangambi Biosphere Reserve: A new observation site for climate change and biodiversity

The Congo Basin is not only the planet’s second-biggest pair of lungs but also sequesters more carbon per square kilometre than the Amazon, owing to the density of the vegetation. UNESCO is coordinating efforts to turn this forest into a knowledge hub and observation site for climate change and biodiversity, in part thanks to the construction of the Congoflux Tower in the center of the reserve, the first of its kind in the Congo Basin.

This high-tech monitoring system measures the exchange of greenhouse gases between the atmosphere and an ecosystem. These data will fill yawning gaps in our knowledge of the role that the forest plays in carbon sequestration and, thereby, in limiting climate change.

Gabon: 2 million trees by 2025

80% of Gabon is covered in forests, but this has left the country particularly vulnerable to the impacts of overlogging and illegal deforestation. UNESCO and UNEP have partnered toplant 2 million trees in urban areas by 2025, by raising over 4.2 million dollars in investments. This program will also feature environmental education and raising awareness to the risks associated with intensive land-use.

Biodiversity Conservation in Regions of Armed Conflict: Protecting World Heritage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo represent half of the total area of tropical rainforest in Africa. However conflicts in the region have created a climate of instability and posed major threats to the survival of these forested areas.

UNESCO has led a program aimed at preserving the integrity of World Heritage natural sites in the DRC through the inscription of five protected areas of the country on the World Heritage List

UNESCO-LVMH Partnership to protect the Amazon Basin

UNESCO has partnered with LVMH to work against the direct and indirect causes of deforestation in eight biosphere reserves across the Amazon Basin in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru. By raising a total of $4 million, this project aims to help repair damage done to the rainforest through a two part process. On the ground UNESCO is coordinating replanting efforts to restore degraded areas. Meanwhile specialists will also work to collect vast amounts of data ranging from carbon capture to biodiversity estimates, which should allow the private sector to have greater traceability for their products and ensure responsible sourcing of their raw materials.

Developing a green economy in Togo to relieve pressure on the forest and boost incomes

In Togo, people tend to rely on their environment not only for their livelihood but also for their food and water security. However, many of the plant and animal species upon which people depend have been disappearing as a consequence of rapid population growth and the unsustainable exploitation of these resources.

In order to relieve human pressure on the forest, UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere programme implemented thisthree-year project to develop three green cottage industries: shea butter, beekeeping and animal breeding. This meant that families could afford to buy food and motorbikes and pay for new clothes and schooling for their children.

Read more about UNESCO’s actions for biodiversity here.

Spurce, UNESCO Newsroom


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