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Synergies between forest resources assessment
and indicators of sustainable forest management: the European experience

C.F.L. Prins

C.F.L. "Kit" Prins is
Chief of the Timber Branch,
Trade Development and
Timber Division, United
Nations Economic Commission
for Europe (UNECE), Geneva,

A mutually beneficial collaboration between forest resources assessment work at the European level and the criteria and indicators process under the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe.

An oak forest in Bulgaria


International forest resources assess- ments have been carried out at the regional and global levels for at least 50 years. The concept of "environmental indicators" is more recent, and development of the first "criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management" only began in the late 1980s, by the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO). Both forest resources assessments and indicators of sustainable forest management aim to improve knowledge and understanding of the forest in all its facets, yet the synergies between the two approaches have been slow to be discovered. This article describes briefly the synergies that have been found between the forest resources assessment work at the European level, led by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)/FAO secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, and the criteria and indicators process under the auspices of the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe (MCPFE).


Temperate and Boreal Forest Resources Assessment

In 1992, an assessment of forest resources in temperate and boreal areas was issued as part of FAO's Global Forest Resources Assessment 1990 (FRA 1990). The low level of political commitment to the temperate and boreal forest assessment was evident through the limited resources deployed and the poor quality of some of the data supplied. Despite attempts to address the multiple functions of forests, the data with acceptable precision concerned for the most part either forest area or wood supply.

Around 1996, work on the Temperate and Boreal Forest Resources Assessment 2000 (TBFRA 2000)1 began in earnest, notably the design of a questionnaire and definitions.

Pan-European Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management

In 1993, the second Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe, held in Helsinki, Finland, made a number of commitments to sustainable forest management and to an integrated holistic approach to forest-sector questions. The ministers also made a commitment to monitor progress towards sustainable forest management.

Soon thereafter, MCPFE, at that time called the Helsinki Process, began to draw up its own set of criteria and indicators to follow up the commitments made at the Helsinki Ministerial Conference. This process was primarily designed by government experts, very aware of the political dimension of the choices they make and of the need to produce a credible and feasible set of comparable data to demonstrate trends and prospects in European forest management. The first set of Pan-European indicators was quantitative, with qualitative indicators (addressing issues connected with policies, legal instruments, etc.) added later. The intention was to provide a succinct, consistent and comprehensive list indicating which information should ideally be available at the international level, and a structure for international reporting under MCPFE, as well as a stimulus for countries to collect data.

In 1994 and 1995 the Finnish Liaison Unit of MCPFE carried out a pilot study of the feasibility of data collection for the quantitative indicators, sending a questionnaire to national MCPFE contact points. The results were disappointing: some data were missing, others were clearly not comparable, and yet others contradicted data supplied in other exercises, such as FRA 1990.


Thus in the mid-1990s, Europe had two parallel systems in place:

This was a good opportunity to seek synergies. The solution that emerged was based on the idea that the Pan-European indicators should be considered strong evidence of user needs for forest resources assessment activities. It was decided that data on quantitative indicators for the third Ministerial Conference in 1998 would be collected not by MCPFE, but in the context of TBFRA 2000 and other existing international arrangements, notably the International Cooperative Programme on Assessment and Monitoring of Air Pollution Effects on Forests (ICP Forests) under the UNECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution.

Early data from TBFRA 2000 (not at the time completely validated) were supplied to the third Ministerial Conference (Lisbon, Portugal, 1998) for most of the quantitative indicators listed. The quality of the data reported to the ministers, although far from perfect, was adequate in comparability and coverage.

A second report on quantitative indicators of sustainable forest management, based on updated Global Forest Resources Assessment data, will be presented to the fourth Ministerial Conference, to be held in Vienna, Austria in 2003.

The indicators have multiple purposes; they help stimulate improvement of data collection in countries, and they help focus the policy debate on a few important figures. The reports presented to the Ministerial Conferences based on the indicators have two major purposes:

Distribution of responsibilities

The data collection in Europe for the third and fourth Ministerial Conferences (1998 and 2003) has been carried out as follows.


Minimized reporting burden

Each country was asked to supply data only once, as a part of a consistent data set provided by a group of correspondents who are well aware of the technical issues and of the needs of international comparability.

Wider vision for inventory experts

The pressure from the policy process and the need for information beyond traditional forest resources data (for example, to support conservation policy) pushed the FRA 2000 correspondents (mostly based in national forest inventory agencies) to widen their horizons, to make contact with new sources and to seek new partners.

