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Communicating the key role of forest products in the transition to a green economy can help to unlock forests’ broader sustainable development potential

The environmental rationale for protecting forests is well known. The benefits provided by forests, such as water and air purification, soil formation, carbon storage and biodiversity conservation are widely acknowledged. It is, however, less known that forest products also play an important role within the broader context of achieving sustainable development. When forests are managed properly, they not only provide ecosystem services, but are also the source of low carbon, renewable and recyclable products, in place of more polluting and carbon emitting materials.

This is the spirit of the Rovaniemi Action Plan, a regional blueprint to support the contribution of the forest sector to the transition to a green economy. Approved in 2013, the Rovaniemi Action Plan remains the main framework to guide the transition a green economy in the forest sector in the UNECE region.

In order to support countries’ efforts to harness this potential, experts from 13  countries gathered in Geneva on 13 and 14 February at a UNECE and FAO workshop to review actions undertaken by governments, international organizations and the private sector to implement the Action Plan.

The exchanges between different stakeholders highlighted that monitoring of the forest sector is well advanced in many countries, and emphasised the importance of data and information on sustainable forest management to support evidence-based policy-making for a healthy sector. Many of the priorities of the action plan are under implementation, as part of national plans for forests and the forest sector, as well as through business strategies of private companies.

Experts concurred that while the forest sector has a full appreciation of the potential of forests and forest products to support a green economy, other sectors were less aware of these possibilities. For example, knowledge on the promise of innovative wood-derivatives for new materials and fibers as well as the carbon storage and substitution functions of wood are little known beyond forest sector experts. Enhancing communication and raising awareness around the benefits and technical advantages of building with wood could therefore be communicated to more countries in the region. Similarly, the benefits of forests for the health and well-being of people are recognized by few in the medical sector.

Consequently, promoting the potential of sustainable forest products across sectors is a priority if forests are to make a meaningful contribution to the green economy. The success stories and experiences of countries and the private sector that showcase forest-based solutions need to be shared with other sectors. 

“As foresters, we know the great promise forests hold for a sustainable future, and how forests products can support the transition to a green economy and contribute to more sustainable consumption and production patterns. What we need now is to make sure this message reaches other sectors and to the public at large. This is one of the main priorities of our work at the national and international levels”, highlighted Marta Gaworska, Chair of the UNECE Committee on Forests and the Forest Industry (COFFI) and the UNECE/FAO Forest Policy Network.

To learn more about the Rovaniemi Action Plan, please visit: www.unece.org/forests/greeneconomy.html