U.S. Mission Commemorates the Closing of the Year of Forests and the Start of the Year of Sustainable Energy

Ambassador King decorates the “United Nations tree”
Ambassador King decorates the “United Nations tree”

Remarks by Ambassador Betty E. King
for the International Year of Forests Closing Ceremony

Palais des Nations,
Geneva,
December 13, 2011

Good evening!  I’d like to thank the UNECE, the FAO and UNOG for organizing this final event celebrating the International Year of Forests.  We also particularly appreciate the opportunity to co-host, with Undersecretary Zaleski and the Republic of Poland, the reception to immediately follow this ceremony.  I am so pleased, personally, and on behalf of the US government, to have been involved from start to finish in events that commemorate this important year.

Some of you here may have viewed the exhibit the United States co-sponsored back in February called the “Art of Trees: A Forest Gallery.” There were over 80 live trees and art work by an American artist on display.  Following that exhibit, I helped plant one of the trees here on the UN grounds.  I see that tree – which I check on from time to time – as an enduring symbol of the US commitment to sustainable management and preservation of forests both domestically and globally.

Now, some of you may ask yourselves whether this past year commemorating forests has had any impact.  Why does it matter?

Well, from our perspective it does matter and 2011 has delivered compelling examples from across the globe of national and international efforts to sustain and preserve forests.  Rwanda’s Forest Landscape Initiative is one such example.  In February of this year, the Rwandan government committed to border-to-border restoration of its natural ecosystems, including forests. Rwanda’s national commitment has helped build the momentum for a global landscape restoration drive.  At the recent Bonn Challenge on Forests, Climate Change and Biodiversity, a joint commitment by involved countries and the private sector was made to restore 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded landscapes by 2020.

As for the United States, we are working both domestically and internationally to combat the illegal logging and deforestation that are destroying the world’s forests.  With our partners in the Asia-Pacific region, we are developing an expert group on illegal logging that aims to promote trade in legally-harvested forest products.  In Africa, we collaborate with more than 50 countries, organizations, and businesses through the Congo Basin Forest Partnership to improve management of the world’s second largest tropical forest.

Domestically, the U.S. government is sponsoring a program called Wings Across the Americas, which works to conserve forest habitats for birds, bats, and butterflies. We’ve also amended U.S. legislation – the Lacey Act – to prevent the importation of illegally-harvested plants and their derivatives.

The International Year of Forests has served to successfully engage the global community on a topic that is vitally important to the sustainability of our planet.  And, what better way to highlight that success than through this tree standing here before us – resting at the crossroads of multilateral diplomacy and decorated by Geneva-based missions to the UN; each decoration contributed symbolizes the cultural, economic, environmental and social importance of forests in the countries represented here in Geneva.

Though today commemorates the end of the International Year of Forests, it also marks the beginning of a new chapter for the international community.  The United Nations has declared 2012 the International Year of Sustainable Energy.  It could not come at a better time.  Just last week, it was announced that global emissions of carbon dioxide rose 5.9% in 2010, the biggest jump ever recorded.  Sustainable energy is, as we all know, a central ingredient to achieving the goal of reduced global carbon emissions.

Now, more than ever, we must work together not only to protect forests, but also to promote sustainable energy practices globally.  Our collective ambitions are lofty but attainable. Yesterday, we lit our trees with incandescent bulbs. Today, we light this UN holiday tree with LEDs. Tomorrow, we may light the world with sustainable energy.  A cleaner, brighter future is ours if we want it.  And, the International Year of Sustainable Energy is a strong contributing step in that direction.  Thank you and I look forward to you joining us at the reception.