Celebrating people’s actions to preserve forests

The global launch of the International Year of Forests 2011, held in New York today, united leaders, Member States and civil society to recognize the vital role that forests play in every aspect of our lives.

The ceremony, part of the high-level segment of the UN Forum on Forests,  featured a wide range of international speakers including Under-Secretary-General Sha Zukang, Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai, renowned filmmaker Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Felix Finkerbeiner, founder of Plant-for-the-Planet, a network for school-age children.

“Forests for People” is this year’s theme, and during the official launch, every speaker and feature film stressed that people directly depend on forests for their well-being and even survival. From mitigating climate change to providing wood, medicines and the livelihoods of billions of people from across the world, forests are at the centre of our existence.  

“Every one of us, all seven billion people on earth, has our physical, economic and spiritual health tied to the health of our forest ecosystems,” said Jan McAlpine, UN Forum on Forest Secretariat.

At least 1.6 billion people directly depend on forests for their livelihoods, a majority of which are poor and live in and around forests. Approximately 60 million people, mainly from indigenous and local communities, reside in forests.

According to FAO data, the annual value of wood harvested from forests is more than $100 billion, and globally, more than 60 million people are employed by forest-based industries.

The overarching message of the event was that the time has come to recognize the value of forests and immediately take significant actions to preserve one of our most important natural resources.

 “By declaring 2011 as the International Year of Forests, the United Nations General Assembly has created an important platform to educate the global community about the great value of forests – and the extreme social, economic and environmental costs of losing them,” stated Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

Stressing the urgency to act on behalf of the children’s future, Felix Finkbeiner, founder of Plant-for-the-Planet said, “We children understand the crisis, but do not understand why there is so little action.” He added, “Stop talking, start planting.”   

During the official launch, it was stressed that Governments, civil society and the private sector should use this global platform to celebrate people’s action to sustainably manage the world’s forests, and start acting so a better future can be left for upcoming generations.