Message delivered by Eric Falt, UNEP Communications and Public Information Director, at the opening of the 2006 UNEP Tunza International Children’s Conference for the Environment in Putrajaya, Malaysia, 27 August 2006.
Your Majesty the Raja Permaisuri Agong, Tuanku Fauziah Binti Al-Marhum Tengku Abdul Rashid,
Ms. Khadijah Abdul Rahman, Chairperson of the Malaysia Organizing Committee,
Mr. Michael Schade, Vice President of Bayer,
Mr. Dato Abu Hassan Kendut, Managing Director of United Engineering Malaysia,
Professor Dr. Datin Mariati Muhamad,
Mr. Ian Kiernan, Chairman and Founder of Clean Up the World,
Junior Board members
Children of the world,
On behalf of UNEP I would like to welcome all of you to the 2006 Tunza International Children’s Conference on the Environment.
I would also like to thank the Government of Malaysia for generously hosting this event, and our sponsors, Bayer and United Engineering Malaysia, for their support.
I would also like to thank our partners at YAWA, without whom none if this would have been possible.
As you know, the theme of this Conference is ‘Save a Tree, Save our Lungs’.
Malaysia – and Southeast Asia in general – has some of the world’s most important areas of tropical forest.
Forests act as the planet’s lungs. They absorb the carbon dioxide that human society is generating in ever greater amounts, which is directly responsible for global warming.
When forests are destroyed, they not only lose their ability to soak up carbon dioxide, they release even more greenhouse gases.
Forests also provide fuel wood, medicinal plants and food to as many as 1.6 billion people, and are home to an incredible variety of plants and animals.
Many of these species have not yet even been catalogued, let alone studied for their potential benefit to humankind – and they are disappearing from this planet Earth at an alarming rate.
According to a recent report , two out of five species known to science face extinction, including one in eight birds, a quarter of all mammals and one-third of amphibian species.
Many of these are forest species, yet forests around the world continue to be destroyed.
The international community has pledged to reverse the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010, but at the moment the rate is still increasing.
One way we can help protect biological diversity, and protect society from the threat of climate change, is to protect our existing forests and work, where possible, to replant areas that have been deforested.
Between 2000 to 2005, the world lost 73,000 square kilometres of forest each year – an area approximately the size of Sierra Leone or Panama, nearly a quarter the size of Malaysia.
That is what is known as net loss after newly planted forests have been taken into account.
Primary forests – those most untouched by human activity and highest in biodiversity – are being lost or modified at a rate of 60,000 square kilometres a year through deforestation or selective logging.
This often opens roads for poachers, farmers and land developers to further degrade the forests and the many ecological services they offer.
I am glad, then, that the children helping to organize this Tunza conference have chosen to highlight the issue of forest conservation.
As you have heard, the objective of our Tunza strategy is to foster a new generation of qualified and enthusiastic environmental leaders.
By qualifying to join in this conference you have already demonstrated that you care and are prepared to act.
During the conference, there will be a workshop that will highlight some of the main activities that UNEP does with young people. I encourage you to get more involved in what we do.
I would particularly like to draw your attention to our Plant for the Planet campaign, in which UNEP is working with schools, communities and the private sector in Kenya to discourage deforestation and encourage a culture of planting and caring for trees..
It is an exciting programme that can be replicated in many parts of the world, and I think those of you here at this conference can play a valuable role.
In closing, I wish you an enjoyable, exciting and educational conference.
I hope you leave here with good memories, good friends and good intentions for the future.