Statement by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See
Fourteenth Session of the United Nations Forum on Forests
New York, 6 May 2019
The Holy See is pleased to participate in this Fourteenth Session of the United Nations Forum on Forests to address the implementation of the UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2017-2030. Per the Forum’s Quadrennial Programme of Work, this Session will be devoted to technical discussion. My Delegation is hopeful that the practical issues deliberated in the next several days will lead to concrete steps translating the goals of forest protection into reality.
It is becoming increasingly clear that forests need attention and protection — both in themselves and because of the many contributions they make to the rest of the human and natural environments. Indeed, there is still so much unknown and yet to be learned about the forests of the earth! Yet the rapid destruction of forests in our times is depleting their biodiversity so quickly that the full extent of our loss might never be known. The species that call the forests home also risk extinction. As Pope Francis noted last year, “The loss of jungles and forests means not only the loss of species, which could also be extremely important resources for the future, but also the loss of vital relationships that could end up altering the entire ecosystem.” As the majority of the world’s population  now lives in urban areas, it is increasingly easy to overlook the vital, irreplaceable role played by forests. It is our hope that the work of this Forum will again refocus our attention on the crucial need for sustainable forest management.
At the same time, great human suffering arises from wanton destruction of the forests. Many depend on the forests for their dwelling, livelihood, cultural heritage, and social structure. The loss of forests can fall disproportionately on such people. Yet, in a cruel paradox, great poverty can also drive this destruction.
Desperation can lead to the destruction of forests for industrial development and agricultural use that may yield shortterm benefits but inflict long-term costs. “A true ecological approach,” as Pope Francis has reminded us, “always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”
The Holy See is convinced that the decisions that we make must be undertaken with the full and meaningful participation of those who will be most impacted by them.
Conservation of the forests cannot be realized at the expense of those communities who have been living there for centuries. Indeed, their lives experienced in harmony with nature very often contribute positively to demands of intergenerational solidarity and the universal destination of the goods of the earth. These communities must become protagonists of environmental conservation and their rights and values must be respected. The forests will be sustainably managed only with “the constant and active involvement of local people from within their proper culture.”
My Delegation is particularly concerned with the fate of the Amazon, also in view of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, which will be held in the Vatican this October. The upcoming Synod has as its theme, “New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.” Last year, on his visit to Peru, Pope Francis spoke of the Amazon and its unique position as “the largest tropical forest and the most extensive river system on the planet. This ‘lung’, as it has been called, is one of the world’s regions of great biodiversity, as it is home to a vast variety of species.” For this reason, “We have to break with the historical paradigm that views Amazonia as an inexhaustible source of supplies for other countries without concern for its inhabitants.”
Since human beings are part of the ecosystems that facilitate the relationships giving life to our planet, caring for them – since everything is interconnected – is fundamental to promoting the dignity of each individual, the common good of society, social progress, and care for the environment. In the Amazon Basin, integral ecology is key to responding to the challenge of caring for the immense wealth of its environmental and cultural biodiversity.
In fact, the Amazon Basin encompasses the last great rainforest, which, despite the harmful intrusions it has suffered and continues to suffer, remains the largest forested area in our Earth’s tropical zone. Recognizing the Amazon territory as a basin that transcends the borders between countries facilitates a unified view of the region and is essential for the promotion of integral development and ecology.
My Delegation heartily supports the efforts of this Forum to bring about an integral improvement in the quality of human life, especially of those left behind, which entails considering the settings in which people live, including forests. Better management of our forest resources is a crucial part in our care for our common home and for those who live in it.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
1. Pope Francis, Meeting with Authorities, the Civil Society and the Diplomatic Corps, Lima, 19 January 2018.
2. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, 49 (original emphasis).
3. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, 144 (original emphasis).
4. Pope Francis, Meeting with Authorities, the Civil Society and the Diplomatic Corps, Lima, 19 January 2018.
5. Pope Francis, Meeting with Indigenous People of Amazonia, 19 January 2018.