Press Conference on International Year of Forests

2 February 2011

Press Conference on International Year of Forests

2 February 2011
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on International Year of Forests


As the United Nations kicked off the International Year of Forests today at Headquarters, a renowned environmental activist urged Governments and other stakeholders worldwide to take action to protect the planet’s vital forestry resources on which 1.6 billion depended for their livelihood and subsistence.

“It’s a matter of political commitment at the national level to make sure the needs of these communities are taken care of,” said Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement, an international non-governmental organization that empowers communities worldwide to protect the environment and promote good governance.

Forests were home to some 300 million people, mainly from local, indigenous communities, Ms. Maathai told correspondents today at a press conference.  The wood and other valuable substances forests supplied — to make everything from fuel to paper products to medicines — were often taken for granted.  As forests were disappearing fast, the International Year would provide a good opportunity to raise awareness about their value, the need for sustainable forestry management, conservation and development, and to galvanize action to ensure that “forests are managed for the people”.  (See also Press Release ENV/DEV/1188)

Forests were also home to and a vital resource for many other species, on which humankind’s survival depended, she said.  Forests were God’s creation and they must be protected — a theme which she called on religious leaders to embrace and preach to their congregations.

She expressed particular concern over conserving the Congo Basin forests spanning Central Africa, the world’s second largest forest.  The Green Belt Movement was working with 10 Central African Heads of State to protect the forests while they grappled with crushing poverty, insecurity and displaced populations.  “It’s a huge challenge, that’s why I’d really like to appeal to Governments to support this region,” she said, noting that the United Kingdom and Norway had already donated $100 million each towards that end.

In June, the President of the Congo would host a forestry summit in which stakeholders from South-East Asia and the Amazon region would participate, to share their experiences in sustainable forestry conservation and management, she added.

Joining Ms. Maathai was Eduardo Rojas-Briales, Assistant Director-General of the Forestry Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), who announced the release of the FAO report, State of the World’s Forests 2011.  The biennial publication compares forest trends across six regions and focuses on developing sustainable forest industries, the role of forests in climate change adaptation and mitigation, and the role of people, notably local forest communities, in forestry management, conservation and sustainable development.

Forests cover almost one third of the world’s land area; 13 million hectares of them are lost annually mainly due to deforestation, according to FAO.  Yet, the world’s track record on slowing the rate of deforestation was improving, dropping 37 per cent from 1990-2000 to 2000-2010, according to Mr. Rojas-Briales.  “We are still in a half-empty glass [situation], but there is important progress thanks to initiative like Wangari Maathai’s and many others’,” he said.

The Near East and the Asia-Pacific region, in particular, were now contributing to forest recovery, he said.  Also promising was last year’s pledge by Governments worldwide to give almost $4 billion to support REDD+, which builds on the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) initiative in developing countries, to include the role of conservation, sustainable forestry management and enhancing forest carbon stocks.  Still, results in the last decade were disappointing in Africa, where deforestation had shrunk 15 per cent, and even worse in Latin America, where it had fallen just 5 per cent.

Asked to respond to the criticism by indigenous groups of the REDD carbon trading programme, Ms. Maathai said good governance over forestry use was vital to ensure Governments’ respected the rights of indigenous groups living in and from the forests, as well as others living afar that depended on environmental services.  “These are services that need to be managed with a wide vision of the common good for all,” she said.

Regarding REDD, Mr. Rojas-Briales said it was crucial that the initiative expand its focus from carbon emission reduction to include agroforestry management, local community participation in the reforestation process as a whole and a big climate change deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol that ensured financing from the developed world other than in the form of official development assistance (ODA).

Asked about Brazil’s efforts to address land rights in the Amazon and reduce illegal deforestation, Mr. Rojas-Briales said that while United Nations reports showed no improvement in 2008, deforestation had slowed significantly in 2009 and 2010, as Brazilian authorities employed the kind of land planning and other successful approaches used in the Asia-Pacific region.

Asked when the world forest area would begin growing again, Mr. Rojas-Briales said if REDD expanded, that could be possible in a few years.  Thirty years ago, 50 million hectares of land had been lost annually due to deforestation.  That annual rate had since dropped to 5.2 million hectares.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.