Once every six years, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) holds the World Forestry Congress, a landmark forum that brings together the world’s foresters and forest supporters to deliberate, share and exchange their knowledge, views and latest findings in the sector, so as to project a new vision for the future.
The XIV World Forestry Congress was held in Durban, South Africa, from 7 to 11 September 2015 with the theme, “Forests and People: Investing in a Sustainable Future”. One of the most pressing issues discussed by the delegates was – you guessed it – investing in forestry, results in an investment in people and consequently an investment towards sustainable development.
Over 4,000 participants from 142 countries, representing governments and public agencies, international organizations, the private sector, academic and research institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and community and indigenous organizations attended the five day plenary and thematic dialogue sessions.
In his opening remarks, H.E. Cyril Ramaphosa, Deputy President of South Africa said, “we are confident this congress will help map the future of the forestry sector as a critical pillar of the sustainable development of our planet.” He further lauded the efforts of AFF towards preparation of the Global Forum saying, “I am pleased to note that the African Forest Forum had the foresight and dedication to ensure that Africa was able to meet and prepare for this Congress over the last three days”.
H.R.H Prince Laurent of Belgium, FAO Special Ambassador for Forests and the Environment, emphasized the need for awareness raising among the youth on the challenges and opportunities facing the forestry sector while calling for investments in research and forest education with particular attention to gender equity.
H.E. Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, encouraged the conference delegates to come up with recommendations that would feed into the anticipated global agreements on climate change at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 21) to be concluded at the end of the year.
FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva used the platform to officially launch FAO’s latest Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) 2015, a resource that reveals how the world’s forests have changed over the last 25 years and that provides the latest information on the state of sustainable forest management.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, via webcast video, emphasized the role of SFM as vital for several sustainable development goals, while calling on forest managers to raise the potential for SFM to complement the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
For the first time on the African continent, delegates to the Congress comprehensively and with passion tackled key topical issues on: the role of forests in socio-economic development and food security; building resilience with forests; integrating forests and other land uses; encouraging product innovation and sustainable trade; monitoring forests for better decision making; and improving governance by building capacity.
The fourteenth World Forestry Congress (XIV WFC) concluded with a declaration that sets out a vision for 2050 where forests play a decisive role of improving food and livelihood security as well as climate change mitigation and adaptation. Dubbed the ‘Durban Declaration,’ its plan of action outlines a series of steps that are crucial towards achieving the 2050 vision. These steps include; further investment in forest education, communication, research and the creation of jobs, especially for young people. The declaration stresses the need for new partnerships among the forest, agriculture, finance, energy, water and other sectors, in addition to strong engagement with indigenous peoples and local communities1.
The Congress also issued messages to the UN Sustainable Development Summit and the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).