Statement by the Office of the President of the General Assembly’s Special Adviser on SDGs Implementation, H.E. Dessima Williams, during the Special Event on the theme “Forests and Energy”, in celebration of the International Day of Forests
21 March 2017
Your Excellency Mr. Manoel Sobral Filho Director, UN Forum on Forests
Your Excellency Mr. Nabeel Munir, Vice-President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC),
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be here this morning, in my capacity as Special Adviser on Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, to deliver opening remarks on behalf of H.E. Mr. Peter Thomson, President of the 71st Session of the General Assembly, who regretfully is unable to join you today due to previously scheduled meetings, to this special event in celebration of the International Day of Forests.
Today is a day for the international community to celebrate the world’s forests. Forests cover nearly one third of our planet’s land mass, and are essential to life on earth. Forests provide timber, food, fuel, shelter, as well as clean air and water. They are home to an estimated 80% of all terrestrial species. Forests prevent land degradation and desertification, reduce the risk of natural disasters from floods, landslides and avalanches, and contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation. At the same time, when forests are sustainably managed, they are healthy, productive, resilient and renewable ecosystems which can provide essential goods and services to people worldwide.
As you may know, the theme of the 71st session of the General Assembly is ‘The Sustainable Development Goals: A Universal Push to transform our World”. The theme of this year’s International Day of Forests, on “Forests and Energy” – is of particular relevance to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and SDG15 and SDG7 in particular.
The use of forest-based products for energy has wide ranging impact on human life, from generating income and employment, to food. However, in rural areas where people lack access to modern energy services, large amounts of traditional solid biomass –including fuelwood, charcoal, animal dung and agricultural residues– are used daily for cooking and heating.
In some developing countries, more than 90% of the population relies exclusively on solid biomass. In many cases, this biomass is obtained and used in an unsustainable manner that contributes to local forest degradation and pollution such as cutting down healthy trees, which damages the biodiversity of the land. Meanwhile, more than four million people die prematurely each year from illnesses attributable to indoor air pollution from cooking with traditional biomass and inefficient cook stoves.
Modern more efficient renewable technologies can provide sustainable alternatives. Improved cook stoves could reduce the need for fuelwood, charcoal, and other biomass fuels through efficient combustion. They can achieve fuel savings of between 20 to 67% depending on the replacement cooking methods chosen.
By reducing emissions of pollutants, renewable energy technologies, such as solar and wind, will significantly reduce risks to human health, and additionally they will play a critical role in delivering health services to people in remote and rural areas, improve access to clean water, improved sanitation and adequate nutrition.
Moreover, by reducing or eliminating the time required to gather firewood modern renewables can also free up time for women and girls to pursue education, income-generating activities or recreation.
Cross-sectoral policies and approaches are vital if we are to sustainably manage forests for current and future generations, while at the same time ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. In fact, such approaches are key to breaking down silos and implementing all seventeen Sustainable Development Goals.
Seventeen years ago, the United Nations established the UN Forum on Forests to promote the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests, and to strengthen long-term political commitments for this purpose. In 2007, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Forests Instrument that set out a global framework for national action and international cooperation for sustainable forest management and aimed to enhance the contribution of forests to the achievement of internationally agreed development goals.
Two months ago during the UN Forum on Forests, 197 members reached agreement on the first UN Strategic Plan for Forests, which outlines an ambitious vision for protecting global forests by 2030 and features a set of six Global Forest Goals and 26 associated targets, which are voluntary and universal. In order for us to realize this vision we will need integrated and inclusive approaches to forests that balance consideration of economic, social and environmental issues, while creating synergies across multiple sectors.
In closing, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, let us remind ourselves that the pursuit of a sustainable future and a better world is a shared responsibility. Global observances like the International Day of Forests are an opportunity to become informed, and to translate this knowledge and the empowerment that comes from this knowledge, into real progress and action on the ground. Happy International Day of Forests!
I thank you