Opening of the 12th Session of the United Nations Forum on Forests

As delivered

Remarks by H.E. Mr. Peter Thomson, President of the 71st Session of the General Assembly at the opening of the 12th Session of the United Nations Forum on Forests

 1 May 2017


Mr. Peter Besseau, Chair of 12th session of the UN Forum on Forests,

Ambassador Marie Chatardova, Vice President of the UN Economic and Social Council

Mr Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations,

Dr. Manoel Sobral Filho, Director of the United Nations Forum on Forests Secretariat,


Distinguished guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


It is a great pleasure to be here today to address the 12th Session of the United Nations Forum on Forests.


This meeting comes at a critical time for the world, a critical time in global efforts to protect the health of our forests.


Let us make no mistake on this matter. The health of the world’s forests is fundamental to humanity’s place on this planet.


Forests are home to more than 80 percent of all land-based species of animals, plants and insects.


They regulate our climate, prevent land degradation, reduce the risk of floods, landslides and avalanches, and protect us from droughts and dust storms.


They play a critical role in staving off the worst impacts of climate change, with forests serving as the world’s second largest storehouses of carbon. Indeed, the world’s tropical forests alone retain a quarter of a trillion tons of carbon in biomass.


At the same time, an estimated 1.6 billion people – or 25 percent of the global population – depend on the forest for food security and nutrition, for income and livelihoods, and as a source of energy, fuel and other natural resources.


This includes around 70 million Indigenous people who have long been stewards of these lands, and for whom the forest represents a source of sustenance, shelter, spiritual tradition and cultural identity.


In my own country Fiji, where over 50 percent of the land is covered by forest, approximately half of Fiji’s population depends heavily on the forest for food, medicines, and building and weaving materials.


Despite forests being essential to balancing the global ecosystem, to maintaining human well-being, and to achieving sustainable development, decades of unsustainable use and management practices have destroyed, degraded and depleted enormous quantities of the planet’s natural forests.


To this day, 13 million hectares of forests continue to be lost each year.


The reasons for this deforestation are multitudinous, but they are all largely driven by human activity.


They include population growth and resulting consumption pressures increasing the demand for agricultural land, while at the same time expanding urban centres onto forest lands.


They include the impacts of mining activities, and the unsustainable harvesting of forest resources, such as native timber and palm oil.


The reasons include the effects of air, land and water pollution, and anthropogenically influenced changes in weather, temperature, and rainfall patterns.


Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen


Faced with this scale of forest degradation, the decision last week by the General Assembly to adopt the first-ever United Nations Strategic Plan for Forests (2017-2030) was a critical one.


The Strategic Plan provides a global framework for the sustainable management of all forests, to halt deforestation and forest degradation, and to strengthen international cooperation, coordination, coherence and synergies on forest-related issues.


The Strategic Plan calls for efforts to protect and sustainably manage the forests to be taken as part of a comprehensive approach to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the International Arrangement on Forests, and a number of other global commitments.


As the international community works to deliver on the universal commitments of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we must ensure that the protection and sustainable management of forests is integral to all comprehensive and cross-cutting elements of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the implementation thereof.


This work promises to eradicate extreme poverty, end hunger, build peaceful and inclusive societies, reduce inequality, increase prosperity, protect the environment, and combat climate change. Without the protection and sustainable management of forests these noble efforts will fail. Thus there are a number of key steps that must be diligently pursued.


Firstly, we have to promote efforts at local, national, regional and international levels to support the sustainable use and protection of the forests, including by investing in education campaigns to raise awareness of the importance of forests. We must learn to end destructive patterns of human behaviour if the forest is going to survive.


Secondly, we have to ensure that sustainable forest and land management is included in national development planning and budgetary processes. This includes efforts to protect, restore, and replenish existing forests, as well as preventing further forest degradation.


Thirdly, we must strengthen existing innovative partnerships, and establish new ones to bring together Governments, international organizations, civil society, land owners, the private sector, local communities, and environmental, scientific, and academic institutions. Through such partnerships we can develop win-win plans that promote sustainable economic development and environmental protection.


And we should ensure that Indigenous peoples, women, and youth from forest-dependent communities, are empowered to be part of these decision-making processes.


Fourthly, we should be expanding non-forest based economic and social opportunities for forest-dependent communities. It makes sound sense for us to provide them with alternative sources of livelihood support, as part of a comprehensive approach to protecting the forests.


And finally, we must look to harness the power of science, innovation, and technology to drive catalytic action that can help counter the causes of deforestation.


In this regard, I wish to recognise the work that is already being undertaken across our world by partners, under numerous initiatives, which aim to advance our objectives, and serve to implement the six goals under the new Strategic Plan for Forests.


These initiatives include UN-REDD, the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, and the New York Declaration on Forests that was launched in 2014.


The New York Declaration on Forests brings together developed and developing nations, sub-national governments, companies, civil society, and Indigenous organisations, in a global-scale partnership to cut, and to end by 2030, the loss of natural forest.


Critically, the declaration includes the participation of governments and partners along the full length of the forest product supply chain, embracing producers, banks, global traders, and consumer goods companies.  To date, the partnership has seen more than 400 companies make over 700 commitments towards reducing deforestation.


Broad-based partnerships such as this are essential to the success of our efforts to sustainably use, manage and protect our forests. They need our ongoing support in fidelity to our shared goal.


Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen


If we are going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change;


If we are going to achieve sustainable economic opportunity and social justice for all;


Indeed, if we are to succeed in the implementation the 17 Sustainable Development Goals; as sure as night follows day, the protection and sustainable management of our forests will be fundamental to the security of humanity’s place upon this planet.


I thank you for your attention.

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