Wednesday, January 11, 2012

2011: International Year of Forests What has it achieved?

This past year was delegated the International Year of Forests by the United Nations.  

Since it has come to an end, we will take a look back at what has been achieved in securing the immense, irreplaceable contribution that the world’s forests make to the survival of biodiversity and human society.

Over the past year an extraordinary level of attention has been placed on the world’s forests, as well as the challenges that confront them.  Successes range from international policy changes to school and community projects. 

The International Year of Forests started off with a meeting of the United Nations’ Forum of Forests in New York.  At this event, the Rwandan government committed to border-to-border restoration of its natural ecosystems upon which a vast majority of its population depends for their livelihoods.  This bold step has stimulated other governments to adopt a similar scale of ambition. 

At a conference in Bonn, Germany hosted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the German government, a joint commitment was made to restore 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded landscapes around the world by 2020.  That is about the size of Mongolia!  It will be worth 85 billion dollars per year to local and national economies.  The benefits towards biodiversity and people will be incredible.

 At the years end the IUCN will be wrapping up the first phase of our 5-year Livelihoods and Landscapes Strategy.  Its aim has been to improve sustainable management of natural resources and the lives of the people who depend on them in more than 20 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America. 

In addition, Year of Forests has ended with progress on illegal logging.  Because timber markets have traditionally not distinguished between legal or illegally sourced timber, international trade has inadvertently acted as a driver of deforestation.  However, in the last decade many countries and international agencies have taken solid actions to fight illegal logging, ranging from on-the-ground activities to policies and regulations.  As a result of these actions, 17 million hectares of tropical forest have been protected from degradation, and at least 1.2 billion tons of carbon emissions were reduced over the last decade.  In Indonesia, logging illegally in excess of licensed harvests declined by 75 percent.

With the end of the International Year of Forests, it is important that we continue to think about what forests do for us and how we can help them.  If you want a more hands-on approach, locate a forest preserve near you that needs volunteer help; participate in a forest clean-up; learn about the invasive plant species that affect our forests and help remove them from your land.  Or, you can donate to organizations that directly work to preserve and protect forests.  Forests are not only beautiful objects, they provide homes for many endangered species of plants and animals; they regulate the flows of freshwater that we rely on for agricultural, industrial, and consumption purposes; they provide food and shelter for forest-dependent communities; and they play an important role in managing our climate by taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.  Wherever you live, forests play a crucial role in your life.

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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