The COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed a sudden wake-up call on the links between human and ecosystem health. Evidence on the role of forests in inhibiting zoonotic diseases, including COVID, has recently raised the profile of sustainable forest management (SFM) for post-pandemic green recovery and future pandemic mitigation. Consequently, accelerating the implementation of the UN Strategic Plan for Forest 2017-2030 (UNSPF) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are now, more than ever, an urgent global priority.
The sixteenth session of the UN Forum on Forests (UNFF16) opened virtually on Monday to further these discussions. The meeting chaired by Kitty Sweeb (Suriname) kicked off with a High-Level Roundtable on Major Forest-related Developments to discuss impacts of COVID-19 on forest and the forestry sector.
During the roundtable, ECOSOC President Munir Akram stressed that halting and reversing deforestation is key to preventing future occurrence of zoonotic diseases.
UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed noted that over 75% of the world’s freshwater comes from forested watersheds. She underscored that forests are at the core of environmental solutions, and that global summits convening in 2021 must send an unmistakable signal of ambition.
Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, lauded UNFF for being the first UN body to take action on impacts of the pandemic in the forest sector. He summarized key messages of the roundtable, including:
- SFM is crucial for ambitious climate action, biodiversity loss and post-pandemic recovery;
- Intersectoral collaboration is important to ensure optimal and efficient land-use planning;
- The forest sector, including agroforestry, can address unemployment and food security; and
- Science and technology, financial mechanisms, and data availability are critical to address impacts and mitigate future pandemics.
The launch of the UNFF Flagship Publication, “The Global Forest Goals Report 2021,” represents a major milestone. The report provides a summary of actions taken and challenges encountered by Forum Member States to achieving the Global Forest Goals of the UNSPF.
The launch was moderated by UNFF16 Vice-Chair Jesse Mahoney (Australia). Key findings included that despite facing many challenges, countries are making progress towards all six goals and the associated targets on forests.
UNFF delegates also discussed contributions to implementing the UNSPF, including new announcements of voluntary national contributions (VNCs), updates on VNCs and follow up related to UNFF16 thematic priorities, and the implementation of the UNSPF Communication and Outreach Strategy.