‘Best of the last’ tropical forests urgently need protection - joint study by UNDP, NASA and WCS

August 26, 2020


New York  - About half of the world's humid tropical forests could be considered of "high quality” but only 6.5% of these high-quality forests have formal protections. The world’s ‘best of the last’ tropical forests are at significant risk of being lost, according to a joint study supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Wildlife Conservation Society.

Researchers and eight leading research institutions identified significant omissions in the international forest conservation strategy in the new study- A policy-driven framework for conserving the best of Earth’s remaining moist tropical forests, released today in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Current global targets focus solely on forest size and fail to acknowledge the importance of forest quality that provide key services like carbon storage, prevention of disease transmission, and water provision, creating a critical gap in action to safeguard ecosystems essential for human and planetary well-being.

“Protecting, restoring and sustainably managing nature is fundamental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals but we need more robust spatial data to help us to do so,” says UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner. “By serving as a convener to bring together some of the world’s best scientists with governments, the United Nations is playing an important role in ensuring that this type of data and cutting-edge research is available to help countries plan and implement critical nature-based solutions.”

Collaborating with UNDP Country Offices and key stakeholders in Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Indonesia, Peru, and Viet Nam, researchers mapped the location of high-quality forests using recently developed high-resolution maps of forest structure and human pressure across the global humid tropics.

The paper reveals that of the Earth’s humid tropical forests, only half have high ecological quality, largely limited to the Amazon and Congo Basins. The vast majority of these forests have no formal protection and, given recent rates of loss, are at significant risk.

With the rapid disappearance of these ‘best of the last’ forests at stake, the paper provides a policy-driven framework for their conservation and restoration, recommending locations to maintain protections, add new protections, restore forest structure, and mitigate human pressure. These strategies proposed by the study are made only more relevant in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Nature-based approaches are emerging as high-value opportunities to deliver on international commitments and benefit people and the planet. NASA is proud to support rigorous science to understand the Earth and help organizations apply it to inform protection of the world’s tropical forests,” said Lawrence Friedl, Director of NASA’s Applied Sciences Program.

The coming year is a ‘super year’ for biodiversity in which the world will agree on a new deal for nature that will shape global action for the next 30 years. Countries will also have a final chance to revise their contributions to reduce carbon emissions before the Paris Climate Agreement goes into effect. Both these milestones will impact efforts to advance the nature-based Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda.      

Related link.

For media queries:

Stephen Cole | NASA Office of Communications | Washington D.C. | email: stephen.e.cole@nasa.gov | Tel: +1 202-358-0918

Sangita Khadka | UNDP New York | email: sangita.khadka@undp.org | Tel: +1 212 906 5043