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UNCED follow-up in forestry and the role of FAO

Compiled by S.A. Dembner

Stephen A. Dembner is Editor of Unasylva.

This article provides a concise overview of general developments and a number of international initiatives taken as part of UNCED follow-up in forestry. It also describes FAOs role in post UNCED forestry activities.

In concluding the various agreements of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in June 1992, governments recognized the need to promote follow-up action and periodic progress reviews. The UN Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD), established for this purpose, has decided to review selected sectors each year, with all being completed by 1997 when an overall review will be undertaken five years after the Rio de Janeiro conference. Forestry will be reviewed in April 1995 as part of a process which will eventually cover all sectors and which will lead to a progress report on the implementation of all UNCED agreements in 1997. An ad hoc Intersessional Working Group will meet in February 1995 to prepare a review of six sectoral chapters of Agenda 21, including forestry.

Since UNCED, many forestry-related follow-up initiatives have been launched at a high political level by groups of countries. In fact, there have been ten ministerial or high-level meetings on forestry since January 1993.

The following paragraphs provide a brief description of the status of major ongoing international initiatives on forestry as of mid-September 1994.

The bandung initiative

In February 1993 the Indonesian Government hosted the first major international initiative following UNCED, the Global Forest Conference: Response to Agenda 21. The objectives of the initiative attended by participants from 35 countries, international organizations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) - were to contribute to the implementation of the agreements reached at UNCED, specifically in the forestry sector, and to disseminate information on current views and findings on forestry worldwide. The conference culminated in the promulgation of the Bandung Declaration: A Call for a Global Partnership for Sustainable Forest Development".

The Indo-British initiative

Under the Indo-British Forestry Initiative, in July 1994 India and the United Kingdom cohosted an international workshop in New Delhi, entitled Towards Sustainable Forestry: Preparing for CSD 1995. The objective of the workshop was to contribute to preparations for the CSD meeting in 1995 by developing formats for reporting to CSD on forestry issues and identifying ways in which international cooperation might help to overcome constraints to the implementation of the UNCED agreements on forestry matters.

At the workshop, FAO contributed an overview and background paper to the proposed format for reporting. A second FAO paper provided further details on the proposed format for country reporting. This was adopted with some modification and now forms the basis for official guidelines for national reports sent out by the UN.

The Canada-Malaysia initiative

Cognizant of the fact that forest issues are complex and wide-ranging, involving a broad spectrum of social, economic, environmental and cultural dimensions, the Governments of Canada and Malaysia established a model forest programme in Malaysia.

This event was at the origin of the Canada-Malaysia initiative which has the objective of facilitating the review of forestry, planned for the 1995 CSD session, by engaging in early discussions needed to identify common ground on key multilateral policy issues.

The initiative consists of the convening of an intergovernmental working group on global forests (IWGGF), with attention focused on the need to:

· develop criteria and indicators for the sustainable management of all types of forest;

· promote a climate that facilitates trade in forest products;

· find innovative ways to address the issue of new and additional resources and propose creative approaches to economic cooperation and the transfer of technology;

· expand forest cover, improve forest conservation and enhance forest productivity;

· maximize international cooperation through better institutional linkages.

Two meetings were planned, involving representatives from a number of countries and some intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The first was hosted by Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur from 18 to 21 April 1994, and the second by Canada in October. If a third meeting is required, it will be scheduled prior to the CSD review in April 1995.

At its first meeting, in which FAO participated, the IWGGF clarified its function as a forum to discuss important forest issues with a view to promoting an effective review at the 1995 session of CSD. The main topics discussed included forest conservation, the enhancement of forest cover and the role of forests in meeting basic human needs; criteria and indicators for sustainable development; trade and environment; approaches to mobilizing financial resources and technology transfer; and institutional I linkages.

The second meeting of the IWGGF further discussed the items covered in Kuala Lumpur as well as the subjects of participation and transparency in forest management (prepared by Ghana) and of cross-sectoral linkages and the influence of external policies on forestry development (prepared by FAO).

Follow-up to the Ministerial Conferences on the Protection of Forests in Europe

Two Ministerial Conferences on the Protection of Forests in Europe were held, the first in December 1990 in Strasbourg (France) during the UNCED preparatory process and the second in June 1993 in Helsinki (Finland), one year after UNCED. Under a major follow-up initiative, often labelled the "Helsinki process", in June 1994 European countries agreed on a core set of criteria and "most suitable" indicators for sustainable forest management in Europe. FAO is contributing to this work jointly with the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), in part through the Joint FAO/ECE Agriculture and Timber Division in Geneva. Canada, Japan and the United States as well as other non-European temperate countries have been invited to participate as observers in the conferences and follow-up meetings.

