By Ms Juliet O. Nyang’ai
Last week, 21st March saw the world celebrate International Day of Forests. The UN General Assembly proclaimed 21 March as the International Day of Forests on November, 28th 2012. The Day celebrates and raises awareness of the importance of all types of forests.
Activities on International Day of Forests
On each International Day of Forests, countries are encouraged to undertake local, national and international efforts to organize activities involving forests and trees, such as tree planting campaigns. The theme of this year is; “Forests and Biodiversity.”
Importance of Forest to the Environment and Combating Climate Change
We should never tire emphasizing on the importance of forests. Forests cover about one third of the earth’s land mass performing critical functions around the world. The vitality of forests cannot be exhausted in a paragraph, from; being a key source of quality air, provision of medicine, food, shade and shelter; forests also play a key role in biodiversity essential to both ecosystems and human economies.
The essence of trees to humanity can be summarized in Forests Gautama Buddha’s quote; “The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life activity: it affords protections to all beings, offering shade even to the axe-man who destroys it.” With all the benefits derived from the forest, it is perspicuous that human beings need the forest more than the forest needs humans.
Impact of COVID-19 on Climate Change
Even as direct effects of the pandemic on the forest are yet to be gauged, escalation of the virus has expectedly caused a dip in global greenhouse gas emissions. This could be precipitated by a temporary blow to industrial activities, falling demand for oil, a decline in air travel and a change in human lifestyle and activities. Globally, there has been a call for quarantine and social distancing in countries both in and out of Africa. It can be positively inferred that there has been a decrease of forest degradation activities such as deforestation, timber harvest and logging.
Public-health concerns have compelled officials and event organizers to modify, postpone or altogether cancel gatherings of all kinds from professional sporting events and concerts, to university classes and professional conferences. Most nonessential travels to countries in the European Union are banned and Italy, the epicenter of the outbreak on the continent, has closed down all nonessential businesses. Venice, capital of northern Italy’s Veneto which normally battles over-tourism with teeming tourists and boat traffic is virtually empty with notable clearer canal waters and less polluted air.
There has been a drastic decrease in public commuter transportation in leading cities around the world, Nairobi including. Global disasters always have major effect on the economy and interim driver in carbon emissions. It is reported that experts have verified a notable decline in China, undisputedly the world’s largest carbon transmitter the past two months.
This year International Day of Forests was not accorded the expected celebratory modalities due to the prevailing lifestyle changes precipitated by the pandemic. Due to calls for a mini lockdown in Kenya and a call for a national Prayer Day in Kenya, it was an impossibility to celebrate the International Day of Forests in the typical celebratory style. Perhaps, the present situation is an opportunity to rethink our socio-economic lifestyle patterns and effects on the environment minus just planting trees; conservation is after all a way of life.
Though, even with the decline of carbon emissions, there is absolutely no reason to celebrate the prevailing pandemic but perhaps this season can be a time to reflect on our actions and how the same, does and can impact on the emissions and the environment.
To combat public health crises and instigate green gas reductions, it would be imminent to invest in healthy modes of transport and rethink of how we can remodel our transport system, invest in demarcated pedestrian walk paths, excellent sidewalks and bike lanes. Is this somber COVID-19 season a stark spotlight that we might, not only, be compelled to reconsider our lifestyle choices and perhaps a shift in our investment and visioning but also our environmental attitude change?
These times shall too, come to pass and even as we focus on our economy, we should equally focus on our forest and environment for as renowned environmentalist Wangari Maathai opined; “The environment and the economy are really both two sides of the same coin. If we cannot sustain the environment, we cannot sustain ourselves.’’
The author is an Advocate of the High Court, Principal Partner at Juliet Nyangai& Company Advocates and a nature lover. She is passionate about Animal Welfare and Conservation.
Ms J.O Nyangái can be reached on: Twitter: @nyangaij Email: firstname.lastname@example.org