By Nam Sung-hyun
Today is the International Day of Forests. Forests account for 31 percent of the land surface area of the Earth. They play a crucial role in responding to climate change as they absorb 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide yearly as a major terrestrial carbon sink. Forests also provide habitats to 80 percent of terrestrial species, proving to be the cornucopia of biodiversity. In other aspects, approximately 1 billion people worldwide obtain essential nutrients from forests and more than half of the world’s population relies on forests to maintain their livelihood.
At the 67th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in 2012, international society has declared March 21 of each year as the International Day of Forests to reflect on the importance of forests. In this light, the world has come together to make diverse efforts to prevent deforestation and restore impacted areas. At the UN General Assembly in 2019, 2021-2030 was proclaimed as the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and at the 26th Conference of Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use was adopted in agreement to halt deforestation by 2030. Unfortunately, despite these ambitious goals, forests covering equivalent to the size of the Republic of Korea are disappearing each year around the world. Among several causes of deforestation, illegal logging and agricultural expansion are being underlined as imminent issues that humanity must prioritize to solve.
Preventing deforestation is an ongoing task worldwide, but for the Republic of Korea, reforestation is a completed task. More than 10 billion trees have been planted since 1973, making its reforestation efforts a great success. Nurtured by the sweat of the Korean people across half a century, Korea’s forests have now become a cherished treasure that generates income for foresters and a green space that supports the health and well-being of its people. Based on its experience of successful reforestation and technology, the Republic of Korea has established cooperative ties in forestry with 38 countries around the world, while also collaborating with international organizations such as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, UN Environment Program and UN Convention to Combat Desertification, continuously contributing to the reforestation of the planet. Korea’s forestry policy and technology is being disseminated to many countries around the world by implementing a diverse span of projects such as an afforestation project to reverse desertification in Mongolia, a Mangrove forest restoration project in Vietnam to conserve forest and coastal ecosystems and a forest fire management system establishment project in Indonesia to respond to forest fires.
This year’s theme of the International Day of Forests is “Forests and Health.” This theme holds great meaning as it enables us to reflect on the importance of forests that contribute to humanity’s health, especially after a pandemic. According to the “The Global Forest Goals Report 2021,” 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic like COVID-19 and mostly occur when forests are degraded. In contrast, healthy forests have positive impacts on humanity’s health and welfare such as strengthening the immune system, decreasing blood pressure and stress, lifting moods and etc. The Korea Forest Service implements diverse policies of forest education, recreation and recovery that incorporate Korea’s well-nurtured forests for the Korean people’s health and well-being. Furthermore, KFS is working towards a Forestry Renaissance Era that vitalizes forests’ economic functions and enhances public benefits while also effectively responding to the climate crisis.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the inception of the Republic of Korea’s national reforestation. Now is the time to prepare a 100-year forestry vision that links the past 50 years and the future 50 years to help the Republic of Korea prosper through forests. This 100-year forestry vision will go beyond simply establishing and managing forests, but will be the start of a future where humanity and forests can sustainably coexist. The Korea Forest Service will take the lead in maximizing the economic, environmental and social benefits of forests through the 100-year forestry vision to ensure the happiness of the Korean people and those of the world.
Nam Sung-hyun is the minister of the Korea Forest Service. The views expressed in this column are his own. – Ed.