Wangari Maathai helped launch the United Nations’ International Year of Forests at the UN General Assembly in New York. Also launched was the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s State of the World’s Forests report for 2011. Some good news: areas of forest in several Asian countries have increased, including in China, India, and the Philippines, the result of concerted efforts at reafforestation. Still, an average of 50,000 square kilometers of forest is cleared (often burned) around the world every year. Agriculture continues to be a major driver of forest loss; in Africa, the key factor is demand for firewood.
In her speech (see video here), Nobel peace laureate Maathai called forests the “bedrock of biodiversity,” while noting that it has been difficult to “galvanize the political will of all governments to embrace policies and programs that prevent deforestation, forest degradation, and destruction of biodiversity and habitats.” She continued:
There is a contradiction here: and it is that many forest-dependent communities that live in resource-rich forests are poverty-stricken. There is something inherently wrong and unjust with a global economic system that tolerates dehumanizing poverty in regions that are so resource-rich. Why are leaders so slow to embrace solutions that would deal with such inequalities and injustices?
Without adequate international support for large-scale efforts that do exist, like the Congo Basin Forest Fund, which Maathai co-chairs, she said, the world will “continue to see forests degrade, disappear and threaten the livelihoods of millions of especially indigenous and forest-dependent peoples. It is even more unfair to force the future generations to inherit such a legacy.”
None of us, Maathai said, can now claim ignorance about the consequences of deforestation and forest degradation. “We know what to do,” she continued, including intensifying global partnerships for forest protection, and to find a balance between:
…the immediate needs of communities and the common good of all…Governments have a responsibility to ensure that the ecological services provided by trees and forests are available for the common good of all communities, including the future generations.”
On that note, let the International Year of Forests begin.