BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, October 19, 2009 (ENS) – “Climate change has catapulted forests onto the international agenda after years of languishing in the dusty corridors of UN meetings,” Dr. William Jackson told the World Forestry Congress in Buenos Aires today.

Deputy Director General of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN, Dr. Jackson said the continued global decline in forest area and quality, particularly in the tropics, has serious social, economic and ecological consequences. But he sees hope for forests in the urgency of tackling global warming.

Given the rate at which climate change is happening, no country, rich or poor, can afford to neglect its forests, Jackson told conference delegates at La Rural exhibition center. “We must seize this moment to promote the sustainable management of forests and to develop sustainable livelihoods for the people who depend on forests.”

Deforestation generates about 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and halting forest loss has been identified as one of the most cost-effective ways to help the world forestall runaway climate change.

The week-long 13th World Forestry Congress, organized by the government of Argentina in collaboration with the Forestry Department of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, has attracted some 4,500 participants from more than 160 countries.

The first World Forestry Congress was held in Rome in 1926 and the gathering has since taken place every six or seven years in different host countries.

The speeches, workshops, round-table discussions, poster presentations, parallel events, exhibits, study and technical tours provide a forum for the exchange of personal experiences and for discussions on topics related to the conference theme, “Forests in development – a vital balance.”

Rod Tayor (Photo courtesy WFC)

WWF International’s Forests Director Rodney Taylor urged Congress participants to support a global target of zero net deforestation by 2020, a target that “sets the scale and urgency with which these threats need to be tackled to maintain the health of the planet.”

Zero net deforestation does not mean zero deforestation but acknowledges that some forest loss could be offset by forest restoration and afforestation on degraded lands.

WWF is proposing this global benchmark for action on forests to avoid dangerous climate change and curb biodiversity loss, Taylor said.

“This is an opportunity to build consensus on how the forest sector can help achieve an early peak of greenhouse gas emissions and a rapid 80 percent decline in emission levels by 2050,” Taylor said. “But this is a global target, and we can only do it together.”

“The forest sector, for its part, can contribute through the conservation and sustainable use of forests, but the foresters cannot do it alone,” Taylor said. “The integration of other sectors, particularly agriculture, energy and finance, is key for formulating sustainable land-use policies and planning processes.”

Despite conservation efforts, deforestation continues at an alarming rate – 13 million hectares (50,193 square miles) per year, or 36 football fields a minute, Taylor said.

He says a zero net target “leaves room for change in the configuration of the land-use mosaic, provided the net quantity, quality and carbon density of forests is maintained.”

In particular, governments must bolster this commitment by backing the REDD mechanism. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation in Developing Countries, REDD, is a mechanism to provide financial incentives on a global scale to conserve forests rather than convert them.

“Rich countries can provide funds to support developing countries in their efforts to curb deforestation, through REDD initiatives,” Taylor said. “All governments should support the inclusion of a REDD mechanism as a credible and compensated form of emissions reductions within a post-2012 UN climate treaty.”

Orangutan with young, Tanjung Puting National Park, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, May 2009. (Photo by Daniel Murdiyarso courtesy CIFOR)

Paying to conserve billions of tons of carbon stored in tropical forests could not only protect the climate, but also protect orangutans, pygmy elephants, and other wildlife at risk of extinction, according to a study published in June in the peer-reviewed journal “Conservation Letters.” Authored by Oscar Venter, a biologist at Autralia’s University of Queensland, it is one of the first to offer quantitative evidence linking the drive to reduce carbon emissions from forests with the push to preserve threatened mammal biodiversity.

“We now need to see policy discussions catch up with the science, because at the moment the potential cobenefits of linking forest protection to biodiversity are not getting the attention they deserve,” said Venter.

Opening the World Forestry Congress Sunday, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf emphasized the vital role forests play in providing food and shelter and supporting the livelihoods of local communities.

Argentina’s Minister of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Food Julian Dominguez affirmed that humans are environmental stewards and that the government must play a central role in environmental protection.

Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri (Photo courtesy ENB)

Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri announced that starting next year, the City of Buenos Aires will buy its wood and paper supplies from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council to a set of sustainable criteria.

Minister of the Chinese State Forestry Administration Jia Zhibang acknowledged the pivotal role forests play in mitigating global warming and said his country has invested US$70 billion in forest protection and renovation. “The man-made forest is now 53 million hectares, accounting for one-third of the world’s man-made forests,” he said.

The government of China has planted 2.6 billion trees as part of the United Nations’ Billion Tree Campaign, which has to date counted 7.3 billion trees planted in 167 countries since 2006.

Planting trees in China (Photo by Wuyin0430)

In the past eight months alone, China has planted 6.1 billion trees, of which 2.6 billion have been given to the United Nations’ Billion Tree Campaign. China planted 260 different species of trees in 11 provinces.

Since it was launched in 2006, the United Nations’ Billion Tree Campaign has stimulated the planting of 7.3 billion trees – more than one for every person on the planet.

Jia told delegates in Buenos Aires, that China approves of the way principles of the Non-legally Binding Instrument on All Types of Forests have been adopted by many UN organizations. While not a legally binding treaty, the UN General Assembly adopted the Instrument on December 17, 2007 to strengthen political commitment and action for sustainable management of all types of forests for poverty eradication and environmental sustainability.

On Wednesday, the International Tropical Timber Organization will hold a side event on promoting sustainable forest management in the tropics. It will showcase the new partnership to strengthen the conservation of Indonesia’s tropical forests launched at the Indonesian Embassy in Tokyo on October7.

Regardless of all efforts at conservation, wood energy consumption is increasing. Wood energy consumption increased by 3.5 percent annually between 2005 and 2007 in the 56 member states of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, according to results of a questionnaire released at a UNECE/FAO workshop in September in Riga, Latvia.

This trend is expected to continue or accelerate as many European governments have enacted policies to promote wood energy as part of their plans to meet the European Union’s ambitious target to reach 20 percent of energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020.

These policies aim not only at mitigating climate change, but also at increasing energy security by promoting alternatives to imported and increasingly costly fossil fuels, a growing concern for many countries.

Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.