Friday, August 22, 2014

Forests for people, United Nations Forum on Forests

Statement by H.E. Dr. Zahir Tanin

Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

Round table 1: Forests for people

9th Session, United Nations Forum on Forests

Mr. Chairman,

I thank you for convening this meeting early in 2011, our International Year of Forests and I would also like to indicate Afghanistan’s desire for active participation in relevant forums and activities in conjunction with the International year.

The pictures of arid and barren landscapes of Afghanistan we see today make it difficult for us to imagine that the country once had much more extensive forests, with cedars, firs and pines in high-alpine areas and coniferous mountain forests, as well as pistachios and almonds in dry woodlands. As a result of the absence of forest management and poor agricultural practices amongst other contributing factors due to decades of conflict and instability, forests cover less than 3% of total land area in Afghanistan today. UN Environmental Protection experts predict that at the current rate of deforestation, Afghanistan’s forests will disappear within 30 years if collective action is not taken to reverse the destruction. As a consequence of thirty years of war, around 50-60% of pistachio forests were destroyed. The provinces of Paktya, Khost and Paktika once had 450,000 hectares of forest, nearly 70% of which has been destroyed.  Most of the destruction in these Eastern provinces is due to illegal logging, even though this practice has been banned since 2006.

Healthy, functioning forests are the primary energy source in the form of fuelwood for rural communities, which make up 80% of our total population. Non-timber forest products, particularly fruits, supplement rural income. However, current rates of deforestation are threatening the existence of our remaining woodlands, and thereby indirectly threatening the livelihoods of our people.

Mr. Chairman,

The government of Afghanistan has taken steps to prevent further destruction of forests. An approach based on a national plan has been adopted by the government, including policies such as a Reintegration Program in 5 provinces of Afghanistan, the announcement of 9 national protection areas, rehabilitation of pistachio forests, community based natural resource management, the prevention of illegal logging and a new legislation for the management of forests. Among major challenges are security, lack of expertise, smuggling of timbers to neighboring countries and lack of donor interests to support forest related projects.

Afforestation projects represent valuable opportunities in reducing the level of poverty by generating employment, as well as providing products that will improve local economic conditions and diversify Afghanistan’s potential commodities for export. The key concerns of energy and food security in rural communities are also addressed in participatory afforestation programs. The return of forest and vegetation to our landscape is also crucial in our efforts to combat desertification. Vital ecosystem services provided by forests can also reduce the water stress Afghanistan faces, and sequester carbon in addressing the global problem of climate change.

Forests and sustainable forest management can contribute significantly to Afghanistan’s efforts in pursuing sustainable development, poverty eradication and the achievement of internationally agreed development goals including the Millennium Development Goals. Together with our development partners, Afghanistan is ready to facilitate knowledge sharing and improve our human and institutional capacity for sustainable forest management.

Thank you

A year-long celebration of vital role of world’s forests

Recognizing the role that forests play in everything from mitigating climate change to providing wood, medicines and livelihoods for people worldwide, the United Nations today kicked off a year-long celebration to raise awareness of the value of this important resource.

“Forests for People” is the main theme of the International Year of Forests, which was launched at a ceremony at UN Headquarters in New York attended by world leaders, Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai and forest experts.

The General Assembly declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests to raise awareness on the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests, on which at least 1.6 billion people depend for their daily livelihoods and subsistence needs. Forests are also home to over 60 million people, mainly members of indigenous and local communities, who reside in forests.

“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,” noted Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Today’s launch ceremony, presided over by General Assembly President Joseph Deiss, is part of the high-level segment of the UN Forum on Forests, an intergovernmental policy forum dealing with forest-related issues. “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,” noted Jan McAlpine, the Director of the Forum’s Secretariat. “Throughout 2011, we will celebrate this intricate, interdependent relationship between forests and people,” she said.

Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), also noted that forests represent many things to many people including spiritual, aesthetic and cultural dimensions that are, in many ways, priceless. “But they are also cornerstones of our economies, whose real value has all too often been invisible in national accounts of profit and loss,” he added.

Forests cover about 31 per cent of total land area, amounting to just under 4 billion hectares, according to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which today released its “State of the World’s Forests” report.

The report, which is published every two years, stresses that the forest industry forms an important part of a “greener” economy and wood products have environmental attributes that would appeal to people.

The industry is responding to numerous environmental and social concerns by improving sustainability of resource use, using more waste materials to make products, increasing energy efficiency and reducing emissions. For example, 37 per cent of total forest production in 2010 came from recovered paper, wood waste and non-wood fibres, a figure that is likely to grow to up to 45 per cent in 2030, with much of that growth from China and India.

“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,” said Eduardo Rojas, FAO’s Forestry Director.

Ms. Maathai noted in her address at the launch, as well as in a briefing to reporters, that the value of the International Year is the opportunity to “explore the value of the trees, the forests and the environment, as well as the value of the environmental services that these resources give us.”

She added that too often forests and the services they provide are taken for granted and seen as resources that are unlimited. “But we all know now that we are facing situations where these forests are disappearing,” she told reporters.

As part of the launch, international filmmaker Yann Arthus-Bertrand will premiere his short film “FOREST.” The ceremony also featured clips from winning films from the International Forest Film Festival which was organised by the UN Forum on Forest Secretariat in collaboration with the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival.

***

On Behalf of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Ambassador Zahir Tanin spoke at a round table session on “Forests for People.”  He described the dramatic changes in the Afghan forest coverage over the last thirty years.  “As a result of the absence of forest management and poor agricultural practices amongst other contributing factors due to decades of conflict and instability,” he said, “forests cover less than 3% of total land area in Afghanistan today.” Ambassador Tanin explained the necessity of preserving forests in order to serve as a primary energy source as well as for their non-timber products.

According to Ambassador Tanin, “UN Environmental Protection experts predict that at the current rate of deforestation, Afghanistan’s forests will disappear within 30 years if collective action is not taken to reverse the destruction.”  The government of Afghanistan, he explained, is working to address the issue through the adoption of a national plan to improve policies in relation to forests.