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Holy See Stresses Need to Protect Forests

May 10, 2018. Intervention at Session on UN Strategic Plan for Forests.

On May 8, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations gave an intervention during Thirteenth Session of the United Nations Forum on Forests, dedicated to the Implementation of the UN Strategic Plan for Forests.

In its statement, by Msgr. Simon Kassas Chargé d’Affaires of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, the Holy See voiced its support for the efforts of the Forum to bring about an integral improvement in the quality of human life and called for the promotion of better management of the world’s forest resources, since they are being destroyed and altered at an alarming rate, which is depleting their biodiversity. Forests make an essential contribution in regulating the climate and their exploitation comes at a high cost to people, animals, and the environment. The Holy See also said that initiatives which aim to conserve forests must also take into account the native communities who have been living there for centuries.

The statement follows:

Mr. Chair,

The Holy See is pleased to participate in this Thirteenth Session of the United Nations Forum on Forests to address the implementation of the UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2017-2030.

Forests deserve our attention, study, and protection. As well as making an essential contribution to the regulation of the climate, they contain an irreplaceable treasure which is comprised of so many species. Some forest plants and micro-organisms, moreover, are capable of synthesizing unlimited numbers of complex substances of great medicinal potential. Other plants possess value as sources of food or as a means of genetically improving strains of edible plants.

Unfortunately, the rate at which the forests are being destroyed or altered is depleting their biodiversity so quickly that many species may never be cataloged or studied. If an obsession with profit is partly responsible for deforestation and the loss of biodiversity, it is also true that the desperate fight against poverty likewise threatens to deplete these resources. Thus, while certain forms of industrial development have induced some countries to deplete dramatically the size of their forests, foreign debt has forced other countries to administer unwisely their forest resources in the hope of reducing that debt. Similarly, the attempt to clear lands for farming or pasture is sometimes an unfortunate proof of how good and even necessary ends can be pursued with means that have unintended, harmful effects. The solution to an urgent problem can create another, equally serious one.

For that reason, it is not helpful to reflect on the thematic and operational priorities of the Strategic Plan for Forests from the comfortable perspective of highly developed societies that feature a quality of life well beyond the present reach of the majority of the world’s population. “A true ecological approach,” as Pope Francis has reminded us, “always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”[1]

Mr. Chair,

Pope Francis has specifically urged the international community to this form of double-listening with regard to the Amazon. During his recent visit to Puerto Maldonado, in the Peruvian Amazon, he underlined the problems flowing from “neo-extractivism and the pressure being exerted by great business interests that want to lay hands on [the Amazon’s] petroleum, gas, wood, gold, and forms of agro-industrial monocultivation. On the other hand,” he said, “its lands are being threatened by the distortion of certain policies aimed at the ‘conservation’ of nature without taking into account the men and women […] who inhabit it.” He specifically cited movements “under the guise of preserving the forest, hoard great expanses of woodland and negotiate with them, leading to situations of oppression for the native peoples; as a result, [the native peoples] lose access to the land and its natural resources. These problems strangle [the indigenous inhabitants] and provoke the migration of the young due to the lack of local alternatives.” Pope Francis urged that “We have to break with the historical paradigm that views Amazonia as an inexhaustible source of supplies for other countries without concern for its inhabitants.”[2]

The conservation of the forests, therefore, cannot be realized at the expense of those communities who have been living there for centuries. As a matter of fact, their customs and their lifestyle in harmony with nature very often contribute positively to the universal destination of goods from one generation to another. These communities must become protagonists of environmental conservation and their rights and values must be respected. The forests will be sustainably managed only with “the constant and active involvement of local people from within their proper culture.”[3]

Mr. Chair,

My Delegation heartily supports the efforts of this Forum to bring about an integral improvement in the quality of human life, especially of those left behind, which entails consideration of the settings in which people live, including forests. The promotion of better management of our forest resources is a crucial part in our care for our common home and for those who live in it.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

1. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, 49, (original emphasis).
2. Pope Francis, Meeting with Indigenous People of Amazonia, 19 January 2018.
3. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, 144, (original emphasis).