The new year has a new name among environmentalists. The U.N. General Assembly declared 2011 to be the International Year of Forests.
The moniker will be used to raise awareness about how to improve the health of all types of forests, which cover 31 percent of the Earth's land surface, according to an environmental group that's behind the initiative. The International Year of Forests will officially begin Jan. 24 with the U.N. forum on the topic in New York.
The world's forests support the planet's diverse creatures, and keeping forests robust also could help humanity achieve some of its biggest goals: reducing poverty, curbing climate change and achieving sustainable development, according to a statement from the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The IUCN is a global environmental network of governmental and private groups. [Related: In Images: Journey Into the Tropical Andes.]
"'Forests 2011' will be an international celebration of the central role of people in the management, conservation and sustainable development of our world's forests," said Julia Marton-Lefèvre, the IUCN director-general. "The air we breathe, the food, water and medicines we need to survive, the variety of life on Earth, the climate that shapes our present and future — they all depend on forests. 2011 must be the year when the world recognizes the vital importance of healthy forests to life on earth — for all people and biodiversity."
Throughout 2011, the IUCN will highlight new research findings, promote restoration work and build upon recent successes of the international 2010 REDD-plus (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) agenda.
Home to 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity and 300 million people, forests provide livelihoods for 1.6 billion people, almost a quarter of humanity, according to the IUCN.
Forests store more carbon than the amount currently in the atmosphere. Saving them is the quickest and most cost-effective means of curbing global emissions, some scientists say. Halving these emissions between 2010 and 2200 would save an estimated $3.7 trillion, according to the IUCN.