Global action

Posted: 16 December 2004

Fears about the future of the world's forests have resulted in the creation of a powerful non-governmental movement interested in safeguarding natural old-growth forests around the world. Increasingly, the focus on the protection of biodiversity and the ecological functions of forests is linked to safeguarding the livelihoods of local and indigenous peoples.

Global forest cover
Global forest cover
Map of global forest cover. © Global forest resources assessment 2000 Click on image for larger version

Largely as a result of NGO pressure and public action, there has been a range of offical attempts to address what many are beginning to recognise as a 'global forest crisis'.

Environmental governance

Governments can pursue their forestry objectives through a number of forest-related multilateral environmental agreements.

Intergovernmental Responses. The Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) was set up in 1995 as a response to the 1992 Earth Summit. The IPF evolved into the Inter-governmental Forum on Forests (IFF) in 1997, following the UN's five-year review of progress since the Earth Summit. The IFF mission was to examine the underlying causes of deforestation and help countries develop effective strategies to address them.

The IFF was, in turn, transformed into the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) in 2000. UNFF is a subsidiary body of the UN Economic and Social Commission (ECOSOC).

Its main mission seems to be to keep alive the notion of an international convention on forest conservation. Building on the Forest Principles adopted in Rio, and over 270 proposals for action adopted by the IPF and IFF, the Forest Forum started with its first session in 2001, focusing on limiting deforestation and forest degradation, strengthening efforts to rehabilitate and restore forests and generating more resources for the forestry sector.

Other trends shaping the forest dialogue include a shift from binding commitments to partnerships for implementation, giving rise to many new voluntary initiatives such as the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration and the Congo Basin and Asia Forest Partnerships, and a new regionalism - reflected in the Forest Law Enforcement and Governance, NEPAD and Low Forest Cover Country processes.

Also evident is increasing reliance on international organisations to support implementation of forest-related commitments and proposals for action. There are growing expectations that the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF) - a voluntary partnership of international organisations, including IUCN, charged with supporting the work of the UNFF - will assume a larger role in this regard. The UNFF and CPF together form the International Arrangement on Forests established by ECOSOC.

National Forest Programmes. As of 2000, 149 countries had developed or updated their National Forest Programmes over the 1990s. The Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (in 2000 renamed the United Nations Forum on Forests) helped to establish five basic principles upon which national forest programs should be based:

  • Use of appropriate participatory mechanisms to involve all interested parties;
  • Local management of forest resources;
  • Recognition and respect for the rights of indigenous communities;
  • Secure land tenure arrangements; and
  • Establishment of effective coordination mechanisms and conflict resolution schemes.

Nevertheless, of the total forested area in developing countries - some 2.1 billion hectares - only 123 million hectares (6 per cent) are currently covered by "formal, nationally approved forest management plans covering a period of at least five years".

Timber trade

International institutions have had limited success in monitoring and promoting sustainable forestry management.

The ITTO was first established by the International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA), 1983. The Organization became operational in 1987. Unlike some other commodity agreements, the ITTA has no price regulation mechanisms or market intervention provisions, and accords equal importance to trade and conservation. ITTO's underlying concept is the sustainable development of tropical forests by encouraging and assisting the tropical timber trade and industry to sustainably manage the resource upon which they depend.

However, there is confusion about whether ITTO's main role is to promote or regulate the tropical timber trade. Following pressure from NGOs, ITTO set a target for all internationally traded tropical timber to come from sustainably managed forests by the Year 2000 and established guidelines and criteria for sustainable tropical management. However, it has failed to achieve its objectives and has no environmental controls.

A renegotiated ITTA came into force in January 1997 and remained in force until December 2000. A mid-term review of the ITTO was carried out in early 2000. Its member states granted a three-year extension of the ITTA until December 2001. In its upcoming work, the ITTO will update its criteria and indicators for sustainable management of natural tropical forests.

The United Nations conference for the negotiation of a successor agreement to the ITTA, 1994 took place 26-30 July 2004, Geneva, Switzerland.

Forest products certification

Forest certification is an important way of establishing that forests are being managed in a sustainable manner and that the wood used by manufacturers of forest products comes from responsibly managed sources. With today's growing emphasis on corporate responsibility and consumer demands for environmental and social accountability, forest certification strikes a balance between economic needs and conservation objectives. However, caution is needed to ensure that certification and eco-labeling initiatives are not used as disguised barriers to restrict the access of developing countries to forest product markets.

Forest certification is a relatively new concept but has grown rapidly in the last few years. The area of forests certified by various schemes, worldwide, as of late 2000, was estimated by FAO to be 2 per cent of total forest area, or about 80 million ha.

While some important wood-producing countries in the tropics have forests certified under existing certification schemes or are in the process of developing new schemes, about 92 per cent of certified forests are located in temperate, industrialised countries (see adjoining chart). In January 2002, the area of certified forests was estimated at 109 million ha, a little over half of the World Bank/WWF Alliance target of having 200 million ha of certified forests by 2005 (see graph below).

