Why It Matters
Provide Clean Water
When forests are degraded by agriculture, mining, and the construction of roads, soil erodes and washes into rivers and streams. The result is poor quality drinking water for humans, damaged habitat for many freshwater species, reduced energy generation efficiency in hydropower plants, and more. This is particularly problematic in areas with steep slopes or frequent and intense storms that are due to climate change. Healthy forests and other natural vegetation play a key role in reducing or slowing the amount of erosion and chemicals that reach waterways.
Provide Enough Water
Rivers and streams flow fast during the rainy season. The rainwater is soaked up by trees and plants, stored underground and released during the rest of the year. If forest land is degraded—which happens, for example, when roads are poorly built—that cycle can be broken. Healthy forests, therefore, are critical to ensuring there is enough water year-round for household use and agriculture.
Forests soak up water during heavy rainfall. They need it to survive. But when their soils become too saturated with water or cannot absorb water, flooding usually occurs. This often happens when forests are cleared to create impervious surfaces, such as roads, or degraded by illegal logging and other activities.
Mangrove forests, coastal vegetation, and coral reefs—all which line the coast—act as a physical barrier between land and shore, helping to protect people and property from cyclones and storm surges. They also provide food and habitat for a large variety of fish, shrimp, and other species that are an essential food source for people living along the coast. Protecting the natural resources along the coast is more important than ever, given that large increases in the frequency and magnitude of flooding are projected as sea levels rise and storms grow in intensity and frequency.
Absorb Carbon Dioxide
When trees are cut down, the deforested land becomes a source of harmful greenhouse gases instead of serving as an important “sink” that absorbs carbon dioxide. Emissions from deforestation account for approximately 15 percent of global carbon emissions. This is more than the total combined emissions from all cars, trucks, trains, planes, and ships in the world. Carbon sinks are lost, too, when peatlands are drained and turned into palm oil plantations. In Indonesia, for example, peatlands store more carbon per unit area than any other ecosystem in the world.
Provide Habitat for Life on Earth
The same forests, mountains, oceans, and rivers that are beneficial to people often are ideal habitat for a wide array of species. But much of their habitat is under threat. When roads are built through forests, for example, poaching and vehicle collisions with wildlife can increase. Maneuvering and migrating through the forest becomes challenging, too, making it harder for wildlife to find food, mate, and more. No species—including people or wildlife—benefit from the habitat under these conditions.
What WWF Is Doing
- Robin Naidoo Senior Conservation Scientist and Lead Wildlife Scientist
- Nirmal Bhagabati Lead Natural Capital Scientist, Forest Team, Natural Capital
- Ryan Bartlett Lead, Climate Risk Management
- Kate Newman Vice President, Forest and Freshwater Public Sector Initiatives
- Michele Thieme Lead Conservation Scientist, Fresh Water
- Brad Ack Vice President and Senior Fellow, Fisheries
- Lloyd Gamble Director, Forests and Climate
- Shaun Martin Senior Director, Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience