Global Launch of the International Year of Forests (Forests 2011)

Remarks by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Secretary-General of The 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development

Distinguished delegates and guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour to address you at this launch of the International Year of Forests.

As Head of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, which houses the United Nations Forum on Forests, it is gratifying to see this initiative officially taking off today. I am also delighted to note the wide range of actors, stakeholders and experts with us today.

We have government ministers, filmmakers and Nobel laureates here…all demonstrating their commitment to protecting forests….and to maximizing the power of this International Year as a promotional tool that can bring change to forest management.

Combined, your action will generate the momentum we need to achieve the global objectives of sustainable forest management.

I thank you for your participation and for the work you will carry out in the year ahead.

The theme of the Year is “Forests for People.”

It will raise awareness of the links between forests and the more than 1.6 billion people around the world that depend on them for their livelihoods.

There has been too little focus on this reality.

The collective imagination has been able to grasp the environmental dangers of deforestation and forest degradation…that we will lose biodiversity and invaluable air, water and land resources when we allow forests to be destroyed.

The public’s understanding of forests as carbon storage resources has increased as well.

Through the International Year, however, we must also bring attention to the forests as economic and social resources….for they contribute directly to reducing poverty and hunger by providing jobs and incomes for poor families.

More than 60 million people are employed by forest-based industries.

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 provide vital goods for poor families – timber, firewood, food, medicine and non-wood forest products.

Forests help contain diseases…and they regulate hydrological, carbon and nutrient cycles that make for healthy, sustainable lifestyles – if we protect them.

And let us not forget the cultural and spiritual values of forests…countless world traditions are linked to trees and plants.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Political interest in forests is on the rise, but we need to use this International Year to translate the interest 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.

I know that in the next year, each of you will be working on public and private initiatives to protect forests at the national and regional levels.

I urge you to carry out events and activities that draw the attention of the general public, the media, politicians, government officials, academia, environmental organizations and young people.

But I also ask for your help in galvanizing global political support through preparations for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012 – also known as Rio+20.

The objectives of the Conference are to renew political commitment on sustainable development, assess progress and gaps on its implementation and to address emerging issues.

The Conference will focus on two important themes – a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and the institutional framework for sustainable development – both highly relevant to sustainable forest management.

In my capacity as the Secretary-General of the Conference, I invite you to work together to ensure that the outcome of this Conference will help advance sustainable forest management.

I am pleased that Ministers will be discussing Rio+20 preparations at the Ministerial Roundtable during this UNFF High Level Segment.

I urge all of you to explore how you can contribute to the Conference through your governments, forest organizations, or NGOs that work on sustainable development.

With your help we will ensure that forests are not only highlighted in 2011, but that forests are central to a global, actionable agenda for change that emerges from the Rio+20 Conference.

Thank you.