Happy New Year, and Happy International Year of Forests!
2011 is the year designated by the United Nations for an international focus on forests, celebrating people’s actions to conserve and sustainably manage the world’s forest resource.
The world’s forests have many crucial functions. They absorb carbon dioxide. Studies suggest that 5 billion of the 32 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted annually by human activities — that’s over 15 percent — are absorbed by forests. They provide raw materials for food, shelter and fuel, essential for the 1.2 billion people who live in extreme poverty around the world. And forests benefit our environment by regulating the climate, water cycles and soil erosion.
They’re unbelievably rich habitats, containing as much as 90 per cent of the world’s terrestrial animal and plant life, and not all of it has been discovered yet. Who knows what rich potential is out there for new medicines and materials that could enhance our lives.
The main causes of forest loss and degradation are illegal and destructive logging, unsustainable forest management, conversion to agriculture, and infrastructural development. Deforestation is responsible for 15 per cent of global CO2 emissions.
When faced with the threats to forests in other parts of the world, our actions on the tiny group of overcrowded islands that make up the UK seem like a drop in the ocean. What difference does it make if we save a few trees here, or plant a few more there?
The answer is it makes all the difference in the world.
If we in the wealthy developed world can’t put our own house in order, how can we expect poorer, developing countries to protect their forests? The UK is one of the most deforested countries in Europe. Woodland cover has increased, but is still low at only 12 per cent compared with the global average of 30 per cent and the European average of 44 per cent. Yet the many benefits of increasing woodland cover are now well recognised.
But there’s a lot we can learn, too, from around the globe. Great projects have been set up that have transformed landscapes and people’s lives – projects like Wangare Maathai’s Green Belt Movement, founded in 1977 in Kenya. In the past three decades, the movement has grown into a dramatic force for change. Along the way, nearly 900,000 rural women have worked to establish tree nurseries and plant trees to reverse the effects of deforestation. Now an international campaign, the Green Belt Movement has planted more than 30 million trees throughout Africa.
Many countries from Ethiopia to Poland to Jamaica are planning to celebrate the International Year of Forests with tree planting. The People’s Democratic Public of Korea plans to plan over 1 billion trees throughout the year during 2011. Elsewhere, there are plans for creative projects and an international film festival to celebrate forests.
Imagine if every person in the UK did just one thing this year to protect our own woods and trees, to increase woodland cover, or to share their creative ideas about woods and trees and inspire others to act? Who knows what we could achieve?
Why not try it and find out – make it your New Year’s resolution to do something for trees and woods in the International Year of Forests. You could join a WoodWatch group, plant a tree, or come up with your own action. Let us know what you decide to do!