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Address at the Official Launch of the 2018 International Day of Forests

March 21, 2018       Boron House, Suva.

The Minister for Forests, Honourable Osea Naiqamu

Honourable Cabinet Ministers and Assistant Ministers;

Honourable Members of Parliament;

Your Excellencies, the Ambassadors and High Commissioners and Members of the Diplomatic Corp;

Permanent Secretaries;

Representatives from the Development Agencies;

Friends from Corporate Organisations;

Representatives of Non-Governmental & Faith-Based Organisations;

School Students;

Members of the Media;

Distinguished Guests;

Ladies and Gentleman 

Ni sa Bula Vinaka, Namaste, Asalaam Alaykum, Ni Hao, Noa’ia ‘e Mauri, and a very good morning to you all.

My wife Sarote and I are deeply honoured to receive you all this morning here at the Borron House, which is currently serving as the temporary State House, while the traditional State House building is under renovation.

We are very pleased to launch the 2018 International Day of Forests and later plant a few trees to promote the importance of forests, in addition to beautifying this national asset and heritage property.

It is encouraging that many of us are able to join others in Fiji and around the world to raise awareness and celebrate the important role that forests play in making our countries greener, healthier, happier and a better place to live and call home.  

Trees and forests have a profound impact on all of us, but we can sometimes take for granted how important our forest are in our daily lives.  

From the time we wake up to the time we sleep, all throughout the day and night, trees provide for us. 

The water we drink, the towels we use, the packet which contains our cornflakes, the newspaper we read, the fresh air we breathe in as we travel to school and work, the fruits in our lunch pack, the pencils we use, the desks in classrooms, the house we come back to, the sound of birds, the bed we sleep in and the clean air coming through our windows as we sleep.  

All these, ladies and gentlemen and children, are due to the trees - our silent providers.  

So today is aimed at reminding ourselves on why we need trees, whose responsibility is it to plant and nurture trees, and who all benefit from these trees. 

Ladies and gentlemen, the United Nations General Assembly in 2012 proclaimed the 21st of March each year as the “International Day of Forests” in recognition of the great importance of trees and forests.  

I had the privilege of addressing representatives of the international community when I was in Rome at this time last year. 

I was invited by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation to address its first global symposium on soil and soil sciences, and whilst there, I was also invited to deliver the keynote addresses on the 2017 International Day of Forests and the International Water Day. 

I said there that forests have played a critical role to the advancement of human civilization for all of recorded history. That around 1.6 billion people depend on forests in their day-to-day livelihoods, and that forests offer resources that are essential to humanity’s survival and the survival of countless other plant and animal species. 

In fact, forests are the most biologically diverse ecosystems on land. They cover around one third of the global landmass and contain 80 per cent of total terrestrial biodiversity. 

While some of these facts are not well known, most are common knowledge. But far too often, this knowledge is taken for granted. We cannot ever lose sight of the integral importance forests have for our planet. 

We need to impress, at every opportunity, how dire the consequences will be if our forestry resources continue to be degraded – as is happening far too often in far too many areas of the world.

I also mentioned that forests have emerged as a key topic in the climate negotiations over the past ten years. Article Five of the Paris Agreement, for example, puts forests at the center of climate change discussions. 

It sends a strong message to the world on the important role that forests play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions under the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation in Developing Countries or simply known as the REDD Plus Programme. 

Ladies and gentlemen, the International Day of Forests is a platform to create awareness on the importance of forests for sustainable development and how forests relate to the Sustainable Development Goals. 

This year, the theme addresses SDG 11: Sustainable Cities, and we are all encouraged to participate in activities, which promote this theme by planting trees in and around our cities and towns.  

The theme “Forests and Sustainable Cities” focuses on how forests and trees in urban areas regulate temperature and water flows, provide nutritious food and shelter, cleanse the air and foster community cohesion and individual well-being, among other benefits. 

Forests and trees store carbon, which helps mitigate the impacts of climate change in and around urban areas. 

Urban green spaces, including forests, encourage active and healthy lifestyles, improve mental health, prevent disease, and provide a place for people to socialize. 

Trees reduce noise pollution, as they shield homes from nearby roads and industrial areas.  City Parks and urban trees ensure our cities and towns are sustainable by making them greener, cleaner and healthier places to live, go to school and work in. 

Places where there is a connection to the natural world, a connection that has a serious impact on the wellbeing of a city’s inhabitants. 

Of course, development often does come at the expense of our forests, as forests are cleared to make way for cities and towns and to build our homes, office buildings, schools and hospitals. 

