3 June 2011Potentially irreversible environmental changes threaten the progress that has brought hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, stressing the need for policy-makers to do more to preserve and strengthen the planet’s natural resources, particularly its forests. In a message marking World Environment Day, which falls on 5 June each year, the Secretary-General noted that in the past two decades “hundreds of millions of people in Asia, Latin America – and, increasingly, in Africa – have risen from poverty. Yet, evidence is also accumulating of profound and potentially irreversible changes in the ability of the planet to sustain our progress.”He said economic growth has come with costs that “range from atmospheric and water pollution to degraded fisheries and forests, all of which impact prosperity and human well-being.”“Despite growing global awareness of the dangers of environmental decline – including climate change, biodiversity loss and desertification – progress… has been too slow,” he said. “We will not build a just and equitable world unless we give equal weight to all three pillars of sustainable development – social, economic and environmental.”In a separate message, noting that the theme of this year’s environment day is “Forests: Nature at Your Service,” and that 2011 is the International Year of Forests, Mr. Ban told a forestry conservation meeting in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo: “From access to clean water to agricultural productivity, from soil conservation to flood control, forests are central to economic development, poverty reduction and food and nutrition security.“By reducing deforestation and forest degradation we can make significant progress in addressing the combined threats of climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation.”The Secretary-General’s remarks were delivered by Abdoulie Janneh, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, to top officials from more than 35 nations covering the world’s three major rainforest regions: the Amazon, Congo and Borneo-Mekong forest basins.Also in celebration of World Environment day, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) will on Sunday launch its Forests in a Green Economy report in Nairobi and Delhi. The report “details the economic, environmental, health and social benefits of investing in forests and how better management of the ‘lungs of the Earth’ can help achieve sustainability for communities across the world,” according to UNEP.More than 1.6 billion people are dependent on forests for their livelihoods. Rich in biodiversity, forests are also essential in supplying water to nearly half of the world’s largest cities. Yet despite such vital services, the world is losing its forests at an alarming rate, with some 5.2 million hectares being cut down each year.