The crucial role of forests as long-term carbon sinks may be compromised in future due to a rise in pressure on land from specific human activities, reveals a report from Unesco and the World Resources Institute.

Aerial view of deforestation. (Photo by Richard Whitcombe via Shutterstock)

Unesco’s World Heritage sites contain 69 million hectares of forests, or a territory the size of Germany. Collectively, they have the capacity to absorb 190 million tonnes of CO2 annually, which is equal to half of the UK’s annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuels.

However, ongoing removal of atmospheric CO2 by forests is not guaranteed if threats to their conservation, such as illegal logging and agricultural encroachment, continue.

Such activities have been reported inside about 60% of all World Heritage sites, the report reveals. The total forested area has decreased by 3.5 million hectares, or a territory the size of Belgium, since 2001.

The report calls for the protection of World Heritage forest sites to be explicitly included in international, national and local climate, biodiversity and sustainable development agendas.