Countries must step up their efforts and resources devoted to forests, senior United Nations officials said today, stressing that those ecosystems provide countless economic and social benefits, as well as being essential to combating climate change.
“Forests are the lungs of our planet,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message marking the International Day of Forests, observed on 21 March. “They cover one third of all land area and are home to 80 per cent of terrestrial biodiversity. They are crucial for addressing a multitude of sustainable development imperatives, from poverty eradication to food security, from mitigating and adapting to climate change to reducing disaster risk.”
He continued: “The International Day of Forests is dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of all types of forests and trees to our economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being. However, awareness must be coupled with concrete action.”
Forests and trees sustain life and underpin economies at all levels, and an estimated 1.6 billion people depend on them for food, shelter and income. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 65 and 80 per cent of the world’s people rely on medicines derived from forests as their primary health care. In addition, forested catchments supply three quarters of the planet’s freshwater supply, which is essential for agriculture, industry, energy supply and domestic use. Forests also help to combat climate change as they store more carbon than is in the atmosphere.
“As we envision the future we want, for generations to come, we cannot forget that forests are essential for a greener future – building green economies, green industries, and offering solutions that will help the world move towards a low-carbon economy,” said Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.
Investment to Tackle Forest Degradation
While the international community has pledged billions of dollars to forest-related activities in the context of climate change, greater action and resources are needed to reverse forest degradation and secure their existence for future generations. Currently, some 13 million hectares of forest are lost annually due to the conversion of the land to other uses or natural causes, and deforestation accounts for 12 to 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
“Celebrating forests for sustainable development must begin with the practical action of restoring the more than 2 billion hectares of degraded forests with potential for recovery,” said Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. “The social and economic benefits of doing so are vast and quantifiable as demonstrated by the Republic of Korea, where the forest recovery from 34 to 64 per cent between 1957 and 1980 now generates ecosystem services valued at more than $60 billion every year.”
Eduardo Rojas-Briales, Assistant Director-General of the Forestry Department at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), voiced hope that people around the world would be inspired by the International Day to raise awareness and advocate for forest-related political decisions at all levels. “Their actions will be essential contributions to unlocking the multiple benefits of forests, such as the creation of sustainable and decent livelihoods, which will also have a positive impact on women,” he said.
Peter Holmgren, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research, stressed the need to stop thinking about forests as “a wasteland or a resource to be exploited”, emphasizing: “They are vital parts of the greater landscape, and they feed into natural, political and economic processes across the landscape.”
Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, said the Day provides an opportunity for countries to assess the status of their natural forest capital and the socioeconomic contributions that forests provide to their societies. “By measuring what we treasure we can find innovative ways to conserve, restore and better manage our forests and their resources for the benefit of present and future generations.”
Forests and Sustainable Development
As countries seek to shape the post-2015 development agenda, forests will play a crucial role to achieve sustainable development. “Never before in the history of humankind have forests had to meet so many diverse expectations,” said Niels Elers Koch, President of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations. “And never before has it been so important to recognize their role for sustainable development. Therefore, we need good international cooperation in forest research in order to clearly understand and demonstrate how forests can meet these expectations in a sustainable manner.”
Celebration of the Day is expected to promote action for sustainable forest management. “The International Day of Forests and its related activities around the world should trigger more recognition and awareness of the contributions of forests to a sustainable future for all humanity. More importantly, they should infuse a sense of urgency to improve and promote the sustainable management of forests around the globe,” stressed Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.
Emmanuel ZeMeka, Executive Director of the International Tropical Timber Organization, said the International Day should help build international solidarity towards these objectives. “The adoption by the United Nations of a specific day to celebrate forests and trees is far-reaching. It helps build international solidarity among world citizens, during one specific day, on an invaluable world asset, forests, the protection of which is crucial for continuing to maintain life on our planet.”
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