Forum on Forests Opens Thirteenth Session Amid Calls to Reinforce Contribution of Woodlands to Sustainable Development

The United Nations Forum on Forests opened its thirteenth session today with speakers challenging Member States to quicken the pace of implementing the United Nations strategic plan for forests (2017-2030), thus contributing to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Over five days, the Forum � mindful that 30 per cent of Earth's land surface was covered with trees that provided food, heat, timber and livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people � will finalize its contribution to the high-level political forum on sustainable development to be hosted by the Economic and Social Council at Headquarters in July.

Forum Chair Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob (Malaysia) said that, following the General Assembly's 2017 adoption of the United Nations strategic plan for forests, it was crucial to generate an irresistible momentum and keep the promise of a better world through the 2030 Agenda. By doing so, it was possible to increase forests by 3 per cent globally, sustainably manage all types of forests and trees, and tackle the devastating effects of both climate change and extreme poverty.

Marie Chatardova (Czechia), President of the Economic and Social Council, said sustainably managed forests made a significant contribution to sustainable development, with multiple benefits to the environment, society and the economy. She encouraged the Forum to take a proactive role in bringing evidence-based input to the high-level political forum, while at the same time, galvanizing broad political support for forest management and sending a strong signal on forests' contribution to food, water and climate security.

Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said forests were key to addressing poverty, inequality and climate change. Describing forests as Earth's largest carbon sink, he said that expanding forest area could help limit global temperature rise. This year's Forum, with its input to the high-level political forum, would be an opportunity to reinforce the contribution of forests to the 2030 Agenda.

In the same vein, Manoel Sobral Filho, Director of the Forum's Secretariat, said deforestation in one part of the world could have an impact on rain patterns in an entirely different area. Proper forest management would be crucial for meeting demands for water, food and energy from a growing urban population. Forests, clearly, when properly managed, are essential for sustainable and resilient societies everywhere, he stated.

Geraldine Byrne Nason (Ireland), Chair of the sixty-second session of the Commission on the Status of Women, said that ensuring women and girls had equal rights and access to forests were vital to ending gender inequalities. She asked that the Forum addressed gender issues when considering food security, forest management and other related sectors.

During its general debate, speakers discussed the challenges their countries and regions faced in addressing forest management and funding, in addition to the work of the Forum itself.

Nigeria's representative, on behalf of the African Group, said African countries shared a common responsibility in addressing forest related concerns. However, forest management in the region was fragmented and efforts were needed to consolidate activities. The African Union had developed a range of initiatives, including restoring degraded land. Efforts must address a growing demand for food, enhance capabilities to reverse negative land use practices and ensure women were partners in forest-related initiatives.

Egypt's delegate, on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said developing countries must be able to access funds for forest-related initiatives and the dissemination of best forest management practices. Sufficient and predictable financial, technical and human resources for the Global Forest Financing Facilitation Network were also needed.

On that point, the European Union's delegate said sustainable forest management required good governance at all levels, including law enforcement and accountable institutions. Underlining the need for an effective Forum Secretariat, he stressed the importance of promoting mutually supportive implementation of the strategic plan's Global Forest Goals, as well as the policies and programmes of United Nations bodies.

In the afternoon, the Forum held two ministerial round tables on the theme Forest-based solutions for accelerating achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Two outcomes were expected from this week's Forum: a Chair's summary from today's ministerial round tables and other discussions, and an omnibus resolution that would include conclusions and decisions on relevant agenda items.

In other business, the Forum elected by acclamation Koki Muli Grignon (Kenya), on behalf of the African States, to its Bureau. It also appointed Luciana Melchert Saguas Presas (Brazil) as its Vice-Chair cum Rapporteur.

Mr. Sobral Filho introduced the Secretariat's note titled Implementation of the United Nations strategic plan for forests 2017-2030 (document E/CN.18/2018/2) and the Secretary -General's report titled Progress in the implementation of Economic and Social Council resolution 2015/33 (document E/CN.18/2018/6).

The Forum approved its work programme and adopted a new agenda item, proposed by Switzerland's representative, on a report by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs on reforms related to the Forum's work.

The following representatives announced voluntary contributions by their Member States: Ukraine, Jamaica, Ecuador, New Zealand, Morocco, Malaysia, Ghana, Colombia, Slovakia, Madagascar, Indonesia, Nepal, Costa Rica, Peru, Philippines, Paraguay, India, Turkey and Mexico, as well as the European Union.

The United Nations Forum on Forests will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 8 May, to continue its work.

