Forests for Life Partnership

The world’s most remote, great forests may seem like otherworldly places, accessible only in David Attenborough documentaries and important solely for the wildlife living there. But the reality is that intact forests play a critical role in sustaining all life on our planet, including our own.

How in the wild world could this be the case? In the most simplistic of terms, forested ecosystems that are intact—those that humans haven’t destroyed or damaged through intense industrial use—help remove around a quarter of the CO2 that we add to the atmosphere. Without the carbon-capturing and -storing power of these forests, our planet would almost certainly warm up beyond 1.5 to 2 degree Celsius by 2100, with catastrophic results, no matter what other measures we take to curb the climate crisis. Intact forests also:

  • Safeguard wildlife and maintain flourishing diversity on our shared planet—diversity that in turn keeps these forests and our world healthy.
  • Sustain the livelihoods and cultures of indigenous people.
  • Give us clean air and water, and helps maintain regional rainfall patterns.
  • Provide the seed banks and conditions needed for the successful reforestation of nearby lands.

Yet, the great forests are under assault. Between 2000 and 2016, we lost 9 percent of the planet’s most intact forests. Fewer than a quarter of the world’s remaining forests are considered intact, and they are being damaged at twice the rate of forests overall. The primary causes of forest degradation include logging, demand for fuel and charcoal, illegal hunting, roads and clearance of land for industrial agriculture. Unlike deforestation, which is the full destruction of a forest, these threats damage the land and leave it degraded—which can be just as harmful to the forest’s ability to function and is as serious a threat to our planet’s health as outright deforestation.

Global Intact Forests Today in Comparison to Original Extent

Map of global intact forests as of 2019 versus the original forest extent

Wild Facts
Intact forests remove a quarter of CO2 humans add to the atmosphere every year.
Forests provide a place to live for 80% of the world’s land-based wildlife.
We lost 9% of the planet’s most intact forests between 2000 and 2016.
Sierra Gorda Reserve, Mexico

Moss-cloaked oak forest in the Sierra Gorda Reserve, Queretaro, Mexico (Photo by Robin Moore, Global Wildlife Conservation)

Partnering for the Great Forests

Given the incredible role that the great forests can play in combatting the climate and extinction crises, five leading environmental organizations have formed the Forests for Life Partnership to protect the world’s least disturbed forests. The organizations—Global Wildlife Conservation, Rainforest Foundation Norway, United Nations Development Programme, Wildlife Conservation Society and World Resources Institute—aim to halt and reverse forest degradation across 1 billion hectares of the most intact forests worldwide. To do so, the partnership will work with policymakers to make the protection of the world’s least disturbed forests a priority for national governments in meeting global climate, biodiversity and sustainable development targets, and mobilize new finances to support action to preserve the benefits from these forests, alongside their efforts to conserve forests that are highly threatened. This is especially important because the protection of intact forests has not been widely recognized as a priority in meeting these targets, and countries face significant barriers in accessing climate finance for conserving these forests.

Forests for Life Partners

The biggest policy targets will be the recognition and operationalization of intact forests as an indispensable natural solution in meeting global goals/targets in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (including the Paris Agreement) and the Convention on Biological Diversity, in addition to the national policies of key countries.

The initiative will focus on on-the-ground efforts with a network of local partners in up to 30 countries and the iconic regions of the Amazon, Congo Basin, New Guinea, the northern Boreal zone, as well as smaller but still critical intact forests across Mesoamerica, Madagascar, Indochina and elsewhere. Protecting and restoring the great forests can help many countries meet the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.

As part of this work, the partnership is committed to supporting indigenous communities and other forest-dependent communities, many of which protect vast expanses of the planet’s remaining forests. According to the International Land Coalition, indigenous peoples and their communities may hold up to 65 percent or more of the global land area.

Forest for Life infographic

Top photo: Rainforest of Cocobolo Nature Reserve, Panama (Photo by Robin Moore, Global Wildlife Conservation)

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