That’s according to Inoke Ratukalou, director of Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) Land Resources Division.
He was speaking on the International Day of Forest on March 21.
“This day, which aims to celebrate and raise awareness on the importance of all types of forests as well as trees outside forests, had particular importance for the Pacific region,” Mr Ratukalou said.
With deforestation contributing 12%–18% of the world’s carbon emissions, Mr Ratukalou emphasised that forests play a critical role in climate change – which poses an especially direct and substantial threat to the Pacific.
“Forests and trees also play a significant role in the economic, social, environmental and cultural development of the people in the Pacific,” he explained.
About 31% of the world’s total land area is covered by forests.
Forests and trees combat land degradation and desertification by stabilising soils, reducing water and wind erosion and maintaining nutrient cycling in soils.
Forests are home to over 80% of terrestrial biodiversity. They also contribute to the balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide and humidity in the air.
“Forests constitute the natural capital and inheritance of the present and future generations of Pacific Islanders.
“Unfortunately, these valuable resources have been under continuous threat by destructive human activities associated with infrastructure development, mining, agricultural clearing and unsustainable logging,” Mr Ratukalou said.
He added that most of the small island countries in the region have lost significant forest cover, and the rehabilitation of the resulting degraded lands is a major concern.
“Smaller and smaller areas of forests are being relied upon to provide the required services and products for the well-being of a growing population, and this has negative consequences for the resilience of communities in adapting to climate change and other changes.
“Forests and trees are important in the well-being of our communities, but there is a lack of awareness on their vital role in our lives here in the Pacific.”
Mr Ratukalou explained that the goal of the International Day of Forests, which was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2012, was to raise awareness on this important issue.
“It is important that maximum efforts by all countries and their peoples are directed towards ensuring that forests are managed and used in a sustainable manner,” he said.
Tonga’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Forestry and Fisheries, together with its Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, organised activities and public campaigns on the importance of forests and trees to commemorate the day.
According to the Head of the Forestry Division, Tevita Faka’osi, these activities included radio talkback and television programmes to raise public awareness of the importance of forests and trees outside forests.
Fiji’s Forestry Department commemorated the International Day of Forests with an event at Thurston Botanical Garden in Suva. The programme included planting of trees by children and exhibits by regional and non-governmental organisations.
SPC also had a display booth at the half-day event that was attended by secondary and primary school children from around Suva as well as the general public.
Students learn about the importance of the forest through books during International Day of Forest at the SPC, Fiji.