Opening Remarks

MUHAMMAD SHAHRUL IKRAM YAAKOB (Malaysia), Chair of the thirteenth session of the United Nations Forum on Forests, said that, following the General Assembly's 2017 adoption of the United Nations strategic plan for forests, it was crucial for the Forum to generate an irresistible momentum and keep the promise of a better world through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. By doing so, it was possible to reverse forest loss, and in fact, increase forests by 3 per cent globally, sustainably manage all types of forests and trees, and tackle such challenges as the devastating effects of climate change and extreme poverty.

Emphasizing that 7 million hectares of tropical forest were lost every year, he said there must be catalytic transformations of systems and behaviour, made possible through the large-scale deployment and application of resources, expertise and technology, and sustained by political will and policy foresight. Noting that the Forum would be contributing to discussions of the high-level political forum on sustainable development, he said its deliberations were an opportunity to share experiences on how the sustainable management of forests would speed implementation of the Goals.

MARIE CHATARDOVA� (Czechia), President of the Economic and Social Council, said forests were the world's most productive land-based ecosystem. Given their critical importance to sustainable development, their sustainable management was a priority. While the Forum was among several Council subsidiary bodies, it was unique due to its universal membership, providing policy advice and recommendations to Member States, the United Nations system and other stakeholders. Sustainably managed forests provided multiple benefits to the environment, society and the economy. Moreover, without forest ecosystem services, many global challenges � including food insecurity, land degradation and climate change � would not be addressed. Describing the strategic plan as a road map to realizing the potential of forests to sustainable development, she said institutional relations between the Council and the Forum were meant to ensure mutual support, and provide coherence and synergies on social and economic issues.

With the United Nations system supporting the 2030 Agenda, the Council this year would focus on the theme From global to local, she said. Achieving all 17 Goals would not be possible without building the resilience of societies to deal with shocks and downturns of all kinds. We must reach out to the most vulnerable, she said, including women, youth, indigenous peoples and others who depended on forests. She encouraged the Forum to take a proactive role in bringing evidence-based input to the high-level political forum, while, at the same time, galvanizing broad political support for forest management and sending a strong signal on the contribution that forests made to food, water and climate security.

LIU ZHENMIN, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said 30 per cent of the Earth's land surface was covered by forests, which were key to addressing global poverty, inequality and climate change. One fifth of the world's population depended on forests for their livelihood, with those benefiting the most being the most economically vulnerable, especially women. Forests were essential for mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change, as Earth's second-largest carbon sink, he said, adding that more forests would help to limit global temperature rise. Commending the Forum for the strategic plan, he welcomed the success of the recent International Conference Working across Sectors to Halt Deforestation and Increase Forest Area in Rome, as well as achievements of the Global Forest Financing Facilitation Network.

MANOEL SOBRAL FILHO, Director, United Nations Forum on Forests Secretariat, introduced the Secretariat's note titled Implementation of the United Nations strategic plan for forests 2017-2030 (document E/CN.18/2018/2) and the Secretary General's report titled Progress in the implementation of Economic and Social Council resolution 2015/33 (document E/CN.18/2018/6).

He said people throughout history had depended on forests and trees as a vital resource. With a potential economic value of $16 trillion, proper forest management was crucial for meeting the demand for water, food and energy from a growing urban population. A recent study on the climate impact of tropical forest loss had found that deforestation in South America, South Asia and Africa could change rainfall patterns, affecting crops in the Midwest of the United States and in China. An estimated 75 per cent of forest loss and degradation was due to agricultural expansion, while 2 billion people � notably in least developed countries � depended on wood for cooking and heating. Forests, clearly, when properly managed, are essential for sustainable and resilient societies everywhere, he said. The time was now to halt deforestation and degradation, and instead, expand forests.

Statements

SHEYAM ELGARF (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, highlighted the Secretary-General's report on progress in implementing Economic and Social Council resolution 2015/3, which cited intensive work being undertaken by stakeholders and Forum members. She proposed that substantive inputs from the ministerial round table on forest-based solutions for accelerating the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, and expert meetings would inform the high-level political forum on sustainable development in 2018.

As the strategic plan recognized the need to raise awareness about forests and trees, she welcomed the sharing of best practices and success stories, and requested the Secretary-General to report on progress. Emphasizing the need to uphold and develop the Forum's role and independence, she said it was essential that the Department of Economic and Social Affairs reform efforts protected that goal. Mechanisms must ensure developing countries could access funds for related initiatives and the dissemination best practices on sustainable forest management to reach common goals, with sufficient and predictable financial, technical and human resources for the Global Forest Financing Facilitation Network. Moreover, the Forum Trust Fund must be strengthened, she said, calling on Member States and stakeholders to increase voluntary contributions.

