What can be done?

Posted: 16 December 2004

As population grows and per capita consumption of forest products increases, countries must do more to manage forest resources on a sustainable basis.

  • Technological improvements. Technological improvements, including the use of recycled paper and paperboard, have substantially reduced the amount of pulp needed to produce paper. In 1970 paper and paperboard consisted of 80 per cent wood pulp. By 1997 more efficient production processes had reduced that figure to 56 per cent.

  • Forest products certification. Adopting a system that identifies forest products that come from sustainably managed forests is successfully supporting efforts toward sustainability. As of October 2004, about 47 million hectares in 74 countries were certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, set up in 1993 by a consortium of non government organisations (NGOs), important companies and local pressure groups.

    This area is roughly four times bigger than all Germany's forests, and it produces around 100 million cubic metres of certified timber. However, this is still only 5 per cent of the world market share. The FSC believes it can increase this total to 140 million hectares by 2010.

    At present, 80 per cent of the certified area is in northern, temperate forests, in Europe and North America, much of it in just two countries - Sweden and Poland - reflecting education and awareness campaigns in those countries.

    Tropical forests in Africa, Asia and Latin America often lack the infrastructure to manage certification, and plantations which make up 12 per cent of the total FSC certified areas have proved contentious. They are now subject to a two-year review process.

    The FSC system also has funding problems, and is in competition with other regulatory schemes, not all of which are reliable, or easy for the consumer to assess. It remains to be seen whethere the FSC can develop into a globally-recognised industry standard,whether the various schemes will fragment, or whether an international consensus can eventually be reached on an effective forest protectin policy.

  • Intergovernmental responses. In 1995 the Intergovernmental Panel of Forests (IPF) was established in response to the 1992 Earth Summit. The IPF evolved into the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests in 1997, after the UN's five-year review of the Earth Summit goals. The mission of the forum is to examine the underlying causes of deforestation and to help countries develop strategies that address them.

  • No convention on forests was put through, either in Rio or in New York. Instead, many organisations urge governments of countries with large forest resources to enforce existing legislation and to introduce more effective forest conservation initiatives. Close to 130 countries have developed or updated their National Forest Programmes over the past decade.

For more detailed facts and maps on efforts to deal with the forest crisis click on Global action in the Factfile index.