Asia has a unique opportunity to fight climate change and lift many more people out of poverty if it invests more in the communities living in its forests, experts said.
More than 450 million people in the region rely on forests for income and food, but forest dwellers often struggle to make a living as rural poverty, deforestation and climate change threaten their livelihoods.
"If we truly want to sustain Asia's forests, we need to address inequality and poverty by investing in people living in the forests," said Tint Lwin Thaung, executive director of RECOFTC, which promotes community forestry in Asia.
The Asia-Pacific region's forests, which account for almost 20 percent of the world's forested area, play a big role in fighting climate change because of trees' ability to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2).
Studies have shown that strengthenening commmunity forest rights can cut CO2 emissions by reducing deforestation, and improve forest health.
Trevor Abrahams, secretary general of the World Forestry Congress, said Asia had a unique opportunity to ensure that its forests were managed in a more sustainable way, as attention focuses on global leaders' adoption of new development goals in September.
"But the question is not just how do we manage forests in a sustainable way, but how do we make sure that the people living in them are at the centre of decision making," Abrahams said.
The World Forestry Congress, the largest global gathering of the forestry sector, will take place in Durban, South Africa, in September.
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