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International Day of Forests: A call for more innovation

March 21 is the International Day of Forests, which aims to boost awareness and improve early warning systems, urge reforestation efforts to restore ecosystems, and curb climate change hazards.

Forest monitoring using available technology has helped numerous countries effectively track and report on the state of forests. According to the UN, approximately 80 million hectares of forests are lost each year – 10 million due to deforestation, and 70 million due to wildfires.

Improving forest health for a better future

The 2024 International Day of Forests theme is Forests and Innovation: New Solutions for a Better World. The UN is pushing for new and updated technological advancements.

“A total of 13.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide forest emission reductions or enhancements have been reported to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change through transparent and innovative forest monitoring,” says the UN.

According to Robert Nasi, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), forestry innovation is not just about developing novel technology or products. It’s also about improving existing ones, as well as making processes more efficient.

How biotech is supporting forest health

Biotech innovation is already being used to develop trees that can help us reduce carbon emissions. California-based startup Living Carbon genetically modified poplar trees that grow fast and can literally devour carbon from the atmosphere. Last year, Living Carbon planted an entire forest of GMO poplar seedlings in Georgia.

“If we keep doubling the number of trees we plant every year, by 2030 we will have planted enough trees that over the lifetime of the project would remove 1.66% of 2021 global emissions, which would be over 600 megatons,” Living Carbon CEO Maddie Hall noted.

Researchers at Holden Forests & Gardens cloned beech trees from the wild to determine whether they have a genetic resistance that can be used to propagate beech trees that will survive beech leaf disease (BLD).

Biotech is also developing solutions to combat forest fires. Stanford University scientists developed a plant-based fire retardant designed to be applied to “ignition-prone areas,” a report noted. In addition, the biodegradable hydrogel can help common fire retardants last longer.

How policy can boost forest health

Advancing biotech solutions, particularly genetic engineering, is critical to boost forest health and address environmental degradation and climate change.

As Bio.News reported, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is seeking input on gene-edited American chestnut trees immune to deadly blight. The American chestnut, formerly a crucial component of the ecology of the Appalachian woodland with an estimated 4 billion trees, was almost completely wiped out in 1876.

“It’s time for that perception to be updated – and for governments, funders, and investors to rally behind the array of innovations that hold potential to create positive change in the sector, and contribute to many other sectors, too,” CIFOR’s Nasi notes. “Our lives literally depend on forests: there is no escaping the rapidly changing context and worst impacts of the climate, food, and biodiversity crises without successfully adapting and innovating to better protect, restore, and manage the planet’s forests.”

Read about the 2023 International Day of Forests and why healthy forests are essential to addressing climate change.