International Day of Forests: Forests’ Role in Achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
UN Photo/Eva Fendiaspara
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This year’s International Day of Forest will address the theme‘Forests and Education,’ and seek to raise awareness on how sustainably managed forests provide a wide array of contributions in this area.

Forests are an often overlooked and undervalued asset in the struggle to achieve the SDGs.

The mostly invisible ways in which forest-based ecosystem services contribute to development objectives and the role of deforestation in undermining sustainable development should not be underestimated.

On 28 November 2012, the UN General Assembly (UNGA), proclaimed 21 March to be International Day of Forests. On this day, people celebrate and create awareness on the importance all types of trees in and outside the forest globally. This global celebration provides a platform to raise awareness of the importance of all types of woodlands and trees, and celebrate the ways in which they sustain and protect us.

During the Rio+20 summit in June 2012, States agreed to create a set of universal and integrated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ensure the promotion of an economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable future, framed in the context of the ‘FutureWeWant’ outcome document. The document expresses strong support for eradicating poverty and mainstreaming sustainable development to tackle other major challenges such as hunger, health, and climate change, as well as to transition to a green, inclusive economy. Among other things, references are made to the important role of ecosystems in development. The part played by forests and trees is also acknowledged throughout the document, as well as in a specific stand-alone thematic section, where delegates emphasize: “We highlight the social, economic and environmental benefits of forests to people and the contributions of sustainable forest management to the themes and objective of the Conference.”They call for efforts to reverse deforestation and forest degradation, balanced against the need to promote trade in legally harvested forest products.

This year’s International Day of Forest will address the theme‘Forests and Education.’ It will seek to raise awareness on how sustainably managed forests provide a wide array of contributions in this area. But why celebrate International Day of Forests? There is a good reason to do so. Forests are an often overlooked and undervalued asset in the struggle to achieve the SDGs. The mostly invisible ways in which forest-based ecosystem services contribute to development objectives and the role of deforestation in undermining sustainable development should not be underestimated.

While attempts have been made to mobilize forest goods and services as a pathway out of poverty for rural communities, not enough attention has been given to deforestation as a highway to poverty. Conversion of forests to other land uses eliminates income from wild products, and leaves landscapes less resilient to landslides, floods and other natural disasters – events that not only imperil SDG 15 (life on land) but can also damage brick-and-mortar infrastructure and compromise the achievement of SDGs 11 (sustainable cities and communities) and 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), and set back income growth for decades, undermining SDG 1 (no poverty).

Deforestation also affects agricultural productivity, a key weapon in the fight to end hunger (SDG 2). Forest-based birds, bats and bees provide essential pollination and pest control. Forested watersheds provide water for irrigation, and help maintain the aquatic habitat for the inland fisheries that nourish millions. Loss of tree cover also affects the water cycle, threatening to dry up the flying rivers that transport water vapor from forest transpiration and fall as rain on faraway agricultural fields.

Forests, for better or worse, make “big targets”: they have social and cultural benefits, enhance resilience and ecosystem services, and contribute to green economy. Planting trees or cutting down forests has major consequences. If we manage forests well, they will give us goods and services that we cannot live without. If forests disappear, we will lose any prospect of sustainable development. Forests and trees are rooted in life and livelihoods. They are a renewable resource that can be grown, improved, and looked after. It would be hard to find a simpler and more universal way of changing the world for the better than by planting and managing trees.

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This article was written by Benedetta Wasonga, Legal/Corporate Communications Officer, Ministry of Environment and Forestry, State Department of Kenya Forest Service.


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