In the Republic of Korea, forests have always been intimately interwoven with people’s lives and thus have gone through many changes as the nation has had a turbulent history. First of all, the government’s reforestation programme in the 1960s evolved into a concerted, nationwide effort in 1970 and turned barren mountains into lush green forests, earning the country a global reputation as a successful example of restoring forests after decades of occupation and war. When our country suffered a financial crisis in the late 1990s, forests provided laid-off people with jobs through public forestry projects. The discovery of this new role of forests led the government to shift the focus of forest policy to more active forest management in order to realize the benefits of forests. Since the start of the 21st century, in response the growing demand for a healthier environment, the government has been providing ecosystem services to the public by tapping well-managed forest resources, including places of respite, and recreational and environmental education opportunities.
The Republic of Korea was selected as the host of the XV World Forestry Congress to be held in 2021, thanks largely to its success story in reforestation and its continued commitment to promoting international cooperation in the forest sector. It is the first time the Congress has convened in the Asia-Pacific region since it was held in Indonesia 43 years ago.
The World Forestry Congress is the most influential conference in forestry, serving as the global platform for members of the international community to come together and issue recommendations and declarations on major forest issues. The XV World Forestry Congress in 2021 will set the stage for a timely discussion of how forests can help address and adapt to climate change, combat desertification, preserve biodiversity, and resolve other global environmental issues. At the same time, the coming global gathering will provide a great opportunity to build cross-border cooperation and partnerships in forestry. Additionally, Korea’s economic development model and success story in reforestation will offer valuable lessons to those countries now in similar circumstances to what our country has gone through in the past.
The theme of the XV World Forestry Congress is “Building a Green, Healthy and Resilient Future with Forests.” As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the world, it is necessary, indeed, to discuss forests in relation to what role they can play in creating a green, healthy future. The Republic of Korea cordially invites you to have productive discussions at the Congress about the role of the forest sector in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and in implementing international conventions on forestry and the environment.
Seoul, the capital of the Republic of Korea, is honoured to host the XV World Forestry Congress in 2021. Now, the global community is facing an array of problems including the COVID-19 pandemic, fine-particle pollution, demographic shifts, and population aging. Against this backdrop, the XV World Forestry Congress will provide a global platform for us to appreciate again the services and value of forests in light of the problems facing us.
Seoul is a megacity of 10 million people and has the highest population density among the large cities of OECD member countries. It is also one of the fastest-changing cities in the world. In addition to this dynamic nature, Seoul boasts a stunning natural environment: it is fringed by tall mountains and threaded by a wide river.
Just 50 years ago, however, most of Seoul was left in ruins after years of war, plundering and reckless fuel-wood consumption. Despite the severity of land degradation, our nation embarked on an all-out effort to reforest barren mountains in the 1960s and successfully turned into a forest-rich nation. In 1971, the Korean government instituted a greenbelt policy to preserve the environment by containing urban sprawl induced by rapid industrialization. It has not been easy to maintain urban forests against ever-rising land values and development pressure. Yet, the Seoul metropolitan government has been acutely aware that forests are vital assets that we must pass down to future generations; indeed, they are the last bulwark of the future.
Today, we are taking a step further in forest policy towards providing ecosystem services for all citizens. For instance, Seoul is implementing a policy to provide citizens with easy access to green spaces by creating more urban forests under the slogan “Seoul, a city of forests and symbiosis”. This policy includes planting up to 30 million trees, creating communal gardens, leisurely walks, natural wind corridors and green roofs on public and private buildings, and other initiatives to green urban areas.
We don’t know yet the extent to which ecological disruption induced by urbanization and industrialization will affect the lives of people. But one thing is clear: forests have always provided us with places where we can recover our health and humanity in times of crisis. I look forward to the opportunity to appreciate again the vitality, health, peace and harmony provided by forests at the XV World Forestry Congress.
Since 1926, the World Forestry Congress has provided a place for the global forest community to gather and discuss emerging forest issues and identify solutions. But never before in the history of the Congress have we found ourselves in the position we are in today. In addition to facing numerous existing challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing us to re-evaluate our plans and priorities and to think seriously about our new future.
As revealed by the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020, although the rate of forest loss is decreasing, continued efforts are still required to halt deforestation and increase forest cover. But even reversing forest loss will not be enough. Keeping our eye also on the post-pandemic period, we must assess how we can rebuild more resilient and responsive economies. We are convinced that forests must play a central role in a better and greener future.
In moving forward, we have an opportunity to strengthen intersectoral collaboration, particularly between the agriculture and forest sectors, by promoting sustainable landscape approaches. Asia has accumulated considerable knowledge and developed rich practices in working across landscapes and has many lessons to share with the global community on how to move from deforestation and forest degradation to ecosystem restoration. Priority must be given to bolstering rural livelihoods and creating green jobs. We must also continue championing sustainable wood value chains as the economic foundation of sustainable forest management. We need to strengthen sustainable wildlife management as a means to prevent infectious diseases from spreading from wild mammals to humans in the future. We should create a new landscape – of ideas, sustainable practices, equality and prosperity – as we “build back better” in the post-COVID-19 era.
In these times, more than ever, we need to support future generations of foresters. Safeguarding forests and our future requires investment in education programmes, from preschool to tertiary, and support for young forest professionals. The generations to come must understand that, if we care about forests, forest will care for us.
As a global community, we stand ready at this historic time to face the challenges and to come together to work with all partners and stakeholders for forests and our future. The upcoming XV World Forestry Congress, to be hosted by the Republic of Korea, gives us a unique opportunity to do this.
The year 2021 is an important milestone for global forestry, making the XV World Forestry Congress a crucial event. A mere ten years remain for implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieving its Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the goals and targets of the UN Strategic Plan for Forests. The progress made to date is laudable but insufficient, and we must strengthen efforts and find new ways to achieve humanity’s most ambitious goals. Congress participants will have a golden opportunity to bring forests into focus in this UN Decade of Action and to headline sustainable forest management as an important means for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change and the post-2020 Biodiversity Framework. Moreover, the Congress can advise on how to restore millions of hectares of deforested and degraded landscapes in the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which starts in 2021.
In addition to these pressing tasks, humanity is now facing the unprecedented threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. This presents the World Forestry Congress Secretariat with a new challenge: to organize a congress that not only responds to existing issues but which can also help chart the way to a greener, healthier and more prosperous future. Forests have never been more important – for enriching our daily lives, assisting in economic recovery, and helping forge a new relationship between humans and nature.
We invite all stakeholders – forest owners, practitioners, businesses, government officials, scientists, international and civil-society organizations, youth and all others who work with or care about forests – to join this global gathering. Bring your ideas, insights, expertise and perspectives, and contribute to debate on how to create a new future with forests and to “build back better”! The host country, the Republic of Korea, stands ready to share its experiences and expertise in forestry; present its reforestation programmes and their results; demonstrate how it is using information and communications technologies in forest management; explain how its forest resources provide green amenities for the public; and showcase its lush forests preserved as cultural resources.
In the midst of the pandemic, the decision to attend a global event such as the XV World Forestry Congress is undoubtedly more challenging than ever. The organizers guarantee that every effort will be made to protect the health of participants. Full use will be made of the Republic of Korea’s knowhow, which it has accumulated through years of experience in hosting international events, and its capacity to implement effective COVID-19 preventive measures. To hold a safe and enjoyable Congress, physical spaces – including convention halls and amenity areas – will be organized according to new pandemic-era norms. Information and communication platforms will be provided to enable participants to safely join sessions, either on location or at a distance.
We look forward to seeing you at the XV World Forestry Congress!