From Policy to Practice: Forest Day 5

Ms. Tina Joemat-Pettersson, Minister of Agriculture SA, at the opening plenary of Forest day 5 © Theodore Varns

Forest day celebrated its fifth birthday at COP 17. This year’s event was centered on discussions on how forests can be better harnessed to slow the pace of global warming and help communities adapt to the changing environment. The theme was from Policy to Practice with a particular focus on the role of African forests in mitigating and adapting to climate change. This is very important as Africa is one of the continents that could be hardly hit by effects of climate change.

The FD5 brought together 1065 people including forestry experts, negotiators, observer groups, individuals, indigenous people and local communities etc. whose interests transcends climate change and forests. The forest day is hosted by CIFOR (Center for international Forestry Research) on behalf of the CPF (Collaborative Partnership on Forests). At the opening plenary the CIFOR director Ms. Frances Seymour, Minister of Agriculture SA and keynote speakers gave their speeches. Below are some brief quotes from their messages.

Tina Joemat- Pettersson, Minister for Agriculture, South Africa gave a quote by Nelson Mandela“there is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered”. Nelson Mandela said if you come into a room and its extremely neat leave it just as you saw it, but if you come into a room and its chaotic make sure to leave it better than you found it. This was her advise to negotiators and us all in this chaos of climate change.

She made a statement that stuck with me, again quoting the great Nelson Mandela, she said in dealing with these issues think with your head and your heart “for a good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination”.

Helen Gichochi-President, African Wildlife Foundation said the value of forests go beyond carbon sequestration; forests are critical to the lives of millions of people who depend on them; they are important to national governments for economic growth and development; they are vital for Africa’s magnificence and unique wildlife; they are important for global important biodiversity; they hold stabilization for the climate services and other important values they provide. These values sometimes compete with one another and other land use options and in particular agriculture.

Bob Scholes - Systems Ecologist CSIR, SA, said the next major wave of deforestation is already happening and is happening in Africa and its taking place in the dry forests.

The forest day continued with interesting discussions relevant to the field of forestry and climate change. Some of the topics for discussion were Forests and Rio+20, exploring reference levels and monitoring for REDD+, social and biodiversity safeguards, finance for adaption and mitigation activities and the place of afforestation and agroforestry systems in REDD. For the first time at Forest day discussions were held on the role of gender in climate change and a new inclusion was the “issue market place” where people met just as in a market setting, networked and shared ideas on the climate change solutions and challenges.

Highlights of the event

In summary both Keynote speakers stressed on what is important and what is important and what is different about the role of forests and climate change in Africa with particular focus on dry forests and connections to agriculture and adaptation. In the discussions forums a number of key issues where tackled: issues such as exploring reference levels and monitoring for REDD+, social and biodiversity safeguards, finance for adaption and mitigation activities.

We had the pleasure of closing the day with Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC. She reassured us that governments have arrived here with a very serious commitment not just to put forth their own agenda but they listening to each other and to their differences.  She was delighted even though there are difficulties that the package on adaption was moving along well and we look forward to receiving good news by the closing plenary of the COP. Also she mentioned the change in discourse concerning Kyoto Protocol and how that has changed into considering a possible second commitment period and what form that could take.

To quote the words of Mr. Odigha Odigha, Chairman, Cross-River State Forestry Commission in Nigeria, “if you didn’t come to the Forest Day you missed the COP”. See you at Forest day 6.

This blog post is dedicated to Dr. Wangari Mathai who has been throughout the COP for her commitment to humanity and the environment. She said that action is more important than talk and its not just about planting trees but protecting the environment as well. Therefore we cannot tire nor give up, we owe it to the future generation to keep fighting. Cheers to a great environmentalist, may her soul rest in peace.