Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at a tree-planting ceremony on the occasion of the International Day of Forests, hosted by the Netherlands in its capacity as President of the Security Council, in New York today:
It is a pleasure to be here to mark this Day as part of the Netherlands’ presidency of the Security Council. High-level debates in the Security Council may sometimes seem divorced from grass-roots issues. Today, we are literally looking at grass roots. I was supposed to get my hands dirty, but circumstances did not allow it, so that is not a metaphor.
In our daily lives, in this busy United Nations complex, in the middle of this dynamic city, we all need regular reminders of our connection with nature and our planet. This act is fundamental. The health of our planet is essential to our own health and well-being, and to our future, and trees are an essential part of it.
I welcome the Dutch presidency’s focus on tackling the root causes of conflict, including climate change, which has very serious implications for peace and security in all regions. Trees and forests play an essential role in mitigating the impact of climate change. Planting trees is one of the most important things we can do to contribute to the health of the planet. Forests are the lungs of our planet, drawing in carbon dioxide and breathing out oxygen. And trees improve our lives both on a grand scale and at the local level. Strategic planting of trees can help save the energy used for heating in winter and for air conditioning in summer, both very necessary in New York.
Trees in urban areas filter the air and remove harmful particles. They also help to filter and regulate water, preventing flooding and protecting watersheds. They reduce noise pollution by shielding homes and offices from roads and industrial areas. They provide a hospitable place for animals to live and other plants to grow.
And any of you [who] goes to Central Park know how much trees can help to promote health and relaxation, improve quality of life and provide beautiful places for people to relax and socialize. Trees are mysterious, wonderful and ancient. Plants and forests are hundreds of millions of years old, while homo sapiens has been around for just 250,000 years.
As the geobiologist Hope Jahren has said, people don’t know how to make a leaf, but they know how to destroy one. Deforestation has slowed down significantly over the past 25 years. The goal of halting deforestation and restoring forests, as set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, is an attainable objective if we continue our efforts.
Leaves and trees, and all plants, are a vital accompaniment to human life. As we celebrate spring, let us celebrate them. I have a particular personal reason to do so. When I was born, my grandfather, the father of my mother — whose name is a family name that I still keep, that is Oliveira, that is in Portuguese olive tree — the day I was born, he planted an olive tree. And the olive tree is still there, probably in better health than myself. And I believe it will still be there many years after I no longer [will be] around.
But, there is one thing in trees that I find particularly important — it is how they are a symbol of dignity. It is not by chance that trees die standing. And so let us, with this symbolic gesture of today, remind ourselves that we need to do everything we can, not only for a healthy planet, but for human dignity to be safeguarded in an healthy planet.
Thank you very much.