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Fireworks at Kansalaistori Square, Helsinki, to celebrate a century of Finnish independence (Photo: Finland 100)

Fireworks in Helsinki, to celebrate a century of Finnish independence (Photo: Finland 100)

Tiina Vähänen speaks on Durban Declaration for the future of forests

The XIV World Forestry Congress meeting in Durban, South Africa, concluded with the message that the world's forests must be recognised as "more than trees". Instead, forests hold vast potential to play a decisive role in ending hunger, improving livelihoods and combating climate change. Held in mid-September 2015 the Congress set out its vision of how forests and forestry should look in 2050, adopting the Durban Declaration after a week of debate. The vision calls for the forests of the future to be "fundamental" for food security and improved livelihoods. Forests and trees must also be integrated with other land uses such as agriculture in order to address the causes of deforestation and conflict over land, according to the declaration. Finally, the Congress affirmed that sustainably managed forests must be an "essential solution" to combating climate change, optimising their ability to absorb and store carbon while also providing other environmental services.

Tiina Vähänen, deputy director of the FAO's Forest Assessment, Management and Conservation Division at FAO (Photo: FAO)

Investment and partnerships

The declaration outlines a series of actions needed to realise the vision, including further investment in forest education, communication, research and the creation of jobs, especially for young people.

It also stresses the need for new partnerships among the forest, agriculture, finance, energy, water and other sectors, and strong engagement with indigenous peoples and local communities.

"The declaration reflects the extremely rich and diverse set of viewpoints and experiences of all participants in the Congress, who recommended ways to make the vision a reality," said Tiina Vähänen, deputy director of the Forest Assessment, Management and Conservation Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Almost 4,000 delegates from 142 countries attended the congress, including representatives from civil society, intergovernmental organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), universities and the private sector as well as around 30 ministers and deputy ministers.

Sustainable Development GoalsSustainably managed forests hold vast potential to play a decisive role in improving livelihoods (Photo: FAO/Simon Maina)

The Congress underlined that forests are critical to achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a message to the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit, which will meet later this month in New York to adopt the 2030 development agenda. While SDG 15 addresses the need to sustainably manage forests, trees and forests are also a key to achieving several of the other 16 goals, including those related to ending poverty, achieving food security, promoting sustainable agriculture and ensuring sustainable energy for all, the message says.

Climate change

The Congress also issued a message to the Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, set to meet in Paris in December 2015 to hash out a new global climate change agreement. Climate change poses a serious threat to the planet, forests and forest-dependent people. However, at the same time countries' responses to climate change can present new opportunities for forests, such as additional sources of financing and greater political support for forest governance. Congress participants recommended a set of actions that include increasing understanding among governments and other stakeholders of both the challenges and opportunities that climate change presents.

A plan of action on forests and water

The Congress also saw the launch of an international five-year forests and water action plan to recognise the role of trees and forests in maintaining the water cycle, and to ensure appropriate management of one of the world's largest sources of freshwater.

The World Forestry Congress is held every six years. Under the theme Forests and People: Investing in a sustainable future, this year's event was hosted by the Republic of South Africa with technical support from FAO and marked the first time the Congress was held on African soil since its inception in 1926.