2011 was a momentous year- full of transformative events and era-defining issues.
It will be remembered as the year in which people across North Africa and the Middle East rose up against authoritarian regimes in what is now called the "Arab Spring," a year in which the global financial crisis defined the world economy, and a year in which the effects of climate change became all the more apparent.
2011 was also declared the -- an opportunity to recognize the critical role forests play in our daily economic and social lives. Here in Geneva, we saw the International Year of Forests as a great way to promote eco-sensitive and sustainable forest management practices and we worked with our UN partners and others to support the initiative. Amid all the other breaking news and emerging trends, why did we commit so much time and effort to forests?
Forests are home to a vast majority of the world's biodiversity. Forests are a major source of food and livelihood. Forests hold about 46 percent of the world's terrestrial carbon stores. Up to 20 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation and forest degradation. It is not hyperbole to say that healthy forests are important to combating climate change and to holding the increase in global temperatures below 2 degrees centigrade. They protect wildlife, sustain economies and improve the environment. Everyone -- regardless of where you live or what you do, from the hot deserts of the Middle East to the lush tropics of the Amazon -- everyone is affected by the world's great forests.
What did we do to help out? To start the Year, we co-hosted in February with the UN Economic Commission for Europe and Food and Agriculture Organization (UNECE/FAO) the "Art of Trees: A Forest Gallery" exhibit at the United Nations here in Geneva, featuring 80 live trees and art work by an American artist. For more on this, watch this video. A month later, I planted one of the trees on UN Geneva grounds to commemorate World Forestry Day. To mark the end of the Year, we co-hosted a ceremony with the UNECE/FAO and the Republic of Poland. At the ceremony, we, and other Geneva-based missions to the UN, decorated a live maple tree, designated the “UN Holiday Tree”, with decorations symbolizing the cultural, economic, environmental, and social importance of forests in the participating countries. Our decoration -- by American artist Mona Sfeir -- is made of posters from the exhibit held earlier in the year and represents U.S. commitment to recycle paper. If you would like to see pictures of the event, please go to our Flickr page.
That evening I joined other dignitaries in highlighting how the Year has had a tangible impact. The Rwanda Forest Landscape Initiative and the Bonn Challenge on Forests, Climate Change, and Biodiversity are just two of the compelling examples, born this year, of national and international efforts to sustain and preserve forests. 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. I am proud that we in Geneva have been able to contribute, even in some small part, to that success!