New York -- Governments, businesses and civil society must commit to protect forests by reducing deforestation, preventing environmental degradation, and providing sustainable livelihoods for all of those who depend on this precious ecosystem, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today.
'Forests are vital for our well-being. They cover nearly a third of the globe and provide an invaluable variety of social, economic and environmental benefits,' Mr. Ban said in a message marking the first International Day of Forests.
Forests are the most biologically diverse ecosystems on land, home to more than half of the terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects. Around 1.6 billion people - including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures - depend on forests for their livelihood.
In his message, Mr. Ban highlighted the many functions that forests have in the environment and their benefits to humans. For example, they are the source of three-fourths of freshwater, stabilize slopes and prevent landslides, and protect coastal communities against tsunamis and storms. In addition, more than three million people use forest wood for fuel.
Forests also help combat climate change as they store more carbon than is in the atmosphere.
However, Mr. Ban noted that there are several threats to this ecosystem as urbanization and large-scale agriculture can exacerbate the rate of forest and biodiversity loss.
Some 13 million hectares of forest are destroyed annually, and deforestation accounts for 12 to 20 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.
'As weather patterns change due to climate change, many forested areas are increasingly vulnerable. This underlines the urgency of a global, inclusive, legally binding climate change agreement that will address greenhouse gas emissions and encourage the protection and sustainable management of forests,' Mr. Ban said.
'We need now to intensify efforts to protect forests, including by incorporating them into the post-2015 development agenda and the sustainable development goals,' he added.