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‘Human-focused forest policy can improve citizens’ lives’

The following is a transcript of a speech by Korea Forest Service Minister Kim Jae-hyun at the opening of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Week in Songdo, Incheon, on Monday. -- Ed.I would like to sincerely welcome all of you to Asia-Pacific Forestry Week 2019.

I am very delighted to invite you all and discuss forest issues in Incheon in June, when verdant greenery reaches its peak. 

Korea Forest Service Minister Kim Jae-hyun (Korea Forest Service)
Korea Forest Service Minister Kim Jae-hyun (Korea Forest Service)

There is a saying that “humans have been living with forests.” But I would like to rephrase it a little to say, “Humans could live because there were forests.”

Humans continue with their lives thanks to fresh air and water given by forests. Humans could create civilizations through resources from forests.

Forests are not simply companions for human beings; they are the root of life and civilizations and make lives more prosperous.

I hope that you spend Asia-Pacific Forestry Week 2019 with respect and gratitude toward forests.

As you are aware, South Korea could repair its forests, destroyed in the Korean War, within a short period through the efforts of its citizens. 

Now, the country aims to create a better future by using our dense, thick forests. 

Korea dreams of two kinds of future. One is to increase the quality of citizens’ lives through forests. The other is to reunite the Korean Peninsula.
By maintaining and preserving forests, we can use forests as the foundation for the prosperity of individuals, society and the country, as well as for peace on the Korean Peninsula.

South Korea’s dream is in line with the international call for action toward forests. 

The Asia-Pacific region is responsible for half of the world’s population, but forest areas account for just 18 percent of the overall area, with the respective space being continuously reduced.

Forest area per person is about 0.18 hectare, just one-third of the world’s average. 

Efforts on the level of an individual, society and country are not enough in dealing with the forest issue. That is why I am here to ask for your attention.
To contribute to global efforts to achieve the international goal, Korea is involved in the UNCCD Changwon Initiative, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Forest and Landscape Restoration Mechanism and the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Forest Ecosystem Restoration Initiative.

In particular, Korea has suggested the establishment of the Asian Forest Cooperation Organization for regional efforts to respond to climate change in the Asia-Pacific region and forest restoration. The organization was successfully launched in Seoul in July last year. 

Along with international solidarity, we hope this event will share Korea’s forest policies and ideas, and provide motivation for solutions to forest issues. 

One of the ideas include Korea’s policy to improve citizens’ lives through forests. 

We would like to shift the paradigm of forest policy from a resource-focused one to a human- and area-focused one; seek public value through what forests give us; as well as increase employment in the related industry to share economic and social value with citizens. 

The policy will enable any citizen -- whenever and wherever they are -- to enjoy the benefits of forests.

To make it happen, we will create more forests in the cities, where 92 percent of our citizens live; reduce the concentration of fine dust; and mitigate the “urban heat island.” 

According to a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, around 20 percent of the world’s population are in environments that face conflict and trouble. Long-term conflict not only leads to the depletion of natural resources but also forest denudation, food shortage, biodiversity loss and vulnerable environment to natural disasters.

To sympathize with the current crisis and come up with a solution, we will introduce the Peace Forest Initiative as part of measures. 

I sincerely hope countries in the border area create a model to mutually manage forests so they can contribute to the UN’s sustainable growth goals to improve the quality of life and create peace and prosperity. 

Since the April 2018 summit between South and North Korea, the world’s attention has turned to the Korean Peninsula, and we have been seeking ways for forest cooperation between the two Koreas. 

I ask for participants’ continued interest and support. 

The 15th World Forestry Congress will take place in Seoul in 2021. This year’s event will be an opportunity to spread achievements and lessons globally, beyond the Asia-Pacific region.

Korea will continue to join hands with the international community and lead mutual prosperity and peace toward forests. 

Hope to see you in two years. Thank you.

By Kim Jae-hyun, minister of Korea Forest Service