For centuries forests have been a source of food, fibre, livelihoods, resources and water. They are also central to combating climate change, but until today, and despite a multitude of special days honouring or commemorating key elements of human life, there has never been a globally recognized day for paying homage to the world’s forests.
That has changed now that the United Nations General Assembly has designated 21 March as the International Day of Forests “to celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests and of trees outside forests”.
In a message for the new International Day, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “By proclaiming the International Day of Forests, the United Nations has created a new platform to raise awareness about the importance of all types of forest ecosystems to sustainable development.”
“On this first International Day of Forests,” he continued, “I urge Governments, businesses and all sectors of society to commit to reducing deforestation, preventing forest degradation, reducing poverty and promoting sustainable livelihoods for all forest-dependent peoples.”
Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, notes that “forests are inextricably linked to our social and economic value, to our bonds with nature and the health of ecosystems. Hence, we cannot think of them in isolation. It is up to us to make these connections and establish the policies, laws and institutions required. It is up to us to implement sustainable forest management.”
Jan McAlpine, Director of the United Nations Forum on Forests Secretariat, says: “The first United Nations International Day of Forests is a tremendous opportunity to celebrate our unique relationship to forests and trees.” She continues: “This is the day for the whole world to celebrate not only the gifts that forests and trees provide us, but also to unsung heroes, those who make a difference for your forests, your trees and your communities. Find them among you and thank them.”
The International Day of Forests comes a little more than two weeks before national ministers convene in Istanbul, Turkey, from 8-19 April for the tenth session of the United Nations Forum on Forests. The Forum has been instrumental in providing leadership on sustainable forest management policies and practices. In addition to technical and political deliberations on the many important issues on the agenda, the session will also feature the winners of the 2013 Forest Heroes Award, the International Forest Film Festival, and the International Forest Photograph Awards.
Leaders of international organizations working on forests say the International Day will help people recognize the vital role that forests play in people’s lives. The International Day “is hugely significant”, said Eduardo Rojas-Briales, Assistant Director-General of the Forestry Department at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “as it gives forests the global attention and recognition they deserve for providing humankind with countless invaluable services and goods. From providing food and cash incomes for more than a billion of the world’s poorest forest-dependent people to playing a vital role in climate change adaptation and soil and water protection, forests sustain all life on earth.”
Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, said that forests, underpinned by biodiversity, provided a multitude of services. “By implementing the forest-relevant targets of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, Governments will not only be protecting the biodiversity of our forests, they will be ensuring human well-being for present and future generations.”
But the future is also up to the farmers, foresters, fishermen and rural people who determine how natural resources are managed, said Peter Holmgren, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research. “Their livelihoods depend on taking forestry out of the forest and embracing multiple objectives across sectors,” he added. “Only then will we find combined and better solutions to the big challenges of our time.”
Forest research is also vital. “By bringing relevant and reliable scientific information to national, regional and global policymakers, forest research has a positive on-site impact on livelihoods, environment and sustainable development,” says Niels Elers Koch, President of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations.
The Global Environment Facility, which has spent $450 million on forest projects since 2010 and attracted an additional $3.6 billion in co-financing for projects in more than 50 countries, says it is well positioned to help the global community take on the problem of deforestation, which has claimed about 13 million hectares of natural forest a year. Global Environment Facility Chief Executive Officer and Chairperson Naoko Ishii said the International Day “is an excellent opportunity to highlight successful forest initiatives”.
Noting that tropical forests cover nearly 1.7 billion hectares of the planet, Emmanuel Ze Meka, Executive Director of the International Tropical Timber Organization, said “the benefits of tropical forests are global, and for this reason ITTO is working locally, in the forest, hand-in-hand with national Governments, research institutions, NGOs, and local communities to preserve this great asset which sustains life on our planet.”