LUCA PEREZ of the European Union delegation stressed that the promotion and implementation of sustainable forest management required good governance at all levels, including law enforcement and accountable institutions. Underlining the need for a strong, effective and efficient Forum on Forests Secretariat, he stressed the importance of promoting synergies and mutually supportive implementation of the strategic plan's Global Forest Goals and targets, and the policies and programmes of United Nations bodies, organizations and specialized agencies. He called for strengthened cooperation within the Collaborative Partnership on Forests and with other relevant organizations to contribute to the strategic plan's mission.

IBRAHIM USMAN JIBRIL, Minister for Environment of Nigeria, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said countries of the continent shared a common responsibility in addressing forest related concerns. However, forest management was fragmented and efforts were needed to consolidate activities. The African Union had developed a range of initiatives, including restoring degraded land. The African Union Commission was working with partners to create a sustainable forest management system to boost economic development and environmental protection. Efforts were also targeting the fight against climate change. Turning to related concerns, he said the Strategic Plan must consider issues such as combating hunger. Further, efforts must address an escalating demand for food, which was degrading land as people searched for food, enhance capabilities to reverse negative land use practices and ensure women's place as partners in forest-related initiatives.

GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland), Chair of the sixty-second session of the Commission on the Status of Women, noted that this was the first time her intergovernmental body and the Forum were interacting, a reflection of shared ambitions. She expressed hope such efforts would expand across the Economic and Social Council system and appreciation for gender-mainstreaming activities. Ensuring women and girls had equal rights and access to forests and their resources were keys to ending gender inequalities. Women's leadership and participation played important roles, from policymaking to forest management. Taking such an approach directly responded to the 2030 Agenda across all goals and targets. Providing an overview of the Commission's session, which focused on rural women and girls, she asked that the Forum addressed gender issues when considering food security, forest management and other related sectors. Leveraging women's participation in managing natural resources was crucial, she said, welcoming the Forum's Chair to attend a future session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

Panel I

The Forum then held a ministerial round table on Forest-based solutions for accelerating achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals featuring keynote speaker Naoko Ishii, Chief Executive Officer of the Global Environment Facility and the following panellists: Nicolau Dos Santos, Minister for Agriculture, Forest and Livestock of Guinea-Bissau; Peng Youdong, Vice-Minister for State Forestry Administration of China; and Maria Patek, Vice-Minister for Water and Forestry of Austria.

Ms. ISHII said vast efforts had made progress over the past two years, but deforestation and degradation continued, including reports of trees in the Amazon were losing their ability to absorb carbon. The forest community now had an opportunity to turn that trend around and to contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. As a contributor to those goals, forests played an important role in many sectors, from water to energy and ending hunger, and that role was being recognized by many multi-stakeholder platforms. Yet, more must be done. The Forum was now being tested to encourage action, join actors at all levels and help them to rise to challenges facing forestry. Going forward, she recommended the adoption of a united impact programme on food and land use. Also important was broadening efforts to leverage private sector investments into forests.

Mr. DOS SANTOS provided a snapshot of Guinea-Bissau's situation regarding land and natural resources. Forestry played a key role in the country and Government's activities, as reflected in targeted programmes and policies for ensuring sustainable development and the achievement of targets set out in the 2030 Agenda. National plans for agricultural investment included guaranteeing the responsible management of natural resources. The approach focused on main priorities, including the lasting development of forests, through a legislative framework, laws and regulations on land use. The Government was also taking other steps, including a project aimed at creating a proper system for community forests. Establishing partnerships with the Government, local organizations and other stakeholders was one way to tackle those and other challenges.

Mr. YOUDONG said China recognized forests as a valuable resource for people. Domestic policies addressed climate change concerns and environmental improvement, with effects including an increase in the forest areas across the country and in forest carbon stock. Such initiatives were complemented by efforts towards strengthening natural resource management, which was part of its recent reforms. A national sustainable forest management programme was also under way, along with pilot sites for implementing specific goals and targets.

Ms. PATEK said Austria had recently established a new ministry covering a range of land-related sectors, including forestry and climate protection. Sustainable development could only advance through cross-sector cooperation. For its part, Austria's forestry department was challenged by balancing various interests and concerns across sectors. Forest management in Austria was based on seven pillars, including basing actions on United Nations definitions and resolutions and featuring mechanisms to handle education, training and financial investment. Maintaining and enhancing the world's forest cover and managing them in a sustainable manner were essential to fulfilling the objectives set out in the 2030 Agenda.

When the floor was opened for discussion, ministers, other high-level officials and representatives shared their perspectives on carving a path towards reaching the Sustainable Development Goals. The Minister for Waters and Forests of Romania recommended strengthened cooperation, coordination and political commitment at all levels, while the Minister for Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation of Lesotho suggested that a group of experts could develop a simple template that Member States could follow. Echoing a common view, the Minister for Forestry of Bulgaria said all relevant stakeholders must play their part, including researchers, scientists and the private sector.

