The vital role forests play to ensure environmental health and healthy societies came under the spotlight today at a global event which brought together ministers, experts and youth activists to mark International Day of Forests 2023.
Hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the event also underscored how the protection and sustainable management of the world’s woodland areas needs to be a top priority given their crucial contribution to livelihoods, nutrition, biodiversity and addressing the impacts of the climate crisis.
“We need to scale-up and accelerate action, now, and together. We need strong commitments from governments, international organizations, the public and private sector, civil society, academia, and each of us individually. We need to enhance forest restoration through sustainable forest management that provides benefits for people and the planet. Forests are essential to human, animal, plant and ecosystem health, which are fundamental to FAO’s One Health approach,” FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said, speaking at the event.
“Through a concerted global effort, we can reduce deforestation and forest degradation, improve forest resilience, and enhance the ecosystem that is important for people and the planet,” he added.
Forests are a source of food and nutrition for nearly a billion people and help adapt to and mitigate climate change, acting as buffers to heat and extreme weather events while absorbing and storing carbon. They contain 50,000 plant species with healing properties and local communities around the world depend on them to treat a wide array of ailments. They also protect from diseases, acting as a natural barrier to disease transmission between animals and humans.
But forests are under threat and with that the benefits we derive from them. More than 30 percent of new diseases reported since 1960, for example, are attributed to land-use change, including deforestation. Between 2015 and 2020 ten million hectares – roughly the equivalent of 14 million football pitches – of forest were lost per year to deforestation.
High level engagement
Today’s event included a high-level session: ‘Healthy forests for healthy people through policy, science and management’ with the participation of Maria-Orlea Vina, Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development, Madagascar, Bhupender Yadav, Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, India, Sandra Vilardy Quiroga, Vice Minister for Policies and Environmental Standardization, Colombia and Günter Walkner, Minister Plenipotentiary, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Austria to FAO and World Food Programme (WFP) and Chairperson of the FAO Committee on Forestry (COFO).
FAO Director-General Qu also engaged in a conversation with next generation forestry leaders – Tomiwa Oluwajuwon, Global Ambassador for Youth4Nature and Alina Lehikoinen, co-head of the International Forestry Students Symposium 2023 Organizing Committee – during a session that was moderated by Lindsey Hook, Head of Culture, World Food Forum.
“We must empower the creativity and commitment of young people as key drivers of positive change. For this reason, I established the FAO Youth Committee and initiated the World Food Forum when I became FAO Director-General in 2019 as a space for young people around the world to incite positive change for the transformation of global agrifood systems,” said Director-General Qu.
Tree Cities of the World Award
FAO also launched the inaugural Tree Cities of World award at the event to recognize cities that provide a substantial contribution to the theme of the International Day of Forests. The Tree Cities of the World Award is part of a programme of the same name that was launched in 2019 as a partnership between FAO and Arbor Day Foundation. Its vision is to connect cities around the world in a new network dedicated to adopting the most successful approaches to managing urban trees and forests.
On Tuesday, the city of Turin, Italy, received the award on behalf of all cities participating in the programme. The city was recognized for the creation of green spaces in an urban setting. It has around 150,000 trees in its urban parks and gardens, 20,000 of which have been planted in the past few years.
FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo presented the award to the Mayor of Turin, Stefano Lo Russo.
The importance of urban forests and green cities will be highlighted at the 2nd World Forum on Urban Forests in Washington DC in October this year.