Distribution of certified forests. Image: ITTO 2002
Distribution of certified forests. Image: ITTO 2002
Most certification systems were established in the 1990s and have doubled in size over the last ten years growing exponentially in the last two years. This has resulted in numerous certification schemes, as illustrated in the lower right hand pie graph.

The link between forest certification and community-based forest management is also becoming increasingly important. According to a recent review by Forest Trends; over 50 communities (though mainly in Central America) today have forest management certificates or chain of custody certification, and many other forest communities have been brought into the decision-making process in the certification of public and private forests as stakeholders.

One of the few international iniatives that enjoys the support of WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and a wide range of other NGOs is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Based in Mexico, it is a wholly independent non profit-making, non-governmental, membership organisation, founded in 1993 (operational in 1995) by representatives from environmental groups, foresters, indigenous people, community forest groups, forest product certification organisations and timber traders from 25 countries. The FSC seeks to promote good forest management worldwide, based on a set of Principles of Criteria designed to ensure that forests of all kinds are managed in ways that are: environmentally appropriate; socially beneficial and economically viable.

To encourage good forest management the FSC will evaluate, accredit and monitor certification organisations which inspect forest operations and provide certificates and labels verifying that wood products have been sustainably produced. The FSC trade mark on a product indicates that the wood has come from a well managed forest.

It reports that as of 2004, about 47 million hectares of forestlands have been certified, four times the amount certified in 1998. Still, over 80 per cent of the certified area is found in northern temperate forests, mostly in Europe and North America. Efforts to certify sustainable forest products continue despite a distinct lack of interest on the part of developing countries with huge reserves of tropical forest land.

The Forest Stewardship Council remains the most well known agency for forest certification. However, a number of other certification schemes have also emerged in recent years

Forest per cent of land area, by country
Forest per cent of land area, by country
Forest per cent of land area, by country. © Global forest resources assessment 2000 (FAO)Click on image for larger version

International conventions and agreements

Many additional international and regional agreements have been helpful in preserving the world's forests and managing their resources sustainably. The main ones are as follows:

Convention on Biological Diversity. In May 2000, the fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Conference on Biological Diversity was held in Nairobi, Kenya. It highlighted the need to expand the focus of the Convention's programme in forest bio-diversity from research to action-oriented on-the-ground activities. The aim is to propose an action-based approach to the conservation and sustainable use of forest biological diversity.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Several threatened and endangered species of trees have been listed in CITES appendices for some years now. However, it wasn't until attempts were made to list some major commercial tree species that considerable controversy was generated. After an acrimonious session in June 1997, the issue was tabled for further discussions. Findings of an expert group will not be forthcoming until late 2002.

Ramsar Convention. This Convention covers the wise use of wetlands and their resources, including forested wetlands. As of November 1999, 306 of the 1,028 sites on the Convention's List of Wetlands of International Importance were classified as forested wetlands. The Convention has set a target of increasing the number of sites to 2000 by 2005.

Central Africa: Conference on the Central African Moist Forest Ecosystems and the Yaounde Declaration. Two initiatives are under way to enhance cooperation in forestry among central African nations: the Conference on the Central African Moist Forest Ecosystems, and the Yaounde Declaration. These two initiatives are mutually reinforcing and involve NGOs and governments. Both strive to strengthen regional cooperation in forest management.

Southern African Development Community. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) provides a framework for cooperation in forestry among its 14 member nations. Projects include the management of indigenous forest ecosystems and support of training activities.

Central American Council for Forests and Protected Areas. The Central American Council for Forests and Protected Areas is an advisory body of the Central American Commission on Environment and Development. It is responsible for the implementation of CCAD policies and strategies on the sustainable use of forest resources and the conservation of biological diversity.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is making some progress in implementing its Strategic Plan of Action on ASEAN Co-operation in Food, Agriculture and Forestry. Adopted at the Sixth ASEAN Summit in December 1998, the plan represents the first phase in the implementation of the Association's long-term strategy for the food, agricultural and forest sector as outlined in the ASEAN Vision 2020.

The plan outlines five areas for forestry: 1) sustainable forest management; 2) strengthening ASEAN cooperation and joint addressing international and regional forestry issues; 3) the promotion of intra- and extra-ASEAN trade in forest products; 4) increasing productivity and efficient use of forest products; and 5) capacity building and human resources development.

Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe. The Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe is a high-level political initiative involving about 40 European countries (including the Russian Federation). Its purpose is to address common opportunities and threats related to forests and forestry.

However, though some progress has been made, translating words into action remains a constant challenge in all international forest policy arenas. More than 100 countries have revised national forest policies and developed national forest programmes; 150 countries are involved in international initiatives concerning criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management; the area under official forest management plans has increased to 88 percent in developed countries and some 6 percent in developing countries; and 12 percent of the world's forests now fall within protected forest areas (FAO, 2003).

Related links:

Forest Trends Global Forest Watch UN Food and Agriculture Organization Forest Resources Assessment

World Conservation Monitoring Centre

IUCN - Word Conservation Union

WWF Forests for Life Programme