Forest-related definitions are used nationally and internationally and they are currently developed under various international conventions and fora. These encompass, inter alia, UNFCCC, CBD, UNCCD, UNFF and various other bodies to which countries have reporting obligations or commitments, including FAO and the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO). Reporting requirements to these bodies, fora and conventions represent a considerable burden for the countries, and particularly developing countries have difficulties to meet them. Differing definitions for the same term aggravate this burden.
National reporting is indispensable for most purposes. Thus, the link to national resource assessments is an essential feature of any global monitoring system. In spite of rapid development in remote sensing and related data transfer and processing technologies, global systems will have to draw on nationally produced information and analyses. For instance, changes are generally more precisely estimated using the original national inventory data than direct observations of global systems. It is therefore of high international interest to facilitate data flow between national and global levels (FAO 2002). However, diverging definitions make data integration difficult at the global level.
To assist in coping with these problems, the Expert Meeting on Harmonizing Forest-related Definitions for Use by Various Stakeholders (hereafter referred to as the Expert Meeting) was initiated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and, in collaboration with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), at FAO Headquarters, in Rome, from 23 to 25 January 2002. The Expert Meeting noted, inter alia, four key points (Proceedings 2002):
(i) More universally accepted and harmonized forest-related definitions might facilitate coordination between international conventions, processes and negotiations, and consequently might help to reduce the