Today is the first annual International Day of Forests. From 1972 until now, 21 March was celebrated as World Forestry Day, but last year the UN General Assembly upgraded it to an official UN Observance Day.
There are currently 115 international days proclaimed by the UN, and 21 March is a particularly popular date. It is also World Poetry Day, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the International Day of Nowruz, and World Down Syndrome Day. In addition, 2013 is the international year for Water Cooperation as well as for Quinoa, and we are in the international decades of Biodiversity, Action for Road Safety, Eradication of Colonialism, among others. UN protocol is not always easy to follow, but an app has been developed to help us keep track of the Observances.
At CIFOR, we have looked for a fresh angle for today’s celebrations. As a forestry organization with an intensive communications program, we already focus on raising awareness every day. It seems inappropriate to use this day for even more promotion of our activities. Further, it appears to me that most people are already aware of the forests. However, the common perception is that forests are under threat and need to be protected from human destruction. Deforestation, illegal logging, forest fires, loss of biodiversity, droughts – the list of problems is long and well known. Our increasingly urbane society is bombarded by such negative messages about forests and the campaigns may not be entirely balanced.
With this in mind, I suggest we use the International Day of Forests to share positive views about forests and trees: Forests provide income, food and energy for billions of people. They accumulate a big portion of the greenhouse gases we emit. Trees make landscapes stable, productive and aesthetic. Planted forests protect soils and provide renewable materials for the green economy. Forests preserve biodiversity and provide for recreation and shelter.
So use this day to think positively about forests. Personally, I will celebrate by planting another tree (Shorea Guiso, a dipterocarp with many uses for its wood, including furniture and flooring) on CIFOR’s Bogor campus.
I would like to leave you with one further suggestion. Use today to connect the forests to the landscape and to our wider society and needs. According to the UN resolution, today is not just about forests, but about the entire landscape. We are asked by the General Assembly to “celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests and of trees outside forests.” Don’t limit your focus to the forest as such or you will miss the bigger picture.
Happy International Day of Forests!