Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Opening of the Eighth Session of the United Nations Forum on Forests
New York, 20 April 2009

Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a privilege to address you at the opening of the Eighth Session of the United Nations Forum on Forests. We meet as the world confronts an unprecedented cascade of crises: financial, economic, environmental and social.

How we manage our world’s forests is a critical factor in developing integrated solutions to these crises – and, concurrently, in building our capacity to weather adversity.

Sustainable forest management is a dynamic and evolving concept, which aims to maintain and enhance the economic, social and environmental values of all types of forests, for the benefit of present and future generations.

Forests are the lungs of our planet; billions of people rely on forests for their income, food, medicine and shelter. Over 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods. Trade in forest products is valued in the hundreds of billions, and represents nearly 4 per cent of the global trade value of all commodity products.

Forests are crucial to all aspects of our global sustainable development: from poverty eradication to rural development; from access to water, and energy, to agricultural productivity, soil conservation, and flood control. They are home to at least 80 per cent of all terrestrial biodiversity, and provide innumerable environmental functions, from protecting watersheds to sequestering carbon. Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, with financial and technical support from development partners, will therefore contribute both to fighting climate change and promoting sustainable livelihoods.

This was recognized in the Bali Action Plan. As the preparations mount for the Copenhagen Conference later this year, the Forum could send the message that, in addressing the issue of forests and climate change, the full scope of forests must be considered – forests provide much more than the carbon sequestration services valued in the context of climate change.

Two years ago, the long-awaited adoption of the “non-legally binding instrument on all types of forests” signalled the beginning of a new era in international forest policy. We all agree that forests have significant contributions to make in realizing a more sustainable and equitable future. Now is the time to build on that shared political commitment and translate it into collective and concrete action – to implement sustainable forest management and the global objectives.

First, as suggested by one of the Forum’s two themes for this session, we must recognize the change in the environment.

Discussion of many of the issues on the Forum’s agenda – from the environmental aspects of biodiversity to climate change to desertification – can be traced back to the Rio Summit in 1992, and earlier. We are honoured to have two of the three Rio Convention Executive Secretaries here with us, and I look forward to hearing their views. We have a wealth of experience, many best practices and some glorious failures to learn from.

While the interconnections between these issues have become clearer, what has really changed, in my view, is the international context and the political will to act.

This brings me to the session’s second major theme, means of implementation for sustainable forest management.

In 2007, at the Forum’s last session, Member States clearly identified the essential need for new and additional financing to enable effective implementation of sustainable forest management. Moreover, the Forum called upon its 2009 session to reach agreement on financing for sustainable forest management.

The decisions you face this session will challenge your ability to be creative, to persuade those concerned with other crises and other issues that forests need resources now – and that investing in forests will generate dividends of sustainable, inclusive and green growth for decades to come.

Experience shows that, in times of financial crisis, the impacts on forests are direct and dramatic. During the 1997 Asian financial crisis, large areas of forests were lost, converted to other uses. Entire communities struggled to survive, in the face of unemployment and economic ruin.

We now have a chance, to do things differently. The current global financial and economic crisis provides an opportunity to develop innovative solutions and strategies for investment in green technology approaches, and to build toward an economic recovery that includes long-term sustainable development gains.

The Forum has universal membership of all 192 member states of the United Nations and a comprehensive 360 degree view of sustainable forest management. It takes into account the full scope of forest issues, in a cross-sectoral and integrated manner.

The Forum has the unique responsibility of translating this comprehensive view into leadership and guidance on the ways – and facilitating and catalyzing the means – to implement forest-based solutions to global development challenges.

The time has come for decisive action – the fate of forests and the billions who depend on forests – rests in your hands. In this increasingly globalized and interconnected world, the only sustainable solution lies in working in a true spirit of partnership with all stakeholders, at all levels – from the global, to the regional to the local. The contributions of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests provide an excellent example of what we can achieve together.

Mr. Chairman,

At this critical juncture in our global development, the challenges are many, but the opportunities are even greater. And inaction is not an option.

I wish you success in guiding the work of the Forum. Please be assured of the full support of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs in your deliberations, and, in particular, the UNFF Secretariat, under the able leadership of its new Director, Ms. Jan McAlpine.

I wish you all a most productive session.

Thank you.