Healthy forests are key to “building back better”, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General QU Dongyu said last week in his video address to the high-level round table at the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF, 26-30 April 2021).
In his remarks, the Director-General extolled the many virtues of forests, including ensuring people’s food security and income, storing carbon, providing energy and clean water as well as hosting most of the Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity. In particular, he emphasized a major role of forests at a time of unprecedented climate, health and economic crises, giving hope to people, environment and economy.
However, he warned that deforestation and forest degradation continue to have a devastating impact on the environment and people’s lives.
According to FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020, the world is losing 10 million hectares of forest each year through deforestation. In addition, land degradation affects almost 2 billion hectares, an area larger than South America.
To this end, the Director-General spelled out FAO’s commitment to transform agri-food systems and advance the UN Secretary-General’s initiative on “Turning the Tide on Deforestation.”
“Increasing agricultural production to feed a growing population and halting deforestation are not mutually exclusive”, he noted.
As part of the solution, the Director-General stressed the need for increasing investments in forests and mobilizing global partnerships, saying: “We need to work together with all stakeholders, including governments, the private sector, local communities, women, youth, as well as the Indigenous Peoples who manage about 28 percent of the world’s land surface”.
The high-level round table also saw the participation of Munir Akram, President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC); Volkan Bozkır, President of the General Assembly; Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
In his remarks, the President of ECOSOC underscored the need for restoring equity among humans and balance with nature, as well as identifying the scientific priorities which will play a key role on the road to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The President of the General Assembly noted the timeliness of the discussion, referring to protecting forests as the easiest and the most obvious solution.
For her part, the Deputy Secretary-General pointed to the need to unlock investments for forest restoration. She said that it is time to move from an era of negotiation to a decade of action.
The Executive Secretary of the CBD echoed these remarks saying that we need to enter the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration by reversing trends and focusing on nature, climate and biodiversity. Recovery programmes to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic should therefore include strong environmental safeguards, she added.
UNFF 2021 report
During the high-level round table, the first flagship publication produced by the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs was launched.
The publication entitled “The Global Forest Goals Report 2021” presents an overview of progress towards achieving all six Global Forest Goals. Representing 75 percent of the world’s forests, the new report builds on national data and information from over 70 voluntary national reports and contributions supplemented with bio-physical data from FAO Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020.
One of the headlines of this assessment is that forest loss is slowing down, but not nearly enough to meet international forest-related commitments. Therefore, stepping up joint actions is crucial to halt deforestation and biodiversity loss. In addition, the report contains a series of success stories showcasing best practices which can serve to inform decision-making, scale-up and replicate solutions.
In her video address to the Forum FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo welcomed the report, highlighting the need for filling knowledge gaps to trigger transformation in forest management in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges. Citing the new report as “an excellent example of successful collaboration”, she reaffirmed FAO’s support to countries in collecting, analysing and using forest data to sustainably manage the world’s forests.
“Information, knowledge sharing and working together is vital,” Semedo said.
FAO’s priorities in forestry
Forests and their restoration are integral to FAO’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme which harnesses science, technology, data, human enterprise and creativity to build back better.
FAO chairs the Collaborative Partnership on Forests that brings together 15 international organizations and works to support countries in protecting, restoring and sustainably managing their forests.
Furthermore, FAO co-leads – together with UNEP – the implementation of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration which will generate momentum to restore the world’s forests and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.