Recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic should lead to stronger action to safeguard the world’s forests, a senior UN official said on Friday, highlighting how these natural resources have helped to protect health and well-being during the global crisis.
Liu Zhenmin, head of the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), issued the call during a virtual event to commemorate the International Day of Forests, observed annually on 21 March.
He said the forest sector has provided essential and lifesaving health products during the pandemic, such as face masks, cleaning supplies and ethanol used in sanitizers.
Forests under threat
Meanwhile, green spaces, parks and forests have been vital during “these times of social distancing”, and healthy, well-managed forests also act as natural buffers against zoonoses, thus warding against the risk of future pandemics.
“Yet, despite their obvious importance, forests continue to be under threat”, Mr. Liu said.
“Every year, seven million hectares of natural forests are converted to other land uses such as large-scale commercial agriculture, and other economic activities. And while the rate of deforestation has slowed over the past decade, tree-cover loss has continued unabated in the tropics – largely due to human and natural causes.”
A path to recovery
The UN believes sustainable management of forests is critical to combating climate change and to ensuring a better future for all.
The theme for this year’s International Day – "Forest restoration: a path to recovery and well-being” – also aligns with the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, from 2021-2030.
“The crises our planet faces require urgent action by all - governments, international and civil society organizations, the private sector, local authorities and individuals”, Mr. Guterres said.
“Indigenous peoples are leading the way. They care for the Earth’s biodiversity and achieve conservation results with very few financial resources and little support.”
For people and planet
The Director-General of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Qu Dongyu, underscored how restoring forests and managing them sustainably, benefits both people and the planet.
This investment will also contribute to economic recovery from the pandemic, he added, as “forest restoration activities create green jobs, generate incomes, improve human health and increase human security.”
While COVID-19 has been “a harsh wake-up call”, it also presents a unique opportunity to recover better and stronger, according to Mr. Liu.
“Let us use this International Day of Forests to send a strong message,” he said. “Let us restore and protect our forests, our planet, and all its vital ecosystems for generations to come."