UN launches year-long celebration of vital role of world’s forests

2 February 2011 – Recognizing the role that forests play in everything from mitigating climate change to providing wood, medicines and livelihoods for people worldwide, the United Nations today kicked off a year-long celebration to raise awareness of the value of this important resource.

“Forests for People” is the main theme of the International Year of Forests, which was launched at a ceremony at UN Headquarters in New York attended by world leaders, Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai and forest experts.

The General Assembly declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests to raise awareness on the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests, on which at least 1.6 billion people depend for their daily livelihoods and subsistence needs. Forests are also home to over 60 million people, mainly members of indigenous and local communities, who reside in forests.

“By declaring 2011 as the International Year of Forests, the United Nations General Assembly has created an important platform to educate the global community about the great value of forests – and the extreme social, economic and environmental costs of losing them,” noted Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Today’s launch ceremony, presided over by General Assembly President Joseph Deiss, is part of the high-level segment of the UN Forum on Forests, an intergovernmental policy forum dealing with forest-related issues.

Mr. Deiss noted that it is very meaningful that the International Year of Forests follows on the heels of the International Year of Biodiversity (2010), which concluded with the adoption of a new strategic plan containing targets on significantly reducing, by 2020, the rate of loss of all natural habitats, including forests, and sustainably managing forestry to ensure biodiversity conservation.

In his speech at the launch ceremony, Sha Zukang, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, noted that political interest in forests has been rising, and stressed that that interest should be translated into action.

“We have to make sure that the billions of dollars pledged towards forests and climate change financing is actually released and applied to sustainable forest management,” Mr. Zukang said.

Jan McAlpine, the Director of the Forum’s Secretariat said: “Every one of us, all seven billion people on earth, has our physical, economic and spiritual health tied to the health of our forest ecosystems. Throughout 2011, we will celebrate this intricate, interdependent relationship between forests and people,” she said.

Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), also noted that forests represent many things to many people including spiritual, aesthetic and cultural dimensions that are, in many ways, priceless. “But they are also cornerstones of our economies, whose real value has all too often been invisible in national accounts of profit and loss,” he added.

Forests cover about 31 per cent of total land area, amounting to just under 4 billion hectares, according to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which today released its “State of the World’s Forests” report.

The report, which is published every two years, stresses that the forest industry forms an important part of a “greener” economy and wood products have environmental attributes that would appeal to people.

The industry is responding to numerous environmental and social concerns by improving sustainability of resource use, using more waste materials to make products, increasing energy efficiency and reducing emissions. For example, 37 per cent of total forest production in 2010 came from recovered paper, wood waste and non-wood fibres, a figure that is likely to grow to up to 45 per cent in 2030, with much of that growth from China and India.

“What we need during the International Year of Forests is to emphasize the connection between people and forests, and the benefits that can accrue when forests are managed by local people in sustainable and innovative ways,” said Eduardo Rojas, FAO’s Forestry Director.

Ms. Maathai noted in her address at the launch, as well as in a briefing to reporters, that the value of the International Year is the opportunity to “explore the value of the trees, the forests and the environment, as well as the value of the environmental services that these resources give us.”

She added that too often forests and the services they provide are taken for granted and seen as resources that are unlimited. “But we all know now that we are facing situations where these forests are disappearing,” she told reporters.

As part of the launch, international filmmaker Yann Arthus-Bertrand will premiere his short film “FOREST.” The ceremony also featured clips from winning films from the International Forest Film Festival which was organised by the UN Forum on Forest Secretariat in collaboration with the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival.


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