Forest ecosystems throughout the world are key to the livelihoods of over 1.6 billion people. They cover 31 percent of the world's land area, are home to over 300 million people, and contain 80 percent of the world's terrestrial biodiversity.
Thirty percent of forests worldwide also produce both wood and non-wood products that account for a trade of over $300 billion worldwide, per year. It is this trade that is threatening the planet's remaining forests, as developing nations battle to find a sustainable relationship with their natural resources.
Having covered environmental issues in China for over four years, my focus has been on the challenges facing the country's wetlands and also the threat from increasing desertification. I was surprised to learn earlier this year that the forests of southwest China were included on Conservation International's new list and were under such threat—ranking alongside Madagascar, Indo-Burma, the Philippines, the Atlantic rainforest of Brazil, and other regions.
Currently only 8 percent of the temperate coniferous forests of the mountains of southwest China remain. Much of this loss has occurred since the late 1950s as China's early modern development gained momentum and stripped many of the mountains of its timber and resources.
In 1998, China introduced a widespread logging ban after devastating floods, which took the lives of over 4,000 people, forced more than 18 million from their homes and caused billions of dollars worth of damage. These floods were blamed on soil erosion caused by deforestation in the upper reaches of the Yangtze and brought this issue to the forefront of political and social attention.