Stimulus for better data

The political visibility of the process undoubtedly improved the quality, coverage and timeliness of replies (for all FRA 2000 parameters, not only those on the list of indicators) and helped correspondents to claim increased resources for what had been a relatively low-profile, technical task. With a ministerial conference under preparation in the coming months, the correspondents would not have wanted to provide inadequate data or to neglect the questionnaire.

Collection of policy-relevant data

It is now reasonably certain that the data being collected through Global Forest Resources Assessment at the European level correspond as closely as possible to the policy needs.

Fewer sterile quarrels over data

The inclusiveness and transparency of both the Global Forest Resources Assessment and the Pan-European criteria and indicators process, and the links between them, have reduced competition over data. It is now widely accepted at the European level that the data set collected by FRA 2000 in cooperation with MCPFE and many other partners, and presented to the regional policy process, is the best possible at the moment, and that efforts to improve it should be undertaken through the existing framework.


More could be done in the field of validation and user friendly presentation and promotion of the results.

Likewise, national forest inventories and their partners need more funds to expand their data collection to get better-quality data (or any data at all) on the new parameters being built into the process. Even in the European region, some countries have a very weak forest information infrastructure, where even the core data (e.g. forest area) are out of date, have no error estimate, are based on partial information or are simply unavailable. These countries also tend to be those with the most urgent forest sector problems. The international community should be prepared to help these countries strengthen their institutions to provide at least the minimum information needed for soundly based policy decisions.

One of the Pan-European indicators that presents a challenge to forest resources assessment is the area of forest designated as protective forest - to protect soil, water resources or other forest ecosystem functions



In 2001, a process to revise the Pan-European indicators in the light of experience was launched. (It was decided at the outset that the six criteria should not be changed.) A revised set of indicators has been prepared and proposed for approval at the political level in summer 2002.

The revisions proposed by an advisory group of representatives of relevant international organizations (MCPFE, UNECE/FAO, the European Environment Agency, ICP Forests and the European Forest Institute) have been submitted to expert-level meetings of MCPFE in summer and autumn 2002. Assuming agreement is reached there (which is likely since there has been informal policy-level participation in the revision process from the beginning), the ministers will be asked to approve the revised list at the fourth ministerial conference in Vienna in April 2003.

The draft list as presented to the expert-level meeting in June 2002 is shown in the Table. Although some modifications are certain before final approval, this list is a clear indication of the challenges to forest resources assessment in the coming years. Particular challenges include:

In addition, there is strong demand, notably from the conservation community, to classify data by forest type. So far the solutions proposed (such as classification into the categories coniferous, broadleaved and mixed) have not been fully satisfactory, and data providers have rightly considered more ambitious proposals unrealistic.

The revised indicators merit close attention, as they offer a strong indication of the demands that forest assessment will be expected to satisfy in the near future. Some of the parameters are specific to Europe, but many others could be applied, if data are available, in other regions or even worldwide.

Revised list of 33 Pan-European quantitative indicators as submitted to an expert-level meeting in June 2002




