Recognizing the role that forests play in everything from mitigating climate change to providing wood, medicines and livelihoods for people worldwide, the United Nations today kicked off a year-long celebration to raise awareness of the value of this important resource.
â€œForests for Peopleâ€ is the main theme of the International Year of Forests, which was launched at a ceremony at UN Headquarters in New York attended by world leaders, Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai and forest experts.
The General Assembly declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests to raise awareness on the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests, on which at least 1.6 billion people depend for their daily livelihoods and subsistence needs. Forests are also home to over 60 million people, mainly members of indigenous and local communities, who reside in forests.
â€œBy declaring 2011 as the International Year of Forests, the United Nations General Assembly has created an important platform to educate the global community about the great value of forests â€“ and the extreme social, economic and environmental costs of losing them,â€ noted Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Todayâ€™s launch ceremony, presided over by General Assembly President Joseph Deiss, is part of the high-level segment of the UN Forum on Forests, an intergovernmental policy forum dealing with forest-related issues. â€œEvery one of us, all seven billion people on earth, has our physical, economic and spiritual health tied to the health of our forest ecosystems,â€ noted Jan McAlpine, the Director of the Forumâ€™s Secretariat. â€œThroughout 2011, we will celebrate this intricate, interdependent relationship between forests and people,â€ she said.
Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), also noted that forests represent many things to many people including spiritual, aesthetic and cultural dimensions that are, in many ways, priceless. â€œBut they are also cornerstones of our economies, whose real value has all too often been invisible in national accounts of profit and loss,â€ he added.
Forests cover about 31 per cent of total land area, amounting to just under 4 billion hectares, according to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which today released its â€œState of the Worldâ€™s Forestsâ€ report.
The report, which is published every two years, stresses that the forest industry forms an important part of a â€œgreenerâ€ economy and wood products have environmental attributes that would appeal to people.
The industry is responding to numerous environmental and social concerns by improving sustainability of resource use, using more waste materials to make products, increasing energy efficiency and reducing emissions. For example, 37 per cent of total forest production in 2010 came from recovered paper, wood waste and non-wood fibres, a figure that is likely to grow to up to 45 per cent in 2030, with much of that growth from China and India.
â€œWhat we need during the International Year of Forests is to emphasize the connection between people and forests, and the benefits that can accrue when forests are managed by local people in sustainable and innovative ways,â€ said Eduardo Rojas, FAOâ€™s Forestry Director.
Ms. Maathai noted in her address at the launch, as well as in a briefing to reporters, that the value of the International Year is the opportunity to â€œexplore the value of the trees, the forests and the environment, as well as the value of the environmental services that these resources give us.â€
She added that too often forests and the services they provide are taken for granted and seen as resources that are unlimited. â€œBut we all know now that we are facing situations where these forests are disappearing,â€ she told reporters.
As part of the launch, international filmmaker Yann Arthus-Bertrand will premiere his short film â€œFOREST.â€ The ceremony also featured clips from winning films from the International Forest Film Festival which was organised by the UN Forum on Forest Secretariat in collaboration with the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival.
On Behalf of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Ambassador Zahir Tanin spoke at a round table session on â€œForests for People.â€Â He described the dramatic changes in the Afghan forest coverage over the last thirty years.Â â€œAs a result of the absence of forest management and poor agricultural practices amongst other contributing factors due to decades of conflict and instability,â€ he said, â€œforests cover less than 3% of total land area in Afghanistan today.â€ Ambassador Tanin explained the necessity of preserving forests in order to serve as a primary energy source as well as for their non-timber products.
According to Ambassador Tanin, â€œUN Environmental Protection experts predict that at the current rate of deforestation, Afghanistanâ€™s forests will disappear within 30 years if collective action is not taken to reverse the destruction.â€Â The government of Afghanistan, he explained, is working to address the issue through the adoption of a national plan to improve policies in relation to forests.