Forests are one of the principal sources of life on our planet. They are home to nearly four fifths of all terrestrial species of wild fauna and flora. They are also home to several hundred million people, including countless members of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
Globally, up to 350 million people live within or adjacent to forested areas, relying on forests and their species to cover their basic needs, form food, to shelter, fuel and medicines. These groups have long lived in good harmony with their environments, which in turn have become a central part of their social and cultural identities.
These communities also have centuries of experience living from the near limitless ecosystem services provided by forests. They have historically acted as the principal custodians of their lands: just under a third of the world’s surface is managed by Indigenous Peoples, encompassing some of the most well-conserved forests on the planet.
Forest and forest wildlife also provide for the incomes and well-being of countless people that do not necessarily live near them. Worldwide, some 80 million jobs, both in the formal and informal sectors, are directly sustained by forest resources. Moreover, as many as 2.4 billion people use wood-based energy for cooking, both in rural and urban settings and in developed and developing countries.
Forests have long provided a safety net for some of the most vulnerable groups around the world.
Yet, these essential ecosystems and wild species are the very center of the most urgent challenges we face today, as are the communities they help sustain. As the combined effects of climate change, biodiversity loss and the social and economic consequences of the current global health crisis all continue to disrupt lives and ecosystems everywhere, they are a particular threat to the people and communities whose livelihoods and well-being are most closely tied to natural systems like forests.
Growing land conversion, rapid urbanization and other forms of encroachment on forested areas are leading to forest loss, degradation and fragmentation. This threatens to upend the lives of Indigenous Peoples and local communities who depend on forests for their incomes and basic needs, exposing them to growing risks of poverty and instability.
As we seek to repare our relationship with nature, forests, forest species and forest communities must be among our highest priorities. That is why, this year’s World Wildlife Day seeks to celebrate the livelihoods and experiences of those who have built strong models for sustainable interactions with forests.
Under the theme of “Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet”, we wish to highlight the immense social and economic value of forests for communities in all corners of the world, particularly for Indigenous and local communities.
We also wish amplify the voices of representatives of these groups, so that their experiences and the novel paths they have taken in their march towards sustainability can inspire all global efforts to conserve forests and the species they harbor, without neglecting the needs of those who rely on them for their livelihoods.
We wish a happy World Wildlife Day to all!
Watch Secretary-General Higuero's message here.