Forests and climate change: an Oscar-winning alliance - Michelle Yeoh on the UN Forest Podcast

July 25, 2023

2023 Oscar-winning actress and Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Michelle Yeoh.


Geneva - The world is falling behind on lowering global carbon emissions.  We only have a narrow chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels (IPCC, Sixth Assessment Report) or as the United Nations Secretary-General says, “our world needs climate action on all fronts – everything, everywhere, all at once.”  

The latter is the best introduction to UNECE’s brand-new second UN Forest Podcast episode and its host Michelle Yeoh, 2023 Oscar-winning actress and Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Together with Professor Almut Arneth, Coordinating Lead Author of the IPCC Special Report on land and climate change, Ms. Yeoh unpacks the unique relationship between climate change and forests in this podcast episode.


Forests harbour 80% of terrestrial biodiversity and provide essential ecosystem services as a watershed, sources of food, materials, and genetic discovery. Forests are also the biggest terrestrial carbon sink, therefore they must be part of any climate action plan. But as former forest areas are being lost to different land uses or fall victim to rising temperature incidents such as wildfires, insect outbreaks or droughts, what are the strategies to face this complex reality? 

The role of forests as carbon sponges is well established. Trees absorb carbon dioxide. If not for forests, much of the carbon would remain in the atmosphere, further driving global warming. But what Ms. Yeoh and Ms. Arneth explore together in the new episode is the more complex reality of trees and forests’ role in climate change. Forests, they both stress, are not only saviors, but also victims, beneficiaries, and potential culprits of a changing climate. So, is increasing the forest area a feasible solution to offset carbon emissions?  Are climate-change-induced extreme weather events and disturbances not already too prevalent, increasing the risk of forests releasing more carbon than they absorb, turning from carbon sink to carbon source? 

With this new episode, we invite you into the world of forest in times of climate change brought to us in an inspiring conversation between two leading personalities of our times. While a lot has to change at all levels in all areas all at once, there is no denying that forests are a critical part of the solution.  If the global community is to succeed in accelerating progress on our climate ambition, and link nature and Sustainable Development Goals, then there is an urgent need to invest more in reversing deforestation and forest degradation in ways that benefit people and the planet. 


You can listen to the episode “Climate change and forests hosted by Michelle Yeoh” on Spotify, SoundCloud, Apple Podcasts, and Amazon Music.  The UN Forest Podcast is a series produced by the Joint UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section to showcase that the potential of forests goes beyond trees. Each episode features special guests and speakers who bring insights on forests as our strongest allies in fighting climate change and creating a sustainable future now and for generations to come.