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TiinaVahanen300(This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of the InFO News, the newsletter of FAO’s Forest team).

Tiina Vahanen, Associate Secretary-General, XIV World Forestry Congress

When the world’s foresters and forest supporters come together for the XIV World Forestry Congress in Durban in September, they will have a unique opportunity to highlight the urgent need to give forests credit for the true value they provide.

Increasingly, the role that forests play in mitigating climate change is being publicly recognized, and governments and companies alike are pledging to reduce deforestation and restore forests. But we must not lose sight of the fact that more than a billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods, nor that the continued, sustainable use of the world’s forests is vital for rural development.

Decreasing deforestation is not enough: we also need to commit to increasing investment in forests, both to ensure their role as a renewable source of forest products and as a means to lift rural populations out of poverty. Countries need to recognize and strengthen the multiple ways in which forests contribute to national economies, putting a price on the sometimes invisible, non-cash benefits that forests provide for people’s livelihoods, food, shelter and energy needs. Moreover, committing resources to developing and sharing knowledge is increasingly critical to fully capitalize on those benefits.

For this reason, investing in forests as an investment in people is the cross-cutting focus of the XIV World Forestry Congress. In addition, six sub-themes will highlight the role of forests in sustaining life, acting as buffers against environmental change and inspiring new technologies and products, as well as the need to integrate forests and other land uses and to improve forest monitoring and governance.

Preparations for the Congress by the Republic of South Africa and FAO are well under way, with an inspiring programme that includes special events on climate change, fuel wood, innovation and investment, water, wildlife and youth, as well as the launch of a new Global Forest Resources Assessment report.

Our hope is that the Congress in Durban will be the most dynamic and inclusive yet, with broad participation from governments, universities, civil society, the private sector and individuals with a personal interest. In particular, we are working to ensure that the voices of young people, women and local communities will be heard.

To this end, the Congress sessions will be more interactive than ever before, with interviews, debates, cuttingedge discussions with skilled moderators and innovative uses of social media to stimulate and engage a wide range of participants. We are delighted to report that the call for abstracts has resulted in over 2000 submissions from around the world, including – for the first time – proposals for videos demonstrating the successes and challenges of work going on in the field.

Ultimately, the Congress will be judged on its outcomes. Among these we expect exciting new collaborative partnerships and networks, and the exchange of a great deal of invaluable experience, ideas and knowledge. The Congress will also issue a set of key messages that we hope will be instrumental in strengthening the role of forests and forestry in sustainable development, in underscoring forestry’s contribution to the implementation of the new post 2015 agenda, and in paving the road to a new climate change agreement at the UNFCCC COP21 in Paris in December.

I hope as many of you as possible will join us in Durban to add your voice to the vital task of defining a lasting vision for the sustainable future of forests and forestry.

Follow the XIV World Forestry Congress:

Congress homepage: www.fao.org/forestry/wfc

Twitter hashtag: #WFC2015