Photo: Fiji Forest - Credit: J Kemsey
Do you ever link yourself to the forest in your everyday life? Tonight, when you are resting on your sofa enjoying a glass of water, or jotting down your shopping list on a notebook, do you realise or appreciate that these are forest and tree products? Many aspects of our lives are linked to forests in one way or another.
Pacific peoples have always relied on the earth’s biological resources for their economic and social development. Forest ecosystems have been impacted by human activities for many centuries but the nature and scale of impacts have significantly increased in recent decades, resulting in the degradation and unsustainable use of this vital natural capital. The Pacific is currently experiencing deforestation, loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, and the degradation of streams and water quality, all of which are exacerbated by changes in climate, as well as socioeconomic and demographic factors.
Sustainable use of forest and wood resources is therefore imperative if present and future generations are to benefit from them. Forests are also vital to biodiversity maintenance, climate regulation, and water and soil quality, which are essential for sustainable agri-food systems and feeding a growing Pacific and global population. Close to 50 percent of the fruit we eat comes from trees, not to mention the nuts and spices that we also get from these food baskets.
Around one-third of the world’s population uses wood as their source of energy for necessities such as cooking, boiling water and heating. Wood from forests supplies approximately 40 percent of global renewable energy – as much as solar, hydroelectric and wind power combined. Trees grow back, but we need to place more emphasis on using these resources sustainably to protect our forests from degradation.
Though forests benefit rural communities, they also impact urban areas, providing a large share of the drinking water for people in cities. Many rivers and streams have their sources in forests. Trees act as filters and provide us with the clean water that is vital for life.
Forests also act as carbon sinks globally and absorb the equivalent of roughly two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. When trees are cut down, they release this carbon dioxide back into the air. Deforestation is, in fact, the second-leading cause of climate change after burning fossil fuels. It accounts for nearly 20 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions — more than the world’s entire transport sector.
With mounting pressure on forests and their resources, we must consume and produce wood in a more environmentally friendly way for the planet and its inhabitants. On this International Day of Forests, the United Nations theme – Choose sustainable wood for people and the planet – is even more critical in Pacific island states due to their remoteness, size and limited natural resources.
Our forests have been our silent provider and helper. They have been quietly playing a larger role in our day-to-day lives than we realize. It’s about time these enduring providers get some recognition. As we celebrate their incalculable value today, we must continue to talk about their benefits and the incomparable role they play in our daily lives.