But it is critical that we strike an appropriate, sustainable balance, and that is what this year’s theme is about. 

Statistics provided by the FAO show that the Asia-Pacific region is home to over four billion people – roughly 60 per cent of the world’s population and half of them live in cities. The population is expected to swell by another billion by 2040. 

Depletion of natural resources, limited availability of clean water, increased air pollution and worsening impacts from climate change are critical issues facing the region’s cities and towns due to rapid urbanization. 

Research, however, shows that trees that are planted in towns and cities can dramatically increase the quality of urban living and combat the emerging challenges facing urbanization, for example, urban forests and green spaces can increase cities and towns resilience to severe weather events. 

Forests and trees in urban areas also increase soil stability and improve the availability of water, thus contributing to increased food security and in some cases, indirectly adding to livelihoods. 

Here in Fiji for example, fruit trees such as breadfruit and green coconuts planted alongside the roads are often used for subsistence purposes and sold to pedestrians and commuters. 

Trees are a source of fuel wood energy to a few communities in our local towns and cities. 

Research also shows that trees improve the local climate, helping to save energy used for heating by 20-50 per cent, and that the strategic placement of trees in cities and towns can cool the air by up to 9 degrees Celsius.  

A ten per cent increase in urban green space also postpones onset of health problems by up to five years. 

Additionally, the prevalence of obesity among children living in areas with good access to green spaces is reduced by roughly 10-20 per cent, compared to urban areas where children have limited or no access to green spaces. 

Trees trap airborne particulates and reduce carbon dioxide, the two high risk factors associated with asthma and respiratory problems. 

Trees provide a home for wildlife, add aesthetic value to our environment, and character and beauty to our cities. 

The human brain has a connection to nature, and having trees line the streets provides an ambience, which encourages walkers, reducing their stress levels. 

The bottom line is this; without these urban forests, parks and trees, we have no chance at achieving sustainable growth and development. 

The Fijian Government, through the Ministry of Forests, encourages and supports sustainable wood processing business ventures and at the same time, Fiji’s commitment is evident in our reforestation programme, which focuses on the replanting of protection trees like dakua, vesi, damanu and mangroves as well as production trees like sandalwood, mahogany and pine.  

These efforts are boosting our carbon stocks and the resilience of our towns and cities through the provision of shade, cooler and cleaner air and accessing reliable and clean water sources. 

For instance, the Savura Forest Reserve in Wailoku which covers an area of only 189 hectares, not only is a habitat for wildlife, but the forest’s water source also supplies water to 50,000 households in and around Suva. 

The Fiji National REDD+ Programme is another initiative working to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, as well as promote forest conservation, the sustainable management of forests and carbon stock enhancement. 

Ladies, gentlemen and children, this year’s international day of forests aims to raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests - urban forests, parks, botanical gardens, woodlands and trees, and celebrate the ways in which they sustain and protect us. 

These sustainably managed trees and forests have a key role in meeting several Sustainable Development Goals and providing solutions for a growing green economy. 

 This year’s theme also aims at enabling transformative changes to enhance the wellbeing of everyone at all levels of society, including women and girls as well as men, those who are both young and old, and all of those who live in and around cities and urban areas.

Today, we are here not only to celebrate forests and sustainable cities, but to also advocate forests and trees as essential for maintaining resilient ecosystems, production systems, communities, towns, cities and islands and most importantly, our lives.  

Our goal for today is to encourage all of us look at our cities and towns differently. Think about this as we drive home through a nicely tree-lined street. How will those trees be maintained or replaced? If not by you, then who? If not now, when? Or if you see a street lacks trees at all, think: what can be done about that? 

Ladies and gentlemen, I also encourage all of us to educate our children on the importance of forests to humanity as a whole. 

We need to educate our children that our forests are a source of economic empowerment, biodiversity and cultural importance. Today, and in the years to come. They are a resource we are blessed to have inherited, and that we will be proud to pass on the future generations. 

Let us also commit ourselves to finding new, innovative ways to increase the role forests play in keeping our cities and towns sustainable. 

I thank you all for your presence here today. And I thank the Ministry of Forests for partnering with the Ministry of Education and with Fiji’s municipalities and other organisations in promoting the importance of trees and forests.

May the trees we will all plant today add to sustaining our future generations.

And may Almighty God continue to bless our beloved nation – Fiji. 

Vinaka Vakalevu, Dhanyevaad, Shukhriya, Xie Xie, Faiek’sia and Thank you all.