Full text

  C 1: Maintenance and appropriate enhancement of forest resources and their contribution to global carbon cycles 1.1 Forest area Area of forest and other wooded land, classified by forest type and by availability for wood supply, and share of forest and other wooded land in total land area
  1.2 Growing stock Growing stock on forest and other wooded land, classified by forest type and by availability for wood supply
  1.3 Age structure and/or diameter distribution Age structure and/or diameter distribution of forest and other wooded land, classified by forest type and by availability for wood supply
  1.4 Carbon stock Carbon stock of woody biomass and of soils on forest and other wooded land
C 2: Maintenance of forest ecosystem health and vitality 2.1 Deposition of air pollutants Deposition of air pollutants on forest and other wooded land, classified by N, S and base cations
  2.2 Soil condition Chemical soil properties (pH, CEC, C/N, organic C, base saturation) on forest and other wooded land related to soil acidity and eutrophication, classified by main soil types
  2.3 Defoliation Defoliation of one or more main tree species on forest and other wooded land in each of the defoliation classes "moderate", "severe" and "dead"
  2.4 Forest damage Forest and other wooded land with damage, classified by primary damaging agent (abiotic, biotic and human induced) and by forest type
 C 3: Maintenance and encouragement of productive functions of forests (wood and non-wood) 3.1 Increment and fellings Balance between net annual increment and annual fellings of wood on forest available for wood supply
  3.2 Roundwood Value and quantity of marketed roundwood
  3.3 Non-wood goods Value and quantity of marketed non-wood goods from forest and other wooded land
  3.4 Services Value of marketed services on forest and other wooded land
  3.5 Forests under management plans Proportion of forest and other wooded land under a management plan or equivalent
C 4: Maintenance, conservation and appropriate enhancement of biological diversity in forest ecosystems 4.1 Tree species composition Area of forest and other wooded land, classified by number of tree species occurring and by forest type
  4.2 Regeneration Area of regeneration within even-aged stands and uneven-aged stands, classified by regeneration type
  4.3 Naturalness Area of forest and other wooded land, classified by "undisturbed by man", by "semi- natural" or by "plantations", each by forest type
  4.4 Introduced tree species Area of forest and other wooded land dominated by introduced tree species
  4.5 Deadwood Volume of standing deadwood and of lying deadwood on forest and other wooded land classified by forest type
  4.6 Genetic resources Area managed for conservation and utilisation of forest tree genetic resources (in situ and ex situ gene conservation) and area managed for seed production
  4.7 Landscape pattern Landscape-level spatial pattern of forest cover
  4.8 Threatened forest species Number of threatened forest species, classified according to World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List categories in relation to total number of forest species
  4.9 Protected forests Area of forest and other wooded land protected to conserve biodiversity, landscapes and specific natural elements, according to MCPFE protection categories
C 5: Maintenance and appropriate enhancement of protective functions in forest management (notably soil and water) 5.1 Protective forests - soil, water and other ecosystem functions  Area of forest and other wooded land designated to prevent soil erosion, to preserve water resources, or to maintain other forest ecosystem functions, part of MCPFE  protection category "Protective functions"
  5.2 Protective forests - infrastructure and managed natural resources Area of forest and other wooded land designated to protect infrastructure and managed natural resources against natural hazards, part of MCPFE protection category "Protective functions"
 C 6: Maintenance of other socio- economic functions and conditions 6.1 Forest holdings Number of forest holdings, classified by ownership categories and size classes
  6.2 Contribution of forest sector to gross domestic product (GDP) Contribution of forestry and manufacturing of wood and paper products to GDP
  6.3 Net revenue Net revenue of forest enterprises
  6.4 Investment in forestry Gross fixed capital formation in forestry
  6.5 Forest sector workforce Number of persons employed and labour input in the forest sector, classified by gender and age group, education and job characteristics
  6.6 Occupational safety and health Frequency of occupational accidents and occupational diseases in forestry
  6.7 Wood consumption Consumption per head of wood and products derived from wood
  6.8 Trade in wood Imports and exports of wood and products derived from wood
  6.9 Energy from wood resources Share of wood energy in total energy consumption, classified by origin of wood
  6.10 Recovery rate Paper recovered for use as raw material as percentage of total consumption of paper and paperboard
  6.11 Accessibility for recreation Area of forest and other wooded land where public has a right of access for recreational purposes and indication of intensity of use
  6.12 Cultural and spiritual values Number of sites within forest and other wooded land designated as having cultural or spiritual values


The use of Global Forest Resources Assessment channels to provide data on quantitative indicators for sustainable forest management to the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe, and the necessary close cooperation to achieve this, has proved highly beneficial to all concerned. The policy process has (rightly) guided the data collection process; the international community has been supplied with a high-quality, politically relevant data set in an efficient way; and the regional forest resources assessment work has benefited in visibility and focus from the political attention it has received. All partners have the intention to continue and deepen this cooperation.

The main challenges for the future are:

The strong and beneficial cooperation between the Global Forest Resources Assessment and the criteria and indicators processes has so far been concentrated in the European region. There is no such coordination mechanism among other regional processes (the Montreal Process, the Tarapoto Process for Criteria and Indicators of Sustainability of the Amazon Forest, the ITTO process, etc.). The links between these processes will be examined at a meeting in Guatemala in autumn 2002. As the data collected by FRA 2000 at the global level have become de facto the global core data set, it is important that this data set take account of the needs of the policy process in all regions (as expressed through the lists of indicators) and that the regional processes develop their lists in full awareness of capabilities of the Global Forest Resources Assessment to provide global data. At present, coordination of lists of parameters and reporting methods between the Global Forest Resources Assessment and the various regional processes is in its infancy. It should be developed as matter of urgency.

1 The abbreviation "TBFRA 2000" refers to the assessment of temperate and boreal countries, including Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, carried out as a contribution to the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000 (FRA 2000).

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