Forests are at the core of our efforts to restore our relationship with the natural world, the deputy UN chief said on Monday at the UN Forum on Forests. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said we were at a “make-or-break moment”, adding that woodlands provide vital functions, including as guardians of fresh water sources and biodiversity protection.
“Forests are at the core of the solutions that can help us make peace with nature”, she underscored, stressing that “we need all-hands-on-deck” to support of forests worldwide.
Moreover, failure to protect them would have a major, negative impact on damaging and rising carbon emissions. The deputy UN chief said that forests must be adequately financed, including through alleviating debt burdens for those States which are expected to do more for woodland protection and sustainable agriculture overall.
Wide-ranging global crises
Pointing out that the world is facing “wide-ranging global crises” that are “intrinsically linked” to the health and sustainability of our environment, General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir called the discussion “particularly timely”. “Clearly our world is telling us that there is a problem in our relationship with nature”, he said, noting the impact of COVID-19, a zoonotic disease that highlights the risks associated with human encroachment; species extinction rates, which range from 100 to 1,000 times above the baseline rate; and rising global warming, with 2016 and 2020 tied as the warmest years on record.
“Unfortunately, as a society, we tend to focus on the symptoms and not the underlying conditions, and we have ignored the Earth’s messages for far too long”, said the Assembly president. “Hopefully, we can help change that”.
Building political momentum
The UN official drew attention to a high-level dialogue on 20 May that will focus on pandemic recovery and highlight how to help tackle desertification, land degradation and drought. It will encompass a “strong push around the need to use this momentous recovery effort to create jobs and shovel-ready projects that support land restoration, regenerative agriculture, renewable energy and energy efficiency, as well as investments in sustainable land management”, said Mr. Bozkir.
He hoped that the discussion would also help support the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, degradation neutrality targets and national drought plans – in line with the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction, the Nationally Determined Contributions of countries’ commitments to increasing climate actions through the 2015 Paris Agreement, and future commitments under the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.
The Assembly president noted that 2021 will be “a milestone year for the three Rio Conventions on Desertification, Biodiversity and Climate Change”, adding that these important issues are linked and actions must be coordinated for maximum impact.
Forests offer hope to heal people, environment and economy.
“As we move from the Decade to Fight Desertification into a new Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, let us take this opportunity to renew our commitment to creating a future that is more equitable, where all people benefit from living in harmony with nature”, he said.
Liu Zhenmin, head of the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, spoke about new research linking successful forest restoration with rolling back biodiversity loss and species extinction. He maintained that well preserved habitats and healthy agriculture are key pathways forward and also underscored the importance of indigenous people in forest protection and preservation, calling their role “paramount”.
“Investing in forests is investing in our future”, he said. “We must strengthen our global efforts to protect and restore forests and support the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities. Only then can we realize our shared vision for a more just, equitable and sustainable world”.
Forests are key
In his video message, QU Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), called healthy forests the key to “building back better”. As they provide energy, food security and income while also storing carbon and housing most of the Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity, he said that “forests offer hope to heal people, environment and economy”.
“Our generation must be the one that halts deforestation, biodiversity loss and climate change…and achieve better nutrition, better production, a better environment and a better life”, the FAO chief said.
The event also launched the Global Forest Goals Report 2021, which evaluates where the world stands in implementing the UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2030. While the world had been making progress in key areas, such as increasing global forest area through afforestation and restoration, findings reveal that the worsening state of our natural environment is threatening these and other gains.
“Before the pandemic, many countries were working hard to reverse native forest loss and increase protected areas designated for biodiversity conservation”, wrote Secretary-General António Guterres in the report’s foreword. “Some of those gains are now at risk with worrying trends of increased deforestation of primary tropical forests.”