United Nations Forum on Forests

Note: A complete summary of today’s United Nations Forum on Forests meetings will be made available after their conclusion.

Panel I

This morning, the Forum held two panel discussions, the first of which focused on the theme “The contribution of forests to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies”.  It featured the following panellists:  Hiroto Mitsugi, Chair of the Collaborative Partnership Forum; Meine van Noordwijk, Co-Chair of the Global Forest Expert Panel assessment on forests and water of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations; David Ellison, Expert at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the European Forest Institute (Finland); and Michael Jenkins, President and Chief Executive Officer of Forest Trends (United States).  David Ganz, Executive Director of the Centre for People and Forests, served as lead discussant.

Mr. MITSUGI, opening the discussion, outlined the main outcomes of the International Conference Working Across Sectors to Halt Deforestation and Increase Forest Area, co-hosted by the Collaborative Partnership Forum and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in February.  The meeting had sought to promote dialogue and information-sharing among countries, sector leaders and other experts, related to Sustainable Development Goal 15 on halting deforestation, restoring degraded forests and increasing forest cover by 3 per cent by 2030.  Among the recommendations emanating from the Conference was the need to empower forest-dwellers; facilitate forest-related investment; provide enabling frameworks for stronger sustainable forest management; strengthen relevant capacity-building and education initiatives; approach landscape management in an integrated way that took into account climate change threats; support forest-smart policies and governance; protect local and customary land rights; and enable bank lending to benefit sustainable land use practices.

Mr. VAN NOORDWIJK presented an overview on the Global Forest Expert Panel’s assessment on forests and water, whose full report would be submitted to the Economic and Social Council’s high-level political forum in July.  The report studied the relationships between forests and the planet’s water, ultimately seeking to answer three questions:  Did forests matter; who was responsible for forests and what should be done; and how relevant progress could be measured.  Much attention had been paid in recent years to relevant social and ecological systems, including the rights of peoples to forest lands and water resources.  Recent conversations about atmospheric recycling had led to a more holistic view that took climate change into account.  Noting that water was not just one single Sustainable Development Goal — and instead cut across all of them — he urged States to open wider, more frank discussions and think outside the box to move forward the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Mr. ELLISON, addressing the relationship among precipitation, forests and the planet’s water availability, said increasing forest cover could have a large impact on water availability.  Research suggested that “forests take water away”.  While he did not disagree with those findings at the catchment basin level, he said the “precipitation recycling school” — which he supported — took a wider view which also considered the water evaporation and transpiration cycle.  Comparing land areas that had been afforested versus those where forests remained showed that the forested areas helped prevent water runoff, ultimately increasing water catchment.  That research also found that adding forest and vegetation cover could be helpful in upwind coastal areas, where water was otherwise likely to flow into the ocean, as well as in areas where water supply was relatively abundant and moderate trade-offs were therefore acceptable.

Mr. JENKINS said that, as the “infrastructure of the planet”, forests played a key role in preserving biodiversity, sequestering carbon, conserving soil and preserving long-held human spiritual values.  “The reality is, most of these are not valued,” he said, noting that an acre of soy beans was seen as more valuable than an acre of forest.  “If we cannot flip this equation, we are not going to win this war,” he stressed.  Some 1.6 billion people, including millions of indigenous peoples, were dependent on forests, while forest resources enabled people to rise of out of extreme poverty and reduce their vulnerability.  Describing those products and services as forests’ “hidden harvest”, he outlined positive developments in a range of countries, many of which stemmed from the fact that forests had been enshrined in such critical global accords as the Paris Agreement on climate change.  Governments were currently well positioned to make integrated forest ecosystem services part of their national accounting systems, he said, urging States, the private sector, global financial institutions and others to “turn commitments into action” through bold, progressive investments in climate and forests.

Mr. GENZ, providing a non-governmental perspective, underlined the need for policymakers to work closely with agrobusinesses, the mining sector and other actors to ensure that investments in sustainable forest management benefitted local communities.  Working with certification bodies was crucial, he said, also underscoring the importance of ensuring local peoples’ free, prior and informed consent, as well as full respect for their land tenure and water rights.

As the floor was opened for comments and questions, speakers spotlighted national efforts to halt deforestation, increase forest cover and address other issues related the risks posed by climate change.  Many agreed with the panellists that forests and their ecosystems were not adequately valued despite their critical role for the planet and humankind.

The representative of India, noting that his country had already registered a 1 per cent increase in its overall forest cover — and was, therefore, well on its way to achieving the 3 per cent increase target by 2030 — voiced support for the Forum’s efforts to empower forest-dwellers and youth and support countries’ efforts to halt and reverse forest degradation.

The representative of the European Union, echoing those sentiments, also welcomed efforts to promote sustainable forestry value chains in forestry, remove harmful subsidies and implement the United Nations strategic plan for forests 2017‑2030.

The representative of Malaysia described his country’s carbon certification scheme, which supported the use of wood alternatives from sustainable sources.  Urging Member States to prioritize the sustainable sourcing of wood and timber products, he warned that without addressing the demand for wood products — largely driven by developed countries — supply-side certification efforts by developing countries would not succeed.

The representative of the Congo was among speakers describing their forests — and the role they played in their people’s lives — in detail.  In that regard, she noted that the 250‑million-hectare Congo Basin spanned the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, Gabon, Angola and her own country, even reaching as far as Rwanda and the United Republic of Tanzania.  It represented one fifth of the world’s remaining tropical forests, she said.

Also participating were representatives of Finland, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Switzerland, Pakistan, Mexico and the Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine.

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