The flag of the United Nations was raised in Durban, South Africa, today as the 14th World Forestry Congress got underway with a march past by hundreds of firefighters.
The opening ceremony was addressed by the chairperson of the African Union Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN Jose Graziano da Silva and FAO Special Ambassador for Forests and the Environment, Prince Laurent of Belgium, before South African Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Senzeni Zokwana officially declared the congress open.
Other highlights of the day included the planting of the millionth tree in South Africa’s Million Trees Programme, an address by South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, and the release by the FAO of the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015.
The global forests assessment, the product of research conducted in 234 countries and territories across the world, included some hopeful news about the rate of deforestation over the past 25 years. The world’s forests have continued to shrink as populations have increased and more land is turned over to agriculture. But the rate of deforestation has slowed down by more than 50% over the period.
Ms Dlamini-Zuma said forests and woodlands covered 21 percent of Africa’s land surface. She lamented the fact that ecosystems were being degraded and water security diminished at a more rapid rate in Africa than elsewhere.
Flora and fauna in African forests were under threat, including iconic species such as rhinoceros and elephant. Making existing agricultural land more productive would ease the pressure on forests.
Mr Da Silva said the world, as a whole, had been protecting forests better than before – including in Africa, where protected areas had increased faster over the past five years than ever in history.
Mr Ramaphosa said the World Forestry Congress had a weighty and worthwhile agenda. He appealed to delegates to help place forestry on the national agendas of all countries – for the sake of the earth, people, climate change and water security. Food insecurity was a major contributor to deforestation, he added.
Prince Laurent called for an eco contribution from cancelled debts to be allocated to a fund to safeguard the environment.
The World Forestry Congress brings governments, non-profit organisations, forest industry and forest communities together to seek consensus on important challenges facing forests and the world, from climate change to habitat loss and threats to rural livelihoods.
(Statement from the Secretary-General of the World Forestry Congress Mr Trevor Abrahams)