U.N. Launches International Year of Forests (Forests 2011)

The United Nations has proclaimed 2011 as the International Year of Forests. In the new U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization’s (FAO) State of the World’s Forests report, launched at the opening ceremony, the FAO points out that millions of forest-dependant people play a vital role in managing, conserving, and developing the world’s forests in a sustainable manner. The report adds that the outside world often underestimates their rights to use and benefit from these local forest resources.

“What 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,” Eduardo Rojas, FAO’s Assistant Director-General for Forestry, said.

Moving the “Green” Economy Forward

The increased interest in social and environmental sustainability presents a unique challenge to the forest industry to innovate and restructure itself. The industry must respond to the demands of the 21st Century to change the generally poor perception of wood products by consumers who think it is ethically unsound to cut down trees.

To counter this perception, the FAO report explains that the forest industry is an important part of a “greener” economy with wood products that have environmental attributes which would appeal to people. They point out that wood and wood products, as natural materials, are made from renewable resources that store carbon with a high potential for recycling.

The report goes on to state that the forest industry is responding to numerous environmental and social concerns by improving sustainability of resource use, by using more waste materials to make products and by increasing energy efficiency and reducing emissions.

They provide examples of 37 percent total forest production in 2010 from recovered paper, wood waste and non-wood fibers. That is likely to grow to up to 45 percent by 2030 with much of it from China and India.

They also point out that most solid wood products, including sawed wood and plywood, are produced with relatively little energy use. This results in a low “carbon footprint” from their production and use, which is further enhanced by the fact that carbon is stored in wood products. Pulp and paper production is more energy intensive but is coming under increased pressure to reduce its energy intensity and carbon emissions by adopting improved technologies and emission trading.

They state that governments believe the forest industry has great potential in promoting a “greener economy” including through the use of bioenergy, wood promotion activities, and new wood based products and biomaterials, with many developed countries having increased their support for the development of forest industries over the last few years.

REDD+ needs to address local concerns

REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development. “REDD+” goes beyond deforestation and forest degradation, and includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks

The FAO report stresses that urgent action is needed to protect the values of forests that sustain local livelihoods in the face of climate change.

Recent decisions taken in Cancun in December 2010 on REDD+ should be aligned with broad forest governance reform. This would enable the participation of indigenous people and local communities. Their rights should be respected in national REDD+ activities and strategies, the report suggested. Countries will also need to adopt legislation to clarify carbon rights and to ensure equitable distribution of costs and benefits from REDD+ schemes.

Adaptation strategies are underestimated

While REDD+ forest mitigation actions are attracting major attention and funding, the role of forests in climate change adaptation is often underestimated by governments. The report stresses the importance of forests in contributing to the achievement of national adaptation strategies.

Successful forestry management can reduce the impacts of climate change on highly vulnerable ecosystems and sectors of society. Stemming the clearance of mangroves (one fifth of which are believed to have been lost globally since 1980), would help protect coastlines from more frequent and intense storms and Tsunamis. Planting forests and trees for environmental protection and income could help the poor in arid countries to be less prone to droughts. There are examples of adaptation measures in developing countries that include mangrove development and conservation in Bangladesh, forest fire prevention in Samoa and reforestation programmes in Haiti.

The report points out the close links between forests, rural livelihoods and environmental stability that underline the need for substantial financial support for forest adaptation measures.

“Without such attention given to local-level issues, there is a risk of eroding traditional ways of life and threatening some of the most biologically diverse and environmentally important forests in the world,” the report concluded.

Guest contributor Greg Reitman is the founder of Blue Water Entertainment, Inc., an independent production company focusing on environmentally conscience entertainment. Regarded as Hollywood’s “Green Producer," Reitman produced the 2008 Sundance Audience Award-winning feature documentary “Fuel;” wrote, produced, and directed the feature documentary “Hollywood's Magical Island - Catalina" and is currently in production on a new feature documentary film, “Rooted in Peace.” 

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