Forests cover 31% of the land on Earth. There are varying definitions of a forest under international law. The FAO’s definition is widely used and provides that for land to be considered a forest, its tree canopy needs to:
Other definitions can be found under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity. National policies may also use different definitions of forests. What is important “Forest” includes more than just the popular notion of forest as a large area of continuous and dense tree cover.
Example: Legal Definition of ‘Forests’ in Chile’s Environmental Legislation
Under Art. 2 DL 701, ‘forests’ are defined as: ‘A place populated with vegetal formations – with the predomination of trees – that occupy an area of at least 5,000 m2, with a minimum width of 40m, and with a treetop cover of over 10% of the total area in arid and semi-arid conditions and 25% in more favourable conditions’
Forests are of immense importance, in social, environment and economic terms. They are homes to hundreds of millions of people, including particularly Indigenous People. They are vital resources in relation to climate change. They are typically areas of great biodiversity. For example, forests:
Video: The Importance of Forests
This animation introduces the increasing threats against global forest resources and what might be done to stop deforestation.
Although our forests are important for our well-being and survival, they face continued threats. Despite forests covering 31% of global land area (the total forest area is approximately 4.06 billion hectares), the world has lost 420 million hectares of forest since 1990. Half the world’s rainforests have been cleared over the last century. Whilst natural threats such as disease, pests and fire are part of the forest cycle, human activity has a number of negative consequences for forest ecosystems. The following activities cause ecological degradation in forest systems:
Legal language and terms can be confusing. The purpose of this guide is not to describe many different laws, but rather to provide suggestions for a range of possible legal solutions to practical problems. The guide will in particular cover the following (N.B. listed in chronological order of the guide as opposed to order of importance):
The list above of types of legal action just gives some examples. However, lawyers and communities can be creative and imaginative in thinking of how to use the law to protect their environment. Just as an example, it might be impossible to protect a forest by direct legal action, but it might be that trucks carrying logged products breach noise or pollution standards if they have to drive through a village on the way to the forest, and that they can be stopped in this way. Or deforestation may affect the water supply to a nearby community, in breach of a right to water.
Taking effective legal action requires more than just identifying a law which may have been breached or which might be relied upon. There are many practical issues involved. Some of these are concerned with local procedures and how to bring an action. A successful action is likely to require legal knowledge and resources, some financial resources and the support of the campaign group. In addition there are some other important topics to consider. Sub- page 13 gives a list of further resources and references, as well as a list of organisations may be able to help you. Other particular things to think about, which are addressed in this guide, include the following:
For more information on these issues, see Going to Court at Sub-Page 11 of this Guide.