DESA Voice: Trees for life – an inspiration to live more sustainably

“Regardless of where we live, the world’s forests sustain us all,” says Yan Lang, Programme Management Officer, in UN DESA’s Forum on Forests Secretariat, as we catch up ahead of the International Day of Forests on 21 March. Ms. Lang describes the current state of our forests and what actions we can take to protect them.

Forests play a critical role for life on Earth. Can you explain why and give some examples?

“Forests and trees have sustained life on Earth for millennia. They are diverse, complex living ecosystems that are home to rich flora and fauna – from microscopic bacteria and fungi to flowering plants and towering trees; from birds, bees, and butterflies to bears, deer, and primates. Furthermore, forests are home to people, including indigenous peoples and other forest-dependent communities. They sustain the livelihoods of people in rural communities, including billions who depend on smallholder agriculture for their subsistence. For many communities, forests are a source of food, fuel, and health – including fruit, nuts, mushrooms, insects, wild animals, wood, and medicinal plants. And regardless of where we live, the world’s forests sustain us all; through the water we drink, the air we breathe, the rain that nourishes our crops, and the social and cultural values that forests and trees embody.”

How would you describe the current health of our forests?

“The health of forests varies across regions and biomes. The good news is that in recent decades net deforestation rates have slowed by more than 50 percent, largely due to sustainable management by countries around the world who have invested in protected areas, restoration, and afforestation. The bad news, however, is that despite these efforts, deforestation and forest degradation are still taking a toll on our forests. While illegal and unsustainable logging poses a threat to forests, the biggest driver of deforestation remains agricultural expansion. This creates a conundrum – large tracts of forests are being converted to farmland and livestock grazing land to meet the immediate needs of food security; at the same time our long-term resilience depends on safeguarding the health of these forests and the rich biodiversity they hold within. To address this, we need to transform agriculture and food practices into more sustainable consumption and production systems.”

What actions can children and youth take to make a difference for our trees and forests?

“Action begins with knowledge, and you can start by learning more about how forests are faring in your neighborhood. Support your local parks and forests by visiting them and joining community events. Talk to your family members and friends about buying sustainably produced forest products. Find ways to reduce waste and conserve the water and energy you use at home and school. Learn how you can support local and environmentally friendly businesses and raise awareness about reducing carbon footprints. Every sustainable choice that you make in your daily life, ultimately benefits our forests and trees. Furthermore, the creativity of the youth can be tapped into to promote ecosystem restoration, not just to plant trees, but also to address the key drivers of deforestation and forest degradation though promotion of agro-value chain, circularity and sustainable consumption and production.”

This year’s International Day of Forests focuses on sustainable production and consumption. Can you tell us more about the theme and the event this year? How can trees inspire us to live more sustainably?

“Every year, we celebrate the International Day of Forests on 21 March, and through the theme of the Day, we raise awareness on the many ways that forests sustain us. This year’s theme focuses on sustainable consumption and production, which is all about restoring balance in how we use natural resources. It is about increasing efficiency while minimizing pollution and environmental degradation. Ultimately, it is about making better choices and creating sustainable lifestyles for ourselves, and our future generations. Given enough care and planning, forests can provide us with a wealth of renewable resources to benefit our daily lives.

This year, we at UN DESA’s UN Forum on Forests Secretariat will organize a special virtual event on 21 March in celebration of the International Day, which will feature senior UN and government officials, technical experts, and stakeholders, each of whom will share their inspiring forest stories. I hope that you will join us at the event via UN Web TV.”

Originally published on the DESA Voice March 2022 edition.