UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday called upon all UN member states to make more efforts to invest in and protect the world’s forests. In his message to mark the International Day of Forests.
“To build a sustainable, climate-resilient future for all, we must invest in our world’s forests,” the secretary general said. “That will take political commitment at the highest levels, smart policies, effective law enforcement, innovative partnerships and funding. On this International Day of Forests, let us commit to reducing deforestation, sustaining healthy forests and creating a climate-resilient future for all.”
The International Day of Forests, observed on March 21, strives to raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests and trees outside. The day of celebration and advocacy was established by resolution of the UN General Assembly on November 28, 2012. Each year, various events celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests, and trees outside forests, for the benefit of current and future generations. Countries are encouraged to undertake efforts to organize local, national, and international activities involving forests and trees, such as tree planting campaigns, on the International Day.
Forests have been decimated due to land clearing, cattle grazing, intensive burning for firewood, or to construct streets and homes. Some 13 million hectares of forest – an area the size of Greece or Nicaragua – are cleared annually. Approximately 1.6 billion people — including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures — depend on forests for food, fuel, shelter and income, Ban noted.
In the Amazon rainforest alone, forests the size of seven soccer fields vanish every minute. Brazil has lost 10 percent of its forests – an area the size of France – between 1990 and 2000. Indonesia, with 20 percent of forests lost over the past 20 years, is the only country to surpass Brazil, taking the number-one spot when it comes to forest destruction, there, 24 million hectares of forest have been destroyed, according to the UN. Nigeria is in third place, followed by Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Three quarters of freshwater comes from forested catchments. Forests prevent landslides and erosion and — in the case of mangrove forests — reduce loss of life and damage caused by tsunamis,” he said. “For these reasons, and more, forests are integral to our future. Among their most important functions is their role in building climate-resilient societies. That is why, in this year of action for sustainable development, climate change is the theme for the International Day of Forests. Sustaining healthy forests and mitigating and adapting to climate change are two sides of the same coin. Forests are the largest storehouses of carbon after oceans.”
The carbon they store in their biomass, soils and products is equivalent to about 10 percent of carbon emissions projected for the first half of this century, he said. “At the same and land-use changes account for 17 percent of human-generated carbon dioxide emissions.”
“Despite the ecological, economic and social value of forests, global deforestation continues at an alarming rate — some 13 million hectares of forest are destroyed annually,” he said. “This is not sustainable for people or the planet.”
On the one hand, deforestation reduces biodiversity. On the other hand, every tree helps to store carbon, and thus work against climate change. Norway’s Environment Minister Trine Sundtoft stresses that Germany’s Bonn Challenge could make a decisive reduction in climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions. The German plan, launched in 2011, calls for 150 million hectares of forest – an area four times larger than Germany – to be reforested by 2020. More than 60 million hectares are currently being reforested.
“We are now at the point where just reducing emissions will not be enough,” she said. “We must actively remove carbon out of the atmosphere – forest restoration is the most cost-effective carbon capture option we have,” she added.
The IUCN estimates that achieving the 150 million hectare reforestation goal by 2020 could not only reduce the current carbon dioxide emissions gap by 11 to 17 percent, but also generate more than $85 billion annually for local and national economies, and $6 billion in additional crop yields.