21 March 2023
March 21st is the International Day of Forests, proclaimed by the United Nations to celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests.
Forests cover a third of Earth’s land surface and host around 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. They are responsible for the livelihood of around 25% of the world’s population. Forests provide hydrological regulation, erosion prevention, and carbon storage, being essential in the fight against climate change. Tropical tree cover alone is estimated to provide a quarter of the climate mitigation needed to meet goals set in the paris agreement.
Despite that, the world loses around 5 million hectares of forests per year from deforestation and degradation. This is an area bigger than Switzerland! Farming, livestock grazing, mining, and urbanization together account for more than half of those losses. Forestry products, such as timber or paper, and wildfires account for the rest (Our World in Data).
According to the UN, in the UN-REDD Programme briefs (UN-REDD briefs), restoring forests can enhance environmental and social resilience. Large-scale restoration can also provide an estimated US $84 billion in annual economic benefits worldwide, lifting 1 billion people out of poverty with the creation of additional 80 million green jobs. Last but not least, forest preservation can help stabilise wildlife populations helping to keep humans safe from zoonotic diseases, such as coronaviruses or lyme disease.
Around 40% of the European Union’s land area is covered by forests. Forests are one of Europe’s most important renewable resources, they absorb the equivalent of nearly 10% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions each year.
In its Forest Strategy for 2030, the EU plans to: increase the area of forest and tree coverage, improve the resilience of forests and their role in reversing biodiversity loss, and mitigate and help us adapt to climate change. One of its actions is a pledge to plant 3 billion additional trees by 2030 in full respect of ecological principles.
However, planting new trees is not enough to address climate change and biodiversity loss on its own. To achieve this goal, broader conservation action is required. It can, for example, include preserving existing forests by addressing & monitoring threats to their health.
Insect outbreaks, wildfires, and windthrow are responsible for most of the biomass loss in European forests. These threats are intensified by climate change: insects breed more frequently, more dry fuel for wildfires becomes available, and the frequency and severity of large storms increase.
With early and appropriate action, risks can be contained, and the economic and ecological damage can be reduced. This is the goal of the SWIFTT project: to equip forest managers with affordable, simple and effective remote sensing tools backed up by satellite imagery and powerful machine learning models, providing a next-generation solution to ensure the longevity of this precious environmental resource.