Forest Day 4: Time to Act

Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs

His Excellency President Calderón,
Minister Juan Elvira Quesada,
Director General Seymour,
Ladies and gentlemen,

We meet today to discuss the important issues surrounding the debate on forests and climate change.

We aim to better position forests in the battle against climate change, and align them with our collective efforts to achieve global development goals.

I would like to thank the Government of Mexico and its National Forestry Commission, along with the Collaborative Partnership of Forests – including the Centre for International Forestry Research and my colleagues in the United Nations Forum on Forests Secretariat – for making this event possible.

I want to address a few key points about the forest agenda from the United Nations perspective.

We need to go beyond simply touting the environmental importance of forests. I want to emphasize that a people-centred approach must become a cornerstone of any debate on forests including the debate on forests and climate change.

The public is quick to understand why biodiversity, timber and agricultural resources should be protected.

It is easy for the collective imagination to grasp the dangers of deforestation and forest degradation.

But we need to do a better job of communicating the benefits of forests that stretch far beyond their influence on our air, water and land.

Indeed, forests are the source of livelihoods for approximately 1.6 billion people across the world, many of whom are poor. Forests contribute directly to the goals of reducing poverty and hunger by providing jobs, incomes, and consumption goods for poor families.

Many of these jobs are “green” jobs – exactly the kind of ecologically beneficial and long-term jobs that we need in the 21st century.

Forests also promote social integration and inclusion of marginalized groups including local communities and indigenous peoples.

The United Nations has created a framework to assist countries and organizations in developing a people-centred approach to forests.

In 2007, all 192 member states of the United Nations agreed to the Non-legally Binding Instrument on All Types of Forests.

This instrument is the first comprehensive international agreement on forests, addressing all aspects and functions of forests from a 360 degree perspective. It laid out specific ways to operationalize the people-centred vision…such as policies for combating deforestation…programmes for mitigation and adaptation, and measures for capacity-building and financing.

The Forest Instrument is the only international agreement that defines “sustainable forest management” – a term that has figured prominently in climate change negotiations on forests.

I urge all governments, international organizations, civil society, the private sector and other relevant stakeholders to implement the provisions of the Forest Instrument.

The outcome document of the recent MDG Summit further emphasized the links between forests and development and people.

This emphasis on the global objectives on forests sent a strong signal: world leaders are more aware than ever before of the inextricable links between forests and all aspects of human life.

Distinguished colleagues,

Another key point I want to emphasize relates to REDD+ and its financing.

Discussions on REDD+ have made good progress in the official negotiation process.

Major developments on REDD+ financing have also happened outside the negotiation process.

Billions of dollars have been pledged. These funds are being used to assist developing countries reduce their greenhouse gasses through sustainable forest management.

In spite of its huge potential, REDD+ financing flows are unlikely to address all the gaps and constraints of forest financing.

So far, REDD+ monies are directed to a relatively small set of countries – about 48 out of 192 UN Member States. And funds are being used for a narrow set of issues within those countries.

Many more countries need REDD+ financing. We need to find out which ones need it most and create ways of redirecting funds to them. And complementary financing should be dedicated to developing countries with special needs.

The UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, which I head, stands ready to help developing countries improve their capacity to use REDD+ financing, implement REDD+ actions and to mainstream climate change policies into national development strategies.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We meet here alongside the Cancun negotiations because the fight to save forests is central to the larger battle of preventing further climate change.

But we must also change the way we fight poverty and social problems in our attempt to achieve sustainable development.

Sustainable development is a paradigm that ensures the integration of environmental protection along with economic and social development.

Sustainable development is not a brand new concept. The UN held its first conference on environment and development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, followed by the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002.

In recent decades, countries have made progress in their sustainable development initiatives. Today we see more and more examples ….recycling programmes that create jobs and employ women…micro-financing opportunities that are tied to sustainable agricultural practices and better nutrition for families.

There is a huge potential for forests to be both agents for and beneficiaries of sustainable development.

In this vein, as the Secretary General of the Rio+20 Conference, I invite you to contribute to this landmark event on the UN’s calendar – the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012, also known as Rio+20.

The aim of the conference is to renew political commitments for sustainable development, assess progress made and gaps in implementation and identify new and emerging challenges.

The conference will be anchored on two themes: a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and the institutional framework for sustainable development.

We need you to participate as we move ahead in the preparation and organization of Rio+20.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In closing, I would like to remind you that the Member States of the United Nations have designated 2011 as the International Year of Forests.

The Year will raise public awareness about the intrinsic value of forests, and we hope it will prompt governments to redouble their conservation and management efforts.

We are counting on you, as experts and leaders in forestry, to help us celebrate the year through events and activities that catch the attention of the media, politicians, government officials, academia, environmental organizations and young people.

I hope that you will use the Year to express your own passion about forests while also building support for their protection in your communities.

Thank you for your attention and I look forward to a productive day of events.