The United Nations designated the year 2011 as the International Year of Forests not only to highlight the importance of forests, but also to remind us that we are at the precipice for change. This year’s theme is a continuation of the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity, seeking the protection of the habitat of some of the most important and diverse ecosystems. Launched under the banner ‘Celebrating Forests for People,’ the UN is giving us the opportunity to reflect on the intrinsic relationship between healthy forests and our own prosperity.
During the launch ceremony at the UN Forum on Forests (UNFF), Secretary–General Ban Ki-Moon stated that “By declaring 2011 as the International Year of Forests, the United Nations General Assembly has created an important platform to educate the global community about the great value of forests – and the extreme social, economic and environmental costs of losing them.” The UNFF, which is made up of all 192 members of the UN, has the mandate to promote the sustainable development of all types of forests.
One of the objectives of this UN initiative is to unite everyone to recognise the vital roles that forests play in every aspect of our lives and emphasise how dependent we are on them for our well-being and survival. As Jan McAlpine, the Director of the UNFF said in a statement, “every one of us, all seven billion people on earth, has our physical, economic and spiritual health tied to the health of our forest ecosystems.”
Some statistics are shocking! For instance, according to the WWF, 5,000 trees are destroyed every hour in the Amazon. Moreover, forests are home to over 80 percent of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity and deforestation is responsible for 15 percent of global CO2 emissions – more than the entire transport industry. Forests provide shelter to people, food, medicine, clean water and they are vital in maintaining a stable climate and environment. Unfortunately, they are being destroyed at an unprecedented rate for commonly known reasons such as logging, conversion to agricultural and cattle-grazing land, and urbanisation. According to the Global Forest Resources Assessment, 13,000 hectares of forests are lost each year globally.
This UN-sponsored celebration therefore calls on governments, civil society and the private sector to use this global platform to commemorate actions that have been taken to sustainably manage and conserve the world’s forests. It is a unique opportunity to celebrate forests through a year-long series of events that showcase success stories, highlight innovative solutions and stirs up public awareness and participation at all levels.
To celebrate the International Year of Forests, various activities will be organised. Member states, international organisations and civil society are expected to create national committees and choose focal points for the purpose of facilitating organising activities supporting forests. The UN created a website serving as a forum for discussion and interaction as well as to promote events organised throughout the year. In addition, the UNFF Secretariat is collaborating with the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival to organise the International Forest Film Festival (IFFF).
At Green Awards, we are very exciting to be supporting the International Year of Forests. We appreciate the real value they hold and call for the international community to focus necessary attention to forest protection and conservation. In this year’s awards, with forests as the highlighted theme, we are moving beyond recognising ‘communication’ focused initiatives towards ‘best-in-class’ examples of sustainability outcomes, with one of our new categories honouring the ‘Best Conservation and Biodiversity’ efforts. We believe it is an important celebration as 2011 could be the year which will determine whether or not the world is successful in our fight against deforestation.