Global summit highlights crucial role of forests in climate change, economic development efforts

Slowing deforestation requires integration of forest planning with other sectors like water and agriculture

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Global forests are a key resource that require more attention, experts said at the UN’s forest congress in Durban, South Africa. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Management of the world’s forests must be integrated with other land use planning efforts in order to address the root causes of deforestation, and forests should be recognized as “more than trees,” experts concluded at last week’s World Forestry Congress in Durban, South Africa.

With good management, forests have great potential to help end hunger, increasing wealth and improving livelihoods in developing countries, as well as in slowing climate change, the delegates from around the world said in the session-ending Durban Declaration.

To reach those goals, the world must make fundamental investments in forests, including more forest education, communication and research, as well the creation of jobs for young people. That will require partnerships among forest, agriculture, finance, energy, water and other sectors, and strong engagement with indigenous peoples and local communities.

“The declaration reflects the extremely rich and diverse set of viewpoints and experiences of all participants in the Congress, who recommended ways to make the vision a reality,” said Tiina Vähänen, Deputy Director of FAO’s Forest Assessment, Management and Conservation Division.

Almost 4,000 delegates from 142 countries attended the congress, including representatives from civil society, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, universities and the private sector as well as around 30 ministers and deputy ministers.

Message on Sustainable Development Goals

The Congress underlined that forests are critical to achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals in a message to the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit, which will meet later this month in New York to adopt the 2030 development agenda.

While SDG 15 addresses the need to sustainably manage forests, trees and forests are also a key to achieving several of the other 16 goals, including those related to ending poverty, achieving food security, promoting sustainable agriculture and ensuring sustainable energy for all, the message says.

The Congress also issued a message to the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, set to meet in Paris in December 2015 to hash out a new global climate change agreement.

Climate change poses a serious threat to the planet, forests and forest-dependent people. However, at the same time countries’ responses to climate change can present new opportunities for forests, such as additional sources of financing and greater political support for forest governance.

Congress participants recommended a set of actions that include increasing understanding among governments and other stakeholders of both the challenges and opportunities that climate change presents.

Forests and water action plan

The Congress also saw the launch of an international five-year forests and water action plan to recognize the role of trees and forests in maintaining the water cycle, and to ensure appropriate management of one of the world’s largest sources of freshwater.

The World Forestry Congress is held every six years. Under the theme Forests and People: Investing in a sustainable future, this year’s event was hosted by the Republic of South Africa with technical support from FAO and marked the first time the Congress was held on African soil since its inception in 1926.

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