Statement by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director
2011 is the International Year of Forests (IYF) and celebrations will officially be launched today during the 9th Session of the United Nations Forum on Forests in New York.
This Year, which comes in the wake of the International Year of Biodiversity, represents an opportunity for evolving our work on sustainable forestry to a higher plain.
Forests are an issue with essential links to livelihoods, addressing climate change and other environmental challenges; the UN's Millennium Development Goals and sustainable development as a whole.
This is in part why forests are a key sector within UNEP's Green Economy work - a landmark report which will be launched at the upcoming Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GC/GMEF) - as we work to strengthen all three pillars of sustainable development on the Road to Rio+20 taking place in May next year.
Forests represent many things to many people including spiritual, aesthetic and cultural dimensions that are, in many ways, priceless. But they are also cornerstones of our economies, whose real value has all too often been invisible in national accounts of profit and loss.
This mismatch between reality and perception emerged with full force in The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) work.
It estimates that deforestation and forest degradation are likely costing the global economy between US$2.5 and US$4.5 trillion a year, more than the losses of the recent and ongoing financial crisis.
If one further considers the loss of ecosystem services - from water supplies to soil stabilization and from carbon sequestration to recycling of nutrients for agriculture - then perhaps the imperative to better manage these natural or nature-based assets becomes clearer.
This is given further urgency from the TEEB work which indicates that in some countries close to 90 per cent of the 'GDP of the poor' is linked to nature and forests in particular.
In Kenya, UNEP has been applying TEEB-based analysis to assist the government and donors towards catalysing the restoration and rehabilitation of the Mau forest complex.
These assessments indicate that the Mau may be worth up to US$1.5 billion a year to the Kenyan economy in terms of river flows for hydro, agriculture, tourism sites and drinking water alongside moisture for the tea industry and facilitating carbon sequestration.
Rehabilitating and restoring lost forest ecosystems is now a key pillar of UNEP's work in Haiti as part of the UN's wider strategy to reduce vulnerability, eradicate poverty and deliver a sustainable future for the Haitian people.
UNEP's involvement in forests and forest ecosystems dates back many years and includes some 100 forest projects in the last decade.
But over recent years, this involvement has gained ever broader and deeper traction in part as a result of TEEB, and in part as a contribution to combat climate change.
With the UN Development Programme and the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization, UNEP is assisting at least a dozen countries to participate in the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation under the UN-REDD or REDD+ programme.
Accelerating this work to meet the expectations of countries and supporters involved, such as the Government of Norway, will be a cornerstone of UNEP's work in 2011 in advance and beyond the UN climate convention meeting in South Africa.
2011 is a special year both for forests and our sustainable forestry work including a new strategic direction.
The full details of this direction will be launched over the next few months in the run-up to World Environment Day on 5 June where there will be a central focus on the Green Economy and forests.
This will also form part of UNEP's public awareness and outreach work that in turn can contribute to a successful International Year.
In advance of this, UNEP will be launching a new forest-focused coffee table book in collaboration with such famous photographers as Yann Arthus-Bertrand; a special media pack and a new website on forests at www.unep.org/forests
The Sasakawa prize, which will be awarded during the GC/GMEF this month, will also carry a forest theme and I would encourage those that can to join the celebrations.
I would urge all staff and their families and friends-through their work or through their communities-to get involved starting with appending the International Year of Forests logo onto your e-mail signature and by planting a tree at home, at work or at school under initiatives such as the UNEP Billion Tree Campaign whose patrons are Wangari Maathai and Prince Albert of Monaco.
The logo can be downloaded at www.unep.org/downloads/IYF/iyf-logo.zip and at www.un.org/en/events/iyof2011. Getting involved in the Billion Tree Campaign is just a click away at: www.unep.org/billiontreecampaign
Let us spread the word to the wider world of the importance of these ecosystems to our lives and livelihoods and of course through acting - being part of 'Celebrating Forests for People' - in 2011.