Mr. Manoel Sobral Filho, the new Director of the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat in UN DESA, has devoted his life to forests. In his conversation with DESA News, he highlights key challenges and opportunities for forests, and how 2015 is truly a year for global action for forests.
“I started working as a trainee in a large forest development project in Brazil,” explains Mr. Sobral, who was appointed as the new UNFFS Director by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and took office in the fall of 2014. With a background in science, he describes how his lifelong mission to sustain the world’s forests began over 40 years ago.
Early in his career, Mr. Sobral had the opportunity to live and work in the Amazon region for six years, “working in the heart of the forest”. Since then, Mr. Sobral gained extensive experience on global forest issues, from serving as the Director of Brazil’s Forest Product Research Center at the National Institute of Amazonian Research and, to more recently, as Executive Director of the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO).
“We are at a time where all the values of forests are being recognized”
Forests are vital for the planet’s well-being
“Forests are connected to water, energy, food security, climate,” Mr. Sobral says, as he highlights the fundamental importance of these ecosystems for the well-being of people and the planet.
Forest catchments are responsible for 75 per cent of the world’s freshwater, nine per cent of global clean renewable energy is derived from forests, 80 per cent of the terrestrial biodiversity is in forests and some 20 per cent of the world’s population depend on them for their livelihood.
“As much as we consider forests valuable, there are many services that forests provide that are public services and public goods,” he says, describing some of the main challenges that the world is facing today. “It is so difficult to make people pay for these public goods. As a result, we have been losing forests, in particular natural forests,” he adds.
“The first challenge is how do we protect these forests, how do you avoid illegal deforestation and illegal degradation,” Mr. Sobral points out. He notes that many developing countries face pressing social and economic needs, which are often prioritized over forest issues. “This is really our main challenge,” Mr. Sobral underlines. In this regard, he stresses the importance of mechanisms to mobilize financing for sustainable forest management, to enable “payments to the ones that own them, and the ones that derive the livelihoods from them.”
2015 is the year for global action
Looking ahead, Mr. Sobral shares the main opportunities brought forward by the new post-2015 development agenda. “We are at a time where all the values of forests are being recognized,” he says. Noting the convergence of timing in various international discussions – from the post-2015 development agenda and financing for development, to the International Arrangement on Forests, and climate change; he notes that 2015 offers a “rare political opportunity to integrate forests” into the framework for action until 2030.
“One of the services that forests provide is in storing carbon. It is one of the most economical ways of doing so,” Mr. Sobral explains. “So there are already mechanisms to reward forests for that and if this is mainstreamed in the agreement that is in sight for Paris, it will be an opportunity that we have been able to seize,” he adds, pointing to the prospects of the upcoming COP21 in Paris, later this year.
Mr. Sobral also highlights how issues related to financing and means of implementation were critical issues for forests. In this regard, he notes the important opportunity presented by the upcoming Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa in July. “This is the year that the members of the United Nations will decide on how to progress faster towards implementation of sustainable forest management.”
“This is the year that the members of the United Nations will decide on how to progress faster towards implementation of sustainable forest management”
Responding to the global call for action
Forests are an integral part of the proposed 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and are specifically referenced in two of the proposed goals, notes Mr. Sobral. He shares with DESA News how the UNFF Secretariat has been working with partners in the global efforts in 2015 that will bring about the new sustainable development agenda.
The Forum is now at a crossroads, explains Mr. Sobral, describing how this year the UNFF will review the International Arrangement on Forests (IAF) and decide on “its own agenda beyond 2015”. “There is recognition that much more has to be done – much more in action, not only in dialogue and policy development,” he adds.
A recent meeting in New York brought together forest experts to discuss the post-2015 IAF, paving the way for discussions at the 11th session of the UN Forum on Forests to be held from 4 to 15 May 2015 in New York. Mr. Sobral points out that some of the key messages from the meeting focus on how to support implementation of sustainable forest policy, at all levels – international, regional and national.
“The performance of the future IAF and UNFF will be assessed years from now, and its success will be really measured against implementation targets,” Mr. Sobral says. He notes that experts also put forth various options for strengthening the current IAF, including consideration of strategic trust funds, strategic action plans, and mechanisms to facilitate greater access to means of implementation for sustainable forest management.