Forests cover over 30 % of the earth's surface. They are one of the most important 'storehouses' of biological diversity on land and play a key role in regulating our planet's climate. Their importance and the wide array of threats on world's forests are in the spotlight during the World Forest Day 21 March and the UN International Year of Forests 2011.
Forests around the world provide us numerous services including clean air and water. They protect soil from erosion, regulate water flows and capture carbon from the atmosphere. The wellbeing of numerous plants and animals, including many species protected by European Union legislation, is directly linked to forest ecosystems. Moreover, forest patches also play a critical role in facilitating species' movements through their connectivity with other ecosystems. Around and within urban areas, they are essential for providing fresh air, reducing dust and noise. They also serve as microclimate buffers against urban heat.
Besides unsustainable management practices, air borne pollution and climate change, forests are also threatened by fragmentation due to rapidly spreading urban areas and transport networks. Both the healthy functioning of forest ecosystems and the biodiversity they foster are at risk.
The world is losing around 13 million hectares of forest cover a year, mainly in the tropical forests of South America and Africa. Because of their global role in regulating our climate, the impacts of deforestation in tropical forests affect those well beyond the land cleared.
The year 2011 is the United Nations International Year of Forests. To help raise awareness about forests and promote sustainable forest management, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) are hosting a Regional Forest Information Week between 21 and 25 March in Geneva, Switzerland.