The current value of the world’s forests ranges from $50 to $150 billion, the most important component of which is their role in regulating the climate. However, a new report by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), The Staggering Value of Forests-And How to Save Them, reveals that a number of threats, especially land use change and rising temperatures, will lead to deforestation and forest degradation and this will reduce their value by 30% by 2050.

BCG has calculated the value of forests by taking into account four dimensions: their role as climate regulators, environmental benefits such as water and air purification, the market value of activities such as pulp and paper production, and the social value, including the role of forests as homes and livelihoods for millions of people. The analysis also quantifies the projected forest loss caused by five major threats between now and 2050, as well as the value that can be preserved by taking action in six areas.

“We set out to quantify the value of the world’s forests because we believe that such objective measurement can transform the forest conservation dialogue from a largely emotional to an evidence-based perspective,” explains Torsten Kurth, BCG’s Managing Director & Partner and co-author of the report. “It is essential to act decisively now to stop the destruction of forest value, especially given the very important role that forests play in combating climate change.

The biggest threats are not the ones that make the headlines

Five main threats are causing the destruction of forest value: land use change, including conversion to agricultural uses; rising global temperatures; unsustainable logging; abiotic disturbances such as forest fires; and biotic disturbances such as the spread of pests and diseases. While it is logical that forest fires receive wide media coverage, the combination of land-use change and rising temperatures is expected to reduce the value of forests by 27 per cent by 2050, accounting for most of the projected total loss of value of 30 per cent.

“The two main drivers of forest value loss in the coming decades are human-induced,” says Johanna Puetz, BCG Principal and co-author of the report. “We need to be able to see beyond the headlines to get to the root of what causes massive forest loss.

Preventing the loss of forest value requires action in six areas 

BCG’s analysis quantifies the impact of taking strong action in six areas:

These ambitious but realistic measures, together with the implementation of existing global commitments to protect forests, can preserve 20% of the forest value by 2050, which would reduce the total loss to about 10%. Preventing the loss of value, or even increasing the total value, would require more vigorous action such as planting forests on some 900 million hectares, which is equivalent today to the total land available for the above activities, including private holdings.

The report also analyses the climate impact of not slowing down the current rate of forest destruction.  Forests generate net emissions of carbon, which is released as a result of deforestation and decomposition. If public and private sector decision-makers take action in the six areas outlined in the report, forests could go from emitting to absorbing net amounts of CO2 from 2045, and would capture up to 2 Gt of CO2 per year, equivalent to two-thirds of the annual greenhouse gas emissions of the European Union today.