DESA News Vol. 12, No. 08 August 2008

Trends and analysis

Online forums tap global forest knowledge

DESA’s Forest Forum Secretariat has been calling on experts worldwide to share insights on the role of forests in a changing environment

Forests cover one third of the world’s land area, constituting the largest terrestrial ecosystems. They provide a wide range of economic, social, cultural and environmental services. More than one billion people live in or around forests and use forest resources for fuel, timber, food, medicine and income. Of these, 70 million are i8ndigenous people in remote areas who depend completely on forest resources for their livelihoods. As one of the most biologically rich terrestrial ecosystems, forests provide habitat to diverse sets of plants, animals and micro-organisms. The world's forests and forest soils store more than one trillion tons of carbon – just over half the total in all terrestrial vegetation and soils. Forests also play a critical role in other natural resources including watershed management, and preventing desertification and soil erosion.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 13 million hectares of the world's forests are lost to deforestation every year. The loss of forest cover has occurred largely as a result of human activities, and the drivers of deforestation are both within and outside the forest sector. Conversion of forests to agricultural land, unsustainable harvesting of timber, unsound land management practices, and the creation of human settlements are amongst the most common reasons for deforestation. Although progress has been made in reversing deforestation through forest planting and restoration in some countries, and in further applying sustainable forest management, deforestation remains a critical challenge for the international community.

To address these and other pressing issues, the Secretariat of the United Nations Forum on Forests, in DESA, recently invited forest experts from around the world to participate in a series of online discussions. The consultations, which started on 1 May and concluded on 31 July, were meant to promote discussion and elicit ideas that could be fed into a set of reports being prepared for the Forum’s eighth session, in April next year.

In 2009, a key theme of Forum will be forests in a changing environment, covering forests and climate change, reversing the loss of forest cover, preventing forest degradation and combating desertification, and forests and biodiversity conservation. Participants in the online conferences were asked to share their views and experiences, and to identify successes and lessons learned in these areas. A complete record of the discussion is available online.

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