UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the international community to protect forests by reducing deforestation, preventing environmental degradation, and providing sustainable livelihoods for all of those who depend on this precious ecosystem.
"Forests are vital for our well-being. They cover nearly a third of the globe and provide an invaluable variety of social, economic and environmental benefits," Ban said in a message marking the first ever International Day of Forests which falls on Thursday.
The General Assembly adopted a resolution on December 21 last year, which declared that starting in 2013, March 21 of each year was to be observed as the International Day of Forests, aiming to raise awareness of sustainable management, conservation and development of all types of forests for the benefit of current and future generations.
The resolution encourages all member states to organize activities relating to all types of forests and trees, such as tree-planting campaigns.
Forests are the most biologically diverse ecosystems on land, home to more than half of the terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects.
In his message, Ban highlighted the many functions that forests have in the environment and their benefits to humans.
"More than 3 billion people use wood for fuel; some 2 billion people depend on forests for sustenance and income, and 750 million live within them," he said.
In addition, forests are the source of three-fourths of freshwater, stabilize slopes and prevent landslides, and protect coastal communities against tsunamis and storms. They also help combat climate change as they store more carbon than is in the atmosphere, according to Ban.
However, the UN chief noted that there are several threats to this ecosystem as urbanization and large-scale agriculture can exacerbate the rate of forest and biodiversity loss.
"The global rate of deforestation has decreased by almost 20 per cent in the past decade," Ban said. "As weather patterns alter due to climate change, many forested areas are increasingly vulnerable. This underlines the urgency of a global, inclusive, legally binding climate change agreement that will address greenhouse gas emissions and encourage the protection and sustainable management of forests."
We need now to intensify efforts to protect forests, including by incorporating them into the sustainable development goals, Ban added.