Follow-up to the CSCE Montreal workshop

Under the auspices of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), in Montreal in September 1993 the Government of Canada organized a seminar of experts on the sustainable development of temperate and boreal forests in order to develop an internationally accepted, scientifically based set of criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. The objective of the Montreal seminar was to develop criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management and, in this respect, it resembled the work carried out under the Helsinki process, except that it extended to non-European temperate and boreal countries. Under what has come to be known as the "Montreal process", these latter countries agreed to pursue the work initiated in Montreal, and subsequent meetings have been held in Kuala Lumpur (April 1994), Geneva (June 1994), New Delhi (July 1994) and Olympia, United States (September 1994). FAO participated in these meetings.

FAO's involvement in post-unced forestry activities

FAO's support to the UNCED process started at an early stage. During the preparatory process for the so-called earth summit, FAO provided the UNCED secretariat with most of the elements for what became Chapter 11 of Agenda 2 1, Combating deforestation, and Chapter 13, Sustainable mountain development. It also provided a list of "guiding principles for a consensus on forests" which formed the basis for the non-legally binding forest principles.

In the post-UNCED period, at its hundred-and-third session in June 1993, the FAO Council endorsed an adapted programme of work in forestry to ensure that it reflected UNCED agreements. At its twenty-seventh session in November 1993, the Conference of FAO recommended that "FAO take a lead role in the preparatory process for the implementation of...the forest principles" and requested FAO to "cooperate closely with other partner organizations so that effective progress could be reported to the 1995 session of CSD". For consideration at the next regular session of the Council, the Conference also specifically requested FAO to prepare concrete proposals for:

i) strengthening the normative role of FAO on sustainable forest management; and

ii) its cooperative role in UNCED follow-up.

FAO is "task manager" for promoting collaborative action within the UN system with regard to UNCED follow-up to the forest principles and, inter alia, Chapters 11 and 13 of Agenda 21. In addition, it supports the work of Chapter 15, Conservation of biological diversity, as well as the secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the intergovernmental negotiating committee for a convention to combat desertification, the final text of which was approved in June 1994.

As task manager for forestry, FAO ensures collaboration and cooperation in the implementation of UNCED agreements in forestry. For Chapter 11 and the forest principles, FAO convened an ad hoc consultation among UN agencies and NGOs on 4 and 5 March 1993. This meeting agreed to maintain contact and cooperation and, for this purpose, established an E-mail network among the agencies that participated.

In March 1994 FAO convened a similar ad hoc consultation on Chapter 13. The consultation agreed on a three-point strategy to: support member countries; promote joint programmes at global and regional levels; and establish an interagency network. It proposed that a world conference on sustainable mountain development be held in 1997, to be preceded by preparatory regional consultations. It established an interagency network (which also includes several NGOs) with specific functions.

In the immediate future, preparations for the 1995 CSD session are being given particular attention. In close collaboration with the UN Department of Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development and with partner agencies, FAO recently:

· convened (in September 1994) a special joint meeting of the bureaus of all the FAO Regional Forestry Commissions to enable them to make more direct inputs to preparations for CSD 1995;

· convened, at FAO Headquarters in Rome in October 1994, a high-level panel of experts from all regions to advise on approaches and areas of thrust for promoting the conservation, management and sustainable development of forests.

In the short term:

· FAO will prepare a report for CSD 1995 on the basis of UN system reports and reports that member countries and major groups will send to the UN Department of Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development;

· the FAO Director-General will invite ministers and high officials responsible for forestry to deliberate the contributions of governments and FAO to the CSD review in concurrence with the twelfth session of the Committee on Forestry (COFO), scheduled to be held in Rome from 13 to 17 March 1995 the major policy resolutions and options for action identified by the ministers will be transmitted to the CSD for its review of the sector at its first meeting in 1995;

· just prior to the twelfth session of COFO, FAO will convene in Rome a meeting of NGOs for the purpose of preparing for CS D and to review long-term roles in UNCED follow-up activities.

In the longer term, key areas of FAO involvement in UNCED follow-up in Forestry will include:

· maintaining forestry at the centre of the international development debate and alerting the international community to important developments, within or outside the sector, that are relevant to the implementation of UNCED forestry agreements;

· promoting the implementation of the forest principles and their review for adequacy as well as facilitating the search for a consensus for their further development at global or narrower levels if appropriate;

· promoting the contribution of forestry to development through sustainable utilization fully compatible with the sector's environmental roles;

· facilitating the development, harmonization, adoption, dissemination and application of norms, codes of conduct or practice, criteria and indicators and associated certification systems for any aspect of sustainable forestry;

· supporting the preparation, updating and implementation of forestry action plans and programmes for implementing Agenda 21, including the promotion of international cooperation.

The actions listed here will require, inter alia, enhanced cooperation and collaboration with external partners, especially with respect to the mobilization of new and additional resources for the implementation of UNCED agreements, capacity-building (including technology transfer) and providing a forum for harmonization and follow-up to the diverse UNCED initiatives.

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