For forests, the rising force of youth

The Center collaborates with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and UN Environment to celebrate 2019 International Day of Forests
Students from Panyarat High School debate the importance of integrating mining and other land-based issues in forestry curriculums. ©RECOFTC/February 2018

Thousands of young people recently walked out of classrooms to participate in a global strike against climate change. As part of the rising forces of youth, high school and university students gathered in Bangkok for a debate to mark the International Day of Forests on 21 March. The students argued passionately for and against aspects of forestry education. Through their research and the debate, the students realized that as future leaders, the fate of forests is in their hands.

Representatives from The Center for People and Forests, FAO and UN Environment start the debate with opening remarks. ©RECOFTC/February 2018

Over the past several years, The Center for People and Forests has worked with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and UN Environment to organize a student debate aimed at encouraging young people to learn about the importance of forests and be involved in forestry. This year, four high schools and two universities participated in the debate. 

“This was my first-time participating in the debate,” said Destiny, a debate team member from St. Andrews International School. “It was cool to learn more about climate change and investigate facts about forests.”

There were four official debates focused on topics such as forestry curriculums, inequality issues, and whether youth learning about forests can create responsible consumers. Students received the debate topics beforehand, and came prepared with researched arguments, talking points, and for some—their peers and families.

“We prepared for this debate for about three weeks,” said Sharada, a student from Asian Institute of Technology. “Our topic was about inequality, and it was hard to find data about inequality in relation to forests. I liked the focus on youth education. The world is like this today because people didn’t focus on youth in the past.”  

“This debate is one of the most special events for us,” said David Ganz, Executive Director of The Center for People and Forests. “Students across the world are voicing concerns and confronting administrations to make significant changes for the environment. The next generation is doing much better than mine ever did.”

While the debate focused on forestry and education, the value of forests for people’s livelihoods, as a habitat for wildlife, and their economic benefits arose as themes through both student commentary and remarks from international organizations.

 “Forests stand up for us,” said Dechen Tsering, Director of the Asia-Pacific Office at UN Environment.  “Who is standing up for forests? Never forget what we lose when we lose nature.”

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Six high schools participated in the event: Wells International School, Garden International School, Anglo Singapore International, Panyarat High School, St. Andrews International School, and Anglo Singapore International School. ©RECOFTC/February 2018

Four teams emerged as winners in the debate. The judges based their decisions on the depth of the students’ research and their performance in the debate.  

“You are our hope and you have ideas,” said Thomas Hofer, Senior Forestry Officer at FAO. “Go for them, fight for them, and be innovative.”