Monday, 26 February 2018

Youths United in Rome Conference to Halt Deforestation

An important international conference was held at the FAO Building in Rome last week (20-22/02/2018), "Working across Sectors to Halt Deforestation and Increase Forest Area - from Aspiration to Action". It is important in the sense that world's forests continue to shrink as human population increases and forest areas get converted into agriculture lands and other uses, with a deforestation rate such that in next 100 years, there will be no forest left on earth. Today the global forest area is 3,999.00 million hectares. Forests through its complex ecological system, on the other hand, provides a multitude of services like provisioning of food, fibre, fuel and fresh water; regulating the quality of air and extreme climates; supporting varied species habitats and maintaining genetic diversity; and of course a set of cultural services through recreation, aestheticism and spiritual experiences. Halting deforestation is the most pressing need of the planet of today. 
When world is in unity, halting deforestation will be possible and forests cover will increase

Through the continued efforts of the office bearers of International Forestry Students Association (IFSA), it has been made possible for the youths to take part in this crucial conference and around 50 youth delegates were selected from all over to represent the voices of youths for halting deforestation, a common aspiration. By virtue of being a student in Europe, my age doesn't bar from myself considering the youth, and it was a wonderful privilege that I have been one of the few selected delegates to attend the conference. The coordinating team from IFSA has already planned such that youths will be engaged in a day-long training session to equip the youth participants both in person and via online for accelerating efforts to halt deforestation through discourses on what is causing it and what global actions need to be taken? It was also a platform where youths propose ideas and messages for High-Level UN Political Agenda. The aspiration is to ensure and built a moment that is intergenerational and cross-sectoral, and to make sure that our collective change brings together a cohesive planet and halt deforestation. 
Youth Delegates Post Session Business
The training that was divided into three parts was intense but enriching where the youths were not only given theoretical backgrounds on "Thinking Landscape" and "Gender in Resource Management" by the subject experts but also rigorously engaging us in the group works and exercises that yielded striking outcomes. There are conflicting interests among competing land uses, which is the main reason leading to alarming deforestation and hampering positive progress, therefore thinking landscape and acting landscape is one of the best solutions to resolve the conflicts. This can best be achieved through "Understanding the Landscape", "Engagement of Every Stakeholder", "Engaging the Institutions", "Creating Landscape Market Values" and  "Effective Management" of the all these components, knowing that they are indispensable for each other in an intricate web. While understanding landscape approach is vital for halting deforestation, it is equally vital to mainstream gender equality in resolving the issues. We understand the need for gender equality but often fail to understand the full complexity of gender and its relevance to natural resource management. Through the role plays, we could demystify the gender complexity and could identify the asymmetries in power distribution across different societal actors, thus providing new insights, tools, and resources for accounting gender dimensions in halting deforestation. 

Furthermore, the youths also excepted ourselves as an important stakeholder in the effort towards hating deforestation so we got introduced to the important policies like UN Strategic Plan for Forests (UNSPF), to mobilize concrete actions and map out tangible implementation strategies and actions for such goals. This is being reiterated on the need to engage youths in important policy discussions and high-level conference so that they can reflect on the key discussions and share their ideas for possible action. As the conference progressed further, many youth delegates raised questions and sought clarification in most of the sessions and often vigours of youth in the form of shouting while applauding and letting the panels rise to shake with tunes in name of shaking coconut tree. This being observed by the highest level of delegates like ambassadors to UN FAO, they recognized the need to engage youth in such conferences in the future too. Moreover, the key messages for youths and by the youths from the present conference are also expected to be part of the final draft of the key messages of the conference, which will be presented at the 13th session of the UN Forum on Forests, this May. This is one big impact the unity of youth delegates have brought for actions towards halting deforestation. 

Besides, a smaller group of youth delegates too formed themselves into core team and tailored the entire session of the day in concise and digestible 15-minute online discourse, which the many aspiring youths who could not attend the conference in person can view it. I was not part of the core team, and work burden was lower for me. I am amazed at the energy and enthusiasm shown by the youth delegates and I felt that even at national level conferences, there is a need to engage youths and let them understand the processes of formulating high-level policy plans for the compelling social and ecological issues, after all, youths are not only the future leader but the general mass of the future world, who will face the consequences of today's plans and policies. 



The Rome conference in general is in pursuant towards fulfilling Sustainable Development Goals 15, Life on Land, target 15.2, which calls for halting deforestation by 2020 and the UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2017-30 Global Forest Goal 1.1 that urges a reversal in loss of forest cover and increase forest area by 3% worldwide by 2030. I thank IFSA for accpeting my participation and sponsoring the trip. 


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