The first-ever United Nations Summit on Oceans, which took place in New York on 5-9 June, has reached a global agreement to reverse the decline of the ocean’s health, with more than 1,300 pledged actions for protecting the ocean and the adoption of a 14-point Call for Action to conserve and sustainably use oceans, seas and marine resources.
A blog I wrote on 26 April, “S.O.S. The World of Blue”, was a pleading in favor of global awareness on the oceans problem. As the President of the UN General Assembly, Peter Thomson, remarked during the conference: “When it comes to the ocean, it’s the common heritage of humankind. There’s no North-South, East-West when it comes to the ocean. If the ocean is dying, it’s dying on all of us”.
These words are equally true when it comes to “the green gold” of the Blue Planet: forests. Oceans mitigate climate change by capturing one third of the carbon dioxide released by human activities; forests are another huge bank for the carbon released into the atmosphere, as they tied up 45% of the carbon stored on land. Half of the oxygen we breathe comes from oceans; the other half is produced on land by forests, which are the “lungs” of our Earth. The Amazonian forests alone produce 20% of the oxygen that keeps us alive.
Similar to oceans which provide food security to over three billion humans, forests provide food, income and source of energy to 1.6 billion people. And like oceans, forests are an essential part of our spiritual heritage and cultural identity. In a nutshell, what oceans represent for 37% of the world population who lives in coastal communities, forests represent for another 25% of the Earth’s population.
As a child, I learnt from my grandparents who lived in a small village in the Carpathian Mountains that “the forest is Romanian’s brother”. This metaphor comes from the remote Middle Age and encapsulates perfectly the essence of our history. As inhabitants of a country whose social, cultural and economic fabric was closely linked to forests, and whose defense when outnumbered by foreign invaders consisted in retreats into the huge wild Carpathian forests, followed by deadly counter-attacks against the enemy – a strategy that kept my ancestors always free – Romanians are genetically connected to mountains and forests.
Similar to oceans which humans have put at risk of irreversible damage, we are losing now the greatest biological treasure represented by forests. Rainforests once covered 14% of the Earth’s land surface, while today they cover a mere 6%. If not protected, the last remaining rainforests could be consumed in less than 40 years.
Half of the world’s 10 million species of plants, animals and insects live in forests. Experts estimates that we are losing 137 plant, animal and insect species every single day due to deforestation. As the forest species disappear, so do many possible cures for diseases. The U.S. National Cancer Institute has identified 3000 plants that are active against cancer cells. 70% of them are found in the rainforests.
Therefore, like for oceans, rising awareness about the fatal consequences of deforestation is crucial to our future. On 27 April 2017, the UN General Assembly adopted the United Nations Strategic Plan for Forests 2017-2030, which includes 6 global forest goals and 26 associated targets aimed at halting deforestation and forest degradation. To boost implementation of these goals and targets, on 1-5 May 2017 the UN organized in New York the United Nations Forum on Forests.
Forests cover 30% of the planet land, or almost four billion ha. Seven million ha are in Romania, which represents 29% of the national territory; 60% of our forests are located in the Carpathian Mountains. According to World Wide Fund for Nature, out of the 320,000 ha of virgin forests still existing in Europe, 250,000 ha are located in Romania. The new Romanian Forest Code stipulates that virgin and quasi-virgin forests shall be strictly protected.
Most of our 30 national parks are located in forest land, with 2.6 million hectares of forests (11% of the Romanian territory) being included in the European Union Natura 2000 Network. In 2015, eleven European countries started the project Beech Forests – Joint Natural Heritage of Europe, for the inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List of the “Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe”. 39% of the forest area in this project is located in my country.
The beauty, majesty, and timelessness of nature in its pure form in these parts of Romania are indescribable. An enthusiastic British team succeeded to present a glimpse of them in a documentary film called Wild Carpathia, and on 27 June I will have the privilege to host, at the United Nations in New York, the screening of its fourth episode: “Seasons of Change”.
Before being appointed to the United Nations, I was the ambassador of Romania to the United Kingdom and I have witnessed the making over the series of this documentary film. I remember the message HRH The Prince of Wales has sent at the launching of Wild Carpathia – Wild Forever, in 2013: “Romania is one of the last places in Europe where wild expanses on a meaningful scale still exist. In fact, the Romanian Carpathians contain the largest remaining area of virgin forest in Central and Southern Europe. These forests are a feast of biodiversity, exceptionally rich in fauna and flora. This makes the Romanian Carpathians a priceless natural treasure in a continent that has long since destroyed most of its wildernesses. What you still possess in Romania has become extremely rare. Many European countries have little or no primary forest left”.
His Royal Highness’ passionate commitment and determination in preserving, for the generations to come, of the nature, traditions and fabulous heritage of my country brought him unconditional admiration and gratitude. A video message from The Prince of Wales in 2016, at the launching of Wild Carpathia – Seasons of Change, will precede the film screening at the UN.
Wild Carpathia is an exquisite documentary about the wilderness of the Carpathian Mountains, amazing landscapes, raw history and simple life. Above all, it gives a unique insight into the beauty and rich culture of Romania through the changing seasons and tells us that is a time for change in our behaviour in relation to Mother Earth. Wild Carpathia is also a portal to paradise. It captures the majesty of a unique eco-system and shows why it deserves to be preserved in all its glory for the benefit of future generations.
And what a better place to present it than the United Nations?
Ambassador Ion Jinga is the Permanent Representative of Romania to the United Nations, New York.