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9 December 2013, Rovaniemi/Rome - European countries are encouraged to apply the principles of a green economy in the forest sector by 2020, FAO and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) said today at the opening of the European Forest Week (9-13 December) in Rovaniemi, Finland.Europe's forest ministers and other high-level delegates from 40 countries gathered today in the Finnish town to discuss how forests can help European nations move further towards the goal of greening their economies. At the conference, the delegates are expected to endorse a forest sector action plan aimed to protect Europe's forests and facilitate transition to a green economy in the region. "When managed sustainably, forests provide an endlessly renewable supply of raw materials and bioenergy," said Jari Koskinen, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland. "That's why European forests are definitely worth celebrating. We are honoured to host the European Forest Week in Rovaniemi.""Europe is a forest-rich continent thanks to tireless efforts over the past 200 years to stop deforestation, restore forests and manage them sustainably," said FAO's Assistant Director-General for Forestry Eduardo Rojas-Briales. "It is a philosophy that has spread worldwide and ensures that the harvesting of wood and other forest products never exceeds the capacity of forests to re-grow or to provide their many ecosystem services. Sustainable forests have great potential in helping nations green their economies." "Once the Action Plan for the forest sector is approved, we will have a strong practical tool that can assist countries and organizations in the forest sector to take action, invest in their resources, identify priorities and take steps to green production and consumption patterns," said Sven Alkalaj, UNECE Executive Secretary and Under-Secretary General of the United Nations. Pathway to green economy The Action Plan proposes that by 2020, the European countries will be applying the following key principles:The forest sector should use all its resources wisely, minimize waste, re-use and recycle as much as possible. It should consume only products from forests that are managed sustainably.The forest sector should minimize the impacts of climate change by sequestering carbon in forests and forest products, and substituting non-renewable products and fuels for renewable wood-based ones. For example, in construction industry wood and bamboo can substitute energy intense concrete.In addition, the forest sector should significantly improve the safety and health of workers and ensure gender equality.Santa Claus appointed Ambassador for ForestsRovaniemi in the north of Finland is home to Santa's main post office, which receives and responds to half a million letters to Santa each year. However, Santa Claus is taking time off from his busy schedule this year to embrace an environmental issue close to his heart - the state of Europe's forests. Today Juha Ojala, Director General at the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, nominated Santa as the Ambassador for European Forests. "The future of our planet is in the hands of the children of today," said Santa. "It is very important that they fully understand the value of our forests because so much of their well-being and prosperity will depend on healthy forests they can use wisely and pass on to their own children. So I am very happy to play my small part in helping them to understand that forests really are special gifts that can keep on giving forever." "Santa is still an immensely powerful symbol of goodwill, and naming him the Ambassador for Forests is a way of inspiring children about the preciousness of forests and educating them on the need to safeguard the forest estate," concluded Rojas-Briales. The European Forest Week will be celebrated with forest-related events in Rovaniemi and throughout Europe, highlighting the contribution of forests, forest products and services to a green economy.