Youth and finance are priorities at World Forestry Congress

11 September 2015

Involving the youth and how to generate climate financing for the future were just two of the topics that were discussed at the World Forestry Congress 2015, which was held in Durban this week.

The congress, which began on 7 September, ends today with several plenary sessions in which delegates will debate the way forward. Discussions include “Forest and landscape restoration” and “Building momentum for community-based forestry, forest and farm organisations.”

“Forestry and People: investing in Sustainable Future” is the theme of this, the 14th such gathering. It is hosted by South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The global forestry community is in Durban this week to review and analyse the key issues and to share ways of addressing them.

Lack of funding

On 10 September, Raymond Landveld of the standing committee on finance of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change gave background and an update on his organisations. Landveld spoke in the “Climate Financing for the Future” session. Questions that were frequently asked, he said, were: “Where is the private sector in this conversation, and how do we get them part of this?”

Despite the access to finance from the public and the private sectors, there was still a lack of funding.

Landveld’s colleague, Stefan Agne, said that public finance played a big role in sustainable investment. “But, we will have to work on mobilising more finance. It should be sustainable and not drive deforestation.”

The importance of youth

Matt Frei, presenter of the youth event, said that young people’s engagement with and management in forestry and agricultural was vital. “Forests are a long- term enterprise. The youth are the custodians of what we plan and hope for the future.

“Kids are the easiest to bring on board, their minds are pure, and their language is simplicity. Telling the story is vital for their survival,” he said.

Congress secretary-general Trevor Abrahams said the question that should be asked was: “What role do we have for the youth?”

Planning in terms of the forestry industry should be changing, and issues such as education and modern technology should be addressed.

“Remember, the aim for the conference is integrating people’s needs to provide sustainable future.”

Gerald Steindlegger, a youth mentor, said much could be learnt from young people. “They are united in their love for forests and are committed to driving change.”

He was amazed that young people engaged in the congress before it had even started by submitting videos upfront. However, his message to them was that mere participation was nothing; “meaningful engagement is everything. We are here to share, to take responsibility, and to educate our needs.”

Steindlegger said people should listen more to the youth and provide more platforms to engage with them in a meaningful way. “Please be committed to support their need in investment in education.”

Youth at the event

Speaking to the SABC on the sidelines of the congress, Ella Bella Constantinides, the founder of Generation Earth, said there were many “switched on” youth at the event. “They are concerned not only about the forests, but their environment.

“About 20 years ago, South Africans were fighting for human rights and equality. Now we are fighting for our home. That’s what this generation is fighting for,” she said.

She encouraged people to look at the world through green glasses. “If our hearts are green, so our minds will be, and that leads to our actions. People should think of actions that answer the questions like ‘how can I respect the environment?'”

Listen to Ella Bella C on why everyone should be an activist for the environment: