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International Day of Forests

By Michael Evans - 21 Mar 2013 10:29:0 GMT
International Day of Forests

International Day of Forests; Credit: © Shutterstock

Almost since the beginning of time the world's forests have been regarded as an almost limitless resource that was simply there for the taking. It was only in comparatively recent years after people began to be more environmentally conscious, that consideration began to be given to the fact that once these forests had gone, they would probably be gone for ever.

The idea of a special day for forests has been attributed to two Oxford University scientists who, in 2007, felt that the world was underestimating the importance of forests, particularly with respect to their importance in mitigating carbon emissions. This led to the first Forest Day Conference that was held in Bali in December 2007.

Increased awareness created greater concern, leading the United Nations to designate 2011 as the International Year of Forests. It was at the sixth Forest Day Conference, held in the Qatari capital of Doha in December 2012, that the announcement was made that on 30th November the U N General Assembly Second Committee had passed a draft resolution designating 21st March as the International Day of Forests.

The resolution was part of a draft set of resolutions and the intention was to raise awareness and to encourage sustainable management, sustainable development and conservation of all types of forests for the benefit of current and future generations.

This all makes sound economic sense. The World Bank estimates that the livelihoods of more than 1.6 billion people depend on forests. Not only that, but around 300 million people actually live in forests and these are often among the world's poorest people.

Industry that depends on forest production is a source of economic growth and employment, with the annual global trade estimated at $327 billion. In addition to timber, the vast range of forest resources includes food, fibre, water and medicines.

In spite of the importance of forests, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that 130,000 square kilometres or 50,193 square miles of the world's forest is lost each year as a result of deforestation. This is an area approximately the size of England and almost as big as the US State of Louisiana.

The most common causes of this loss are conversion to agricultural land, the unsustainable harvesting of timber, unsound land management practices and creation of human settlements.

A further statistic from the World Bank is that deforestation accounts for up to 20% of the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. Data from FAO looks at the amount of carbon that is stored up in the world's forests and forest soil. Its estimate comes to more than a trillion tons of carbon, which is more than twice the amount in the earth's atmosphere.

It is also estimated that forests provide the habitat for around two-thirds of all the species on earth and that deforestation of tropical rainforests could account for the loss of as many as 100 species every day.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration, there are currently a million square kilometres (386,100 square miles) of lost and degraded forestland across the globe that could be restored.

In spite of the destruction, forests still cover more than 30% of the land surface of the world and contain more than 60,000 tree species, many of which are yet to be discovered.

On 21st March the UN Under-Secretary-General of the Department of Social and Economic Affairs (DESA), Mr Wu Hongbo, together with a number of Chinese Government officials, will be launching the first International Day of Forests in Beijing. The UN will be encouraging all member states to organise forest-related activities, including tree-planting campaigns.

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Topics: Deforestation