Others shared national experiences, with the Minister for Forest Economy of the Congo highlighting legislation to protect ecosystems, ongoing reforestation projects, efforts addressing the local use of wood in sustainable ways and emissions reductions programmes. The representative of Bolivia said that, because many indigenous peoples in her country depended on forests, the Government had taken a rights-based approach. Meanwhile, Slovakia's Minister for Agriculture said her Government had launched a new programme aimed at improving land use by the private sector, adding that if sustainably managed, forests could help to achieve goals set out in the 2030 Agenda. However, doing so meant addressing threats facing forests, including extreme weather and deforestation, with effective approaches.

Also participating in the discussion were ministers representing Pakistan and Kenya.

Panel II

The Forum then held a second ministerial round table, also on Forest-based solutions for accelerating achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Moderated by Beth MacNeil, Assistant Deputy Minister for Natural Resources of Canada, it featured the following panellists: John Peter Amewu, Minister for Lands and Natural Resources of Ghana; Patrik Mlynar, Deputy Minister for Agriculture of Czechia; and Ezechiel Junior Joseph, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries, Physical Planning, Natural Resources and Co-operatives of Saint Lucia.

Ms. MACNEIL said the panel would examine what was missing, what was tricky and what forest advocates like the Forum must communicate to the high-level political forum to ensure that forest considerations were built into sustainable development solutions. The round table would aim to identify the major gaps and challenges which limited the contribution of forests to the Sustainable Development Goals and what policy guidance could the Forum make to address those gaps and challenges.

Mr. AMEWU emphasized the connection between overdependency on forests, on the one hand, and high poverty rates and lack of alternative livelihoods on the other. Citing the impact of illegal mining, he said limited private sector participation in environmental issues was a factor. The impact of adverse climatic change was another major challenge, alongside limited financial resources. He added that capacity-building must be intensified.

Mr. MLYLNAR said there was a lack of awareness of forests and the forest sector, with forest issues often reduced to deforestation and environmental aspects. The Forum must send a message about the multifunctional role of forests. He also cited a lack of cross-sectoral cooperation, saying for instance that forest degradation could not be considered in isolation from agricultural activity.

Mr. JOSEPH said that, for a small island developing State like his, the most significant threat was climate change, with storms wreaking havoc on vulnerable ecosystems. Landslides, mudslides, flooding, drought and high temperatures also had an impact on forests. While 20 per cent of forests in Saint Lucia lied within Government reserves, private forest ownership � currently accounting for 15 per cent � was in decline. The Government was moving towards a cross-sectorial strategy for the implementation of Saint Lucia's national development goals, but getting the capacity and data needed to carry out change was a struggle.

In the ensuing discussion, several speakers called for greater awareness of forests and the contribution they could make to sustainable development. They also recommended a more cross-sectorial approach, as well as capacity-building and sufficient funding for forest-related activities.

In that vein, the representative of Madagascar said that sustainable funding mechanisms would ensure effective implementation of forest-related goals, while his counterpart from Germany lamented an excess of fragmentation � a view shared by Iran's speaker, who also appealed for more international support. The representative of Australia � describing forests as the ultimate renewable industry � said communities must be educated on the diverse benefits which forests provided.

The representative of Venezuela, associating himself with the Group of 77, said that despite unilateral coercive measures, his country remained committed to the sustainable development of forests. It had reduced the rate of deforestation, and recently, created a national park in the Amazon Basin area to protect the largest national forest in the world. New approaches were needed to make the value of forests more evident to communities, he added.

The representative of Cameroon said agriculture and mining were putting pressure on his country's forests. Sustainable forest management would include national legislative frameworks that would be in line with international standards, as well as coordination between the forestry, agriculture and mining sectors. Local populations must also be involved in decision-making, he said.

The representative of the Russian Federation emphasized the role of forests in ensuring access to clean drinking water. International cooperation and technology for added-value wood processing and innovative wood products were vital, she said, adding that forests and green belts were going up around Russian cities.

The representative of Finland, associating himself with the European Union, said the Goals were closely linked to each other and as well as to global forest goals. Monitoring development and utilization of Goal indicators would support forest resource governance.

Also participating were representatives of Thailand, Republic of Korea, Tanzania, Ecuador, Papua New Guinea, Iran, Nepal, Uzbekistan, Lithuania, Turkey, Poland, Malaysia, Viet Nam and Argentina.

The representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the major group for children and youth also spoke.

Source: United Nations