8 April 2013

Africa: Forests - UN Officials Stress Forestry As Key to Economic Development and Sustainability

The vital role of forests in global development and people's lives as well as protecting these resources for future generations are at the heart of discussions at the Forum on Forests, senior officials said today, as the United Nations body began its current session.

"The tenth session of the Forum is a timely opportunity to re-emphasize the critical role of forests in global development," Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Wu Hongbo told a news conference on the opening day of the two-week meeting in Istanbul, Turkey.

"This is especially important given the ongoing deliberations on defining a post-2015 United Nations development agenda with sustainable development at its core," he added.

The current session of the UN Forum on Forests (UNFF10) will examine these issues, in addition to its main focus - forests and economic development.

21 March has been designated International Forests Day and Member States are urged to come up with forest-related activities to mark this day.

Forests have always played a major role in human history. Over time, the interaction between humans and forests has changed in response to social and economic changes. Sustainability which is founded upon these core concepts found its roots in scientific forestry more than three centuries ago.

For example, in 1713, Hans Carl von Carlowitz, Chief Mining Administrator at the court of Kursachsen in Freiberg (Germany), published his work "Sylvicultura oeconomica" in which he demanded that no more trees should be felled than could be replaced through the planned sowing and planting of new trees. He called this approach "nachhaltig" or "sustainable". The concept of sustainability has its roots in many traditional societies as well, going back many centuries.

Discussions are under way at the international level on a global development agenda beyond 2015, the deadline for achieving the anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

At the same time, Member States are discussing the creation of a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs), as agreed at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held last year in Brazil.

National level policies for forests have far-reaching implications for global sustainable development. The formal forestry sector's contribution to global gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to be nearly $468 billion annually.

But the value of forests cannot be measured in GDP only. "Forests also provide critical ecosystem services," Mr. Wu stated, noting that three-quarters of the freshwater used for household, agriculture and industry is provided by forested catchment areas.

Forests also play a vital role in the fight against climate change, Turkey's Minister of Forestry and Water Affairs, Veysel Eroðlu, underscored at the briefing.

"They are very important in the fight against climate change because carbon dioxide gases are absorbed by forests and forests are producing oxygen. Therefore, they are like the lungs of the world. We have to protect our forests. We have to take care of them," he stated.

As government delegations and distinguished experts at the Forum discuss policy formulation on the contribution of forests to economic growth, social enhancement and environmental sustainability, a key issue will be adequate and sustained financing - another item on the Forum's agenda.

Set up by the UN Economic and Social Council in 2000, the Forum meets every two years. Its current session, which is being held away from UN Headquarters for the first time, will consider a range of measures to improve sustainable forest management.

Jan McAlpine, Director of the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat, told reporters, "The relationship between people and forests and trees is inseparable. We cannot exist without trees and forests."

According to Ms. McAlpine, the biggest challenge is how to maintain a balance between the sustainable use of trees for the lives and livelihoods of people who live in and around forests while protecting those resources for future generations.

"This is not an easy solution," she stressed.

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