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UN wraps up year of forests by highlighting their social and economic value

The United Nations today wrapped up its year-long campaign to raise awareness on the importance of forests and the people who depend on them with a series of events that spotlight their role and impact in socio-economic activities.

“Each of us, all seven billion people on Earth, has our physical, economic and spiritual health tied to forests,” said Jan McAlpine, Director of the UN Forum on Forests (UNFF) Secretariat.

Throughout 2011, the UN organized a series of events and activities to highlight the value of forests and the actions that people can take to protect them and help contribute to their sustainable management.

At today’s closing ceremony for the year, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang stressed that the International Year of Forests “helped create a platform for dialogue and action.

“Through various actors – starting with local communities and moving to national, regional and international levels – we heard about effective ways to sustainably manage forests,” he said. “We hope that the year inspired governments to redouble their efforts as well.”

According to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), forests cover 31 per cent of the world’s total global land area, store more than one trillion tons of carbon and provide livelihoods for more than 1.6 billion people. However, deforestation accounts for 12 to 20 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

To mark the conclusion of the campaign, a special ceremony was held at UN Headquarters in New York today honouring people who have made special contributions to protect forests.

“We launched the UNFF Forest Heroes Awards for the International Year of Forests 2011 to identify and honour the countless individuals around the world who are dedicating their lives to nurturing forests in quiet and heroic ways. The programme aims to spotlight everyday people working to make positive changes for forests,” Ms. McAlpine told a press conference this afternoon, stressing that the response to the campaign had been very positive throughout all the regions that participated.

The winners of the awards come from various countries and backgrounds, but they all have made a significant impact on the preservation of forests.

Eleven-year-old girl scouts Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva, for example, won the award for the North American region for convincing the Girl Scout Organization to stop using cookies containing palm oil, which is linked to the destruction of rainforests.

An oyster fisherman, Shigeatsu Hatakeyama, received the award for the Asia region, for his implementation of sustainable farming practices in Miyagi, Japan, which played a critical role in maintaining clean water for his oyster beds.

Nzegha Mzeka, 77, will be honoured for his work which has helped 30 communities in Cameroon to protect their watersheds and conserve community forests through sustainable bee farming, education and reforestation.

For the European region, Anatoly Lebedev will be honoured for his work campaigning against illegal logging and destructive land practices in Russia that threatened indigenous communities and Siberian tigers.

Paulo Adario will receive the award for Latin America for his dedication to the protection of rainforests and forest-dependent communities in the Brazilian Amazon despite death threats and warring interest groups.

The jury also decided to add a special award in recognition of the deceased couple José Claudio Ribeiro and Maria do Espírito Santo, two activists murdered in Brazil while trying to protect their natural forests.

In addition to the presentation of Forest Heroes Awards, the ceremony will feature the winners of the 2011 Universal Postal Union (UPU) letter-writing contest, which drew entries from more than two million children and youth worldwide, and the announcement of the winners of the 2011 children’s art contest “Celebrate the Forests.”

There will also be film clips from the first-ever award-winning International Forest Film Festival, as well as the launch of the commemorative book Forests for People, with 75 articles from 35 countries.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=41186&Cr=forests&Cr1=

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UN-backed marine expedition highlights impact of climate change in oceans

A United Nations-backed scientific expedition which has been travelling the world’s oceans for almost three years is in New York seeking to raise public awareness of the impact of climate change in oceans.

The mission, known as Tara Oceans, has travelled 70,000 miles across the Atlantic, Pacific, Antarctic and Indian oceans investigating the effects of global warming on biodiversity and marine life, particularly focusing on marine plankton, and aims to bridge the knowledge gap between the scientific community and the public by regularly sharing its findings and data and allowing visitors into the Tara vessel wherever it docks.

“The Tara expedition represents an extraordinary human endeavour by focusing on the key major gaps in our knowledge on plankton,” said Andrew Hudson, the Coordinator of UN Oceans, adding that it is facilitating communication not only between scientists and the public but also with policy-makers so they know how the ocean works and how human activity impacts this vital ecosystem.

Mr. Hudson also spotlighted the importance of this initiative in raising awareness before the UN Sustainable Development Conference (Rio+20) in June, where Tara researchers will be sharing their message as they try to rally support for new initiatives, reforms and financing needed for ocean sustainability.

Philippe Kridelka, Director of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) office in New York, echoed Mr. Hudson’s remarks and emphasized the importance of the mission in bringing the topic of oceans into the development agenda.

The vessel has also had artists and journalists on board to help promote the mission, including French fashion designer agnès b., who is also one of the main sponsors of Tara.

The designer, along with other members of the Tara crew, met Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier today and talked to him about the activities of the mission.

The mission is carried out under the auspices of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) and in partnership with UNESCO’s International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=41191&Cr=oceans&Cr1=

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UN-backed report warns of dangers of increasing electronic waste in West Africa

West Africa is facing a significant increase in waste generated by electronic equipment which poses mounting health and environmental risks, according to a United Nations report released today.

About 85 per cent of the waste produced in the region comes from domestic consumption, the report reveals. However, the problem is further exacerbated by industrialized countries importing used equipment which often proves to be unsuitable for re-use and end up being discarded.

“Effective management of the growing amount of e-waste generated in Africa and other parts of the world is an important part of the transition towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient Green Economy”, said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

The report assessed the situation over two years in five countries – Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria – and found that they produce between 650,000 and 1,000,000 tons of domestic e-waste each year, which can have a negative impact in the environment and increase the risk of health issues.

As for waste coming from other countries, the report notes that the United Kingdom is the dominant exporting country to Africa for both new and used electrical and electronic equipment, followed by France and Germany.

According to UNEP, although the use of electrical and electronic equipment is still low in Africa compared to other regions, it is growing at a staggering pace as more people start using mobile phones and personal computers.

The report, which was prepared by the Secretariat of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal and partners, also documents the economic and environmental potential of building a resource recovery and waste management system for electronic waste, along with the risks of continuing on the present course.

“We can grow Africa’s economies, generate decent employment and safeguard the environment by supporting sustainable e-waste management and recovering the valuable metals and other resources locked inside products that end up as e-waste,” Mr. Steiner said, adding that the report provides various strategies to limit damages and provide economic opportunities, something that is crucial for long-term sustainability.

“E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream world-wide and a key waste stream under the Basel Convention,” said Jim Willis, Executive Secretary of the Basel Convention. The convention’s secretariat is administered by UNEP.

“Dealing with electronic and electrical equipment properly presents a serious environmental and health challenge for many countries, yet also offers a potentially significant opportunity to create green businesses and green jobs.”

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=41201&Cr=environment&Cr1=

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