World environment day 2011 - celebrating the forests that sustain us.



World Environment Day (WED) is an annual event on June 5th that is becoming the biggest and most widely celebrated global day for positive environmental action.

This year's WED theme - chosen by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) -  is 'Forests: Nature at Your Service', which is meant to highlight the crucial environmental, economic and social roles played by the world's forests.

Forests are the most biologically-diverse ecosystems on land, home to more than half of the terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects. Forests also provide shelter, jobs and  security for forest-dependent populations.

Yet despite such vital services, the world is losing its forests at an alarming rate -- 13 million hectares of forest are destroyed annually, equal to the size of Portugal

But it's not too late to transform business as usual into a future where forests are at the heart of our sustainable development and green economies, according to UNEP.

An investment of US$30 billion fighting deforestation could provide a return of US$2.5 trillion in saved products and services. Targeted investments in forestry could generate up to millions of jobs around the world, it estimates.

UNEP will release a new report entitled Forests in a Green Economy on 5 June in New Delhi and Nairobi - details the economic, environmental, health and social benefits of investing in forests and how better management of the 'lungs of the Earth' can help achieve sustainability for communities across the world.

The report will be launched during this year's World Environment Day (WED) celebrations, which are taking place under the theme 'Forests: Nature at Your Service'. The UN has also declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests.

This is a timely initiative. As noted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), humanity has not been kind to the forests of the world. It notes that three-quarters of the world's forests have be cleared or degraded due to human involvement.  While some of those forest areas have seen some attempts at reforestation, the percentage is frighteningly small.

But there is hope for the future, according to the IUCN, which has released a map showing where 1.5 billion hectares of forest- an area that would roughly equal all of Russia- could be replanted.  'These are 1.5 billion hectares where opportunities could be found,' Carole Saint-Laurent, IUCN's senior forest policy advisor said in an interview with CNN.

The map is based on research from the Global Partnership of Forest Landscape Restoration (GPFLR), South Dakota State  University and the IUCN. It shows areas with potential for undertaking huge reforestation projects.

In many cases that would mean repairing exiting forests and woodlands that have begun to degrade, or adding forests to areas that are currently not being used for anything.

The map is the first of its kind, and outlines proactive steps to help prevent the further loss of the world's forests.

'More analysis needs to be carried out to find what's really possible within that,' said Saint-Laurent, 'because we haven't been able to map land rights, and there might be areas that are not suitable from a social point of view.'

'Even if you took out a third, it's still a vast area and a vast opportunity,' she added.

There are other signs of progress in the responsible management of the world's forest resources.  The Canadian Boreal Initiative brings together diverse partners to create new solutions for Boreal Forest conservation and works as a catalyst supporting on-the-ground efforts across the Boreal by governments, industry, First Nations, conservation groups, major retailers, financial institutions and scientists.

Canada's boreal forest comprises about one third of the circumpolar boreal forest that rings the northern hemisphere.

Similar progress is evident in other parts of the world. The rate of deforestation in the world's three largest tropical rainforest regions declined nearly 25 percent during the last decade compared with the net forest loss during the 1990s,  according to a new report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

In the Amazon basin, the Congo basin, and the forests of Southeast Asia, about 5.4 million hectares of forest were cleared annually between 2000 and 2010, while about 7.1 million  hectares were cleared annually during the previous decade, the report said.

Nations such as Brazil and Indonesia have achieved significant reductions in forest loss through government reform and increased conservation awareness, said Mette Wilkie, author of the report.

But with forest loss continuing at an 'alarming' rate in many of the 30 nations within the planet's rainforest basins, Wilkie warned that the report is not cause for complacency.

In Indonesia, for instance, forests have been decimated for cultivation of palm oil crops, and an expected 70 percent increase in the demand for food worldwide by 2050 will add an enormous strain on the remaining tropical forests.

According to the report, only 3.5 percent of the forests surveyed are currently under effective forest management.

UNEP has identified five building blocks for forest management transformation. Individually, the blocks do not deliver forest-based green growth, but they are crucially interlinked.

These building blocks are: Knowledge and vision, Scenarios and policy options, Strategies and implementation, Investments, finance and markets, and Forest-based green growth.  The soon to be released report - Forests in a Green Economy -  will address each of these building blocks.

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