Launch of International Year of Forests

  • David Carter

I am very pleased to welcome you all to the New Zealand launch of the International Year of Forests.

As you know, the United Nations has designated this year to raise public awareness of the importance of forests. The theme is "Forests for People" – and it’s why we are gathered here this evening.

I want to take a moment to reflect on the devastation of my hometown, Christchurch. It is two weeks since the earthquake and the recovery process will be a long one.

As a Cantabrian, my heart is very much with the people of Christchurch. We are made of stern stuff, but we’ve been well and truly tested in recent months.

Prime Minister John Key has said this is not just Canterbury’s test, it is New Zealand’s test – and I know we will come through this.

My message to you all here is that the task ahead may seem daunting, but out of this will come opportunities for our plantation forest industry.

New Zealand has more than 6 million hectares of indigenous forests and 1.8 million hectares of planted forests. These forests play an important role in the lives of New Zealanders.

They are an integral part of our natural resource-based economy, they provide a range of environmental benefits, and they have cultural significance.

I am a huge fan of our plantation forest industry. It is planted forests that have made New Zealand self sufficient in timber supply and become a major exporter of forest products.

Forestry is a significant contributor to the New Zealand economy, being the third-largest export earner with $4 billion revenue in the year to September 2010, and direct employment of around 20,000 people.

Forestry is also a key part of New Zealand’s response to climate change, and as a result the Emissions Trading Scheme relies heavily on the major contribution of forests in terms of absorbing and offsetting our emissions.

Planted forests also contribute significantly to soil conservation, water quality, and provide a habitat for indigenous fauna.

The benefits of timber as a light and environmentally-friendly building material are well known.

I am confident the rebuild of Christchurch will offer the potential to further explore the opportunities for timber construction.

The redevelopment of the city’s CBD will give us a chance to think outside the box for low rise commercial buildings.

I’d like to see a significant amount of timber used in the rebuilding programme – any observer of Christchurch will see that many timber structures have survived. Older stone and brick have not.

If my staunch advocacy of timber as a structural product continues to attract criticism from the concrete and steel industries, then so be it.

I am the Minister of Forestry, and I believe the attributes of timber must be strongly promoted.

Yes, there are challenges facing the forest processing industry, but I believe that, given the overwhelming credentials of New Zealand timber as a sustainable environmental product, the future should be bright for our processed products, as well as for our logs.

Ongoing sector strategy work, being led by the industry and supported by the MAF, should help the industry address the challenges.

The Government is also investing in the forestry sector and communities to generate more value and benefits, through the Primary Growth Partnership, the Sustainable Farming Fund and the Afforestation Grant Scheme, the East Coast Forestry Project and the biosecurity system.

I am pleased to note the raft of industry and government organisations co-ordinating activities to mark the International Year of Forests, and I thank you.

Tonight’s launch is just the first of many events which will celebrate the role of people in the sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of our forests.

Let’s celebrate the Year of Forests.