Record day for forests - Wednesday 2 February

Today has been a special day for Forests and for me personally, says John D. Liu, Director of the Environmental Education Media Project and a Senior Research Fellow with IUCN. The launch of the International Year of Forests (IYF – 2011) at the 9th session of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) marks the strongest political statement ever made to recognize the importance of forests to the natural ecology of the Earth and the health and sustainability of human beings.

John Liu Photo: John Liu

Particularly gratifying is to be in the audience to hear Stanislas Kamanzi, the Minister of Environment of Rwanda, announce the Rwanda Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (RFLRI). The unique endemic biodiversity in the nearly pristine Nyungwe National Forest filter the waters that feed the White Nile and the Congo Rivers ensuring Rwanda’s ecological importance. I’m extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to participate and catalyze this initiative through introducing IUCN and UNFF to the environmental leaders in Rwanda in 2010.

Tom Rosser the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Canadian Forest Service announced that the International Model Forest Network would work with the Rwandan Government. Monique Barbut, the CEO and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) spoke on Forest Financing and the GEF’S efforts to support developing countries on Sustainable Land Management, explaining that GEF is already providing funding to 40 countries for REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) projects and specifically increased Rwanda’s allocation to support the RFLRI. Stewart Maginnis spoke on behalf of IUCN and committed IUCN to support the RFLRI.

The 2009 Nobel Laureate, Wangari Maathai called for greater commitment to forests and to people who live in and with forests. Her message was a plea to and to some extent an accusation of a political system that has for far too long failed the forests and especially the people who live in them. Jan McAlpine, the Director of UNFF was poetic in her descriptions of the importance of forests and trees for all sorts of uses.

Yann Arthus-Bertrand showed a short film “Of Trees and Men”. Lisa Samford described the importance of story telling and introduced the International Year of Forests Film Festival. In one of the strongest speeches, Felix Finkbeiner, now a 13-year-old activist who started “Plant for the Planet” when he was nine, brought several friends, and shared his message of hope and insistence for children and the future. Felix launched the Trillion Tree Campaign.

Film clips were used between each speaker and it was surreal to sit in the audience and see a clip from my film “Hope in a Changing Climate” shown in the General Assembly. The film has been named the best of category for issues and solutions at the International Year of Forests Film Festival. It has been a morning of great developments for forests and it has been very satisfying to be a small part of it.

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