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International Day of Forests 2017

Keynote adddress by His Excellency Jioji Konusi Konrote, President of the Republic of Fiji

The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Mr. Jose Graziano Da Silva,
Ms. Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification,
Permanent Representatives and Heads of Missions to the Food and Agriculture Organisation,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Buongiorno, Good Morning, and Warmest Fijian greetings to you all.

It is indeed a great honor and pleasure for me to be invited to be part of this very important occasion here in the beautiful city of Rome.

On behalf of the Fijian people, I extend my warm and sincere appreciation to the Director General of FAO for the very kind invitation to deliver this keynote address to mark this very important celebration – the International Day of Forests 2017, especially after just opening the global symposium on soil organic carbon.

Ladies and gentlemen, on this occasion, I wish to convey my personal and the Government and the people of Fiji’s sympathies to the President, Government and the people of Peru who are still reeling from the recent massive floods. Our condolences are to the families who have lost their loved ones.

As most of you know, last year Fiji was hit by the second strongest cyclone to ever make landfall, Cyclone Winston. And we’ve started 2017 still recovering from the cyclone’s devastating effects. I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to thank the many countries and organisations who came to our aid during this difficult time. I’d like to extend a special thank you to the FAO for urgently assisting in targeted areas of Food Security, Agriculture, Fisheries, and the Forestry sector.

As you also already know, Fiji will be co-hosting, along with the Government of Sweden, the World Oceans Conference in June; and will also be the Presiding over COP 23, the ongoing United Nations climate change negotiations to be held this November in Bonn, Germany.

We also would like to thank those who are already offering support to Fiji at these events, both of which will address issues of extreme importance to Fiji, the Pacific and every global citizen.

Ladies and gentlemen, forests have played a critical role to the advancement of human civilization for all of recorded history. That is no exaggeration. Today, around 1.6 billion people depend on forests in their day to day livelihoods, and 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 percent of total terrestrial biodiversity.

While some of these facts aren’t well known, most are common knowledge. But far too often this knowledge is taken for granted. We can’t 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 too often in many areas of the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen, on the 21st of March every year, we come together to celebrate the International Day of Forests in recognition of the tremendous value our forests have for our planet. This year’s theme, “Forests and Energy” sheds light on the potential of our forests to serve as a source of energy and as a more sustainable alternative to fossil fuels in sustaining national development and meeting growing energy needs.

The world’s forests store vast amounts of energy. Wood has always been a vital source of warmth, and in recent years the demand for energy to meet industrial needs is rapidly increasing. And access to reliable sources of energy has, and will remain, the main driver of sustainable development. We must ensure that energy development is in line with both Sustainable Development Goal 15 which calls for the sustainable management of forests and Sustainable Development Goal 7 calling for access to clean and affordable energy.

It is vital that everyone – from the public and private sectors, academia, engineers, researchers, policy makers, planners and funding institutions – coordinate their efforts and work with each other to increase the contribution of forests in the mix of global renewable energy supply.

SDG 7 calls for equitable access to affordable, reliable and sustainable modern energy sources. As countries around the world continue to rapidly develop, the need for access to electricity will rise to keep pace.

In the 12-year period from 2000 to 2012, the proportion of the global population with access to electricity increased from 79 per cent to 85 per cent. While in the same period, the global share of renewable energy for the world’s total energy consumption has only increased from 17.4 per cent to 18.1 per cent, a marginal increase of less than one per cent.

So we need to turn our attention to scaling up the transfer of renewable energy technologies, particularly for forest biomass, in order to ensure developing countries are making use of these technologies and can keep pace with growing energy demand in a sustainable manner. Only then can developing countries better reduce their use of fossil fuel and do their part in contributing to a cleaner global environment by reducing their levels of carbon emissions.

Ladies and gentlemen, forests have emerged as a key topic in the climate negotiations over the past ten years. Article 5 of the Paris Agreement, for example, puts forests at the centre 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 Program on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation in Developing Countries or simply known as the REDD Plus Program.

So countries with significant forests resources now have an excellent opportunity to responsibly manage and develop those resources towards targeted outcomes, including using forests to meet domestic energy needs.

Of course, financing such efforts also presents a challenge if we are to realize the potential our forests have to effectively, efficiently and sustainably increase the global supply of renewable energy. Under this same umbrella also fall the transfer of technology and the scaling up of available resources such as financing and capacity building – both vital building blocks to sustainable development in developing countries. Until these areas are addressed effectively, the social, economic and technical challenges to increasing forests share in renewable energy production will persist.

Fiji’s forests have always played a central role in our social and economic development, and that role will continue unabated as we look to the future. Particularly, as we do our part to reduce our own carbon emissions – a responsibility we are also calling for on the part of developed nations.

As part of the Fijian Government’s plan to sustainably manage its forests and realize energy opportunities, I’m very happy to tell you all that we will soon be opening a 12 Megawatt biomass energy power plant to increase supply to the national energy grid.

Fiji’s own experience holds lessons about how a developing nation can confront these challenges, and I’d like to take some time to share that experience with you all today.

As we address new international demands, such as the use of forests as carbon sinks under REDD Plus, Fiji has further expanded the potential areas for forest management and the sourcing of funding for sustainable forest management.

In pursuing this, we are very proud that sustainability and conservation have remained the cornerstones of our forest management.

In 2015, two of our forest areas were admitted under the Queens Commonwealth Canopy, and I was most privileged to personally receive our certificate of recognition from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth last year.

We have a clear strategy in mind in advancing the sustainable management of our forests, and have identified a number of key challenges to address moving forward:

We must improve coordination between all relevant stakeholders in the planning and sustainable management of Fiji’s forests;

We must coordinate projects that are funded under Overseas Development Assistance for conservation purposes and strengthen national capacity to deliver on the project objectives;

We must establish a national land use plan that formally identifies and prioritizes the use of all land for development, and including areas that needs protection, in addition to current forest areas that are currently under formal and informal protection; and

We must also establish a framework for the formal protection and payment of compensation of these areas - including areas for the provision of ecosystem services.

We in Fiji are committed to keeping our forests healthy and we are equally committed to increasing the share that forestry resources contribute to our energy mix. With sound planning and responsible management, both those goals are achievable. And, as we’ve covered, both goals are also in the best interest of humanity.

Our forests are a source of economic empowerment, biodiversity and cultural importance for the Fijian people. 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.

Ladies and gentlemen, let us continue to take on this challenge of finding new, innovative ways to increase the role of forests play in supplying renewable energy, while maintaining the natural balance so critical to our survival. We are here to sustain, not to endanger. Let that always remain our guiding principle.

Grazie and thank you.