As I write this, South Africa is going through some interesting social, economic and political times. On 15 February, we elected our new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, following the resignation of former president Jacob Zuma.
 
There is a palpable sense of hope, renewed confidence and optimism, albeit cautious, as analysts, journalists and ordinary citizens add their voices to the list of changes that President Ramaphosa should make. It is good to see our currency – the Rand – and stock exchange respond favourably to these new developments.
 
Similarly, there is optimism within our sector despite the economic and trade hurdles that we face both in our own regions and on a global front. It is the tough times that force us to transform how we think and what we bring to the marketplace.
 
Last year, I was privileged to attend the UN FAO event - Sustainable Wood for a Sustainable World (SW4SW) - in Rome and a few weeks later CEPI’s European Paper Week in Brussels.
 
The SW4SW was fascinating and showed me that there is still so much to learn about the potential of wood along the entire value chain. We still have the tough nut to crack around the lack of public awareness of our sector’s significance – socially, economically and environmentally!
 
The innovative and fun Paper Cave at the Sensing the Future exhibition during PaperWeek held in Brussels, in November 2017, was particularly impressive. It featured so many materials made from woodfibre and it was wonderful to touch, see and even smell this future for these fibre products. As the world grapples with the problem of plastic in its rivers and oceans, our industry is presented with the opportunity to step forward with solutions. The Paper Cave’s contents offered a superb example of how fibre can replace plastic.
 
As I reflect on my first few months as ICFPA president, I am keenly aware that I owe a debt of gratitude to all my predecessors for building a respected international forum for discussion and agreement around policies affecting our sector.
 
My hope is to come to consensus on a number of thorny issues, even if it is just to agree on establishing various working groups with agreed on terms of reference. I was pleased when we were able to participate at the last PEFC General Assembly and vote for the endorsement of revised systems. This made me feel optimistic that there will be other occasions when we can put aside personal reservations and work together on adopting positions that make sense for our sector. There will always be times when having a position on an issue is better than having none, even if it means cautiously hedging such positions with conditions. For example, although in some regions and by some organizations genetic modification is still considered a complex, not to say controversial, technology, this has been developing worldwide and innovation has moved us on, even ahead of GMO, into more innovative technologies such as CRISPR that edit genes and can revolutionize biotechnology. Technologies have helped us in so many areas, and in this field I believe much has changed and will continue to do so.
 
With a glut of collected waste paper and no home for it will we see a rise in waste-to-energy options for recyclables, and if we do, what will happen to our raw material options going forward?
 
Water is another of our resources that requires our sector’s stewardship, and is a resource that impacts on all of the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
 
In terms of the SDGs, the forest and paper sector has a lot to bring to the table through the social and environmental value associated with forest management and the manufacture of forest-based products.
 
To this end, the ICFPA steering committee is reviewing its leadership statement, under the guidance of Bernard de Galembert from CEPI.
 
I am confident that by working together, we can support the growing global demand for sustainable products and bio-based materials and in so doing mitigate climate change, serve the environment from which we borrow our resources, improve the lives of people through our products, and augment economic growth both in our countries and around the world.