The world’s forests are valued at US$150 trillion but not for long

Global forests are valued at US$50 trillion to $150 trillion, with the single largest component of that value coming from the role forests play in regulating the climate. But with a variety of threats led by land-use change and rising temperatures causing deforestation and degradation, forest value is on a course to decline by 30% between now and 2050 according to a new report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG). 

“We set out to quantify the value of the world’s forests because we believe that type of objective measurement can help shift the dialogue about forest preservation from one driven in large measure by emotion to one based on a solid foundation of facts,” says Torsten Kurth, a BCG managing director and partner and coauthor of the report. 

“It is critical to act decisively now to stop the destruction of forest value, particularly given the role forests play as a powerful weapon in the fight against climate change.”

Forest value is being destroyed by five primary threats: land-use changes, including the conversion of forest to farmland; rising global temperatures; unsustainable logging; abiotic disturbances such as wildfires; and biotic disturbances such as the spread of pests and disease. 

Although wildfires, understandably, get extensive media coverage, land-use change and rising temperatures together account for a projected loss in forest value of 27% between now and 2050, the bulk of the overall 30% projected decline.

“The two largest drivers of forest value loss in the decades ahead are man-made,” says Johanna Puetz, a BCG principal and coauthor of the report. “We need to move past the headlines and take aim at the forces that are the root causes of massive forest loss.”   

Preventing forest value loss requires action in six areas 

BCG’s analysis quantified the impact on forest value of decisive action in six areas:

  • Plant, restore, and manage forests sustainably.
  • Boost sustainable and productive agriculture.
  • Reduce meat consumption.
  • Push for deforestation-free production of palm oil, soy, beef, and timber.
  • Increase wood recycling.
  • Limit global temperature increase to less than 2°C.

Ambitious but realistic action in all six areas, including follow-through on current global pledges for forest protection, can preserve 20% of forest value by 2050, reducing total loss to about 10%. Preventing any value loss, or even bolstering, the total value of forests today, would require more aggressive action, including planting forests on roughly 900 million hectares, all the land, including private holdings, available for such activities today.

Forests are currently net carbon emitters owing to the carbon released through deforestation and decay. If public and private sector leaders take action in all six areas outlined in the report, forests can become net absorbers of CO2 after 2045 and capture up to 2 Gt CO2 per year, the equivalent of two-thirds of the EU’s current annual greenhouse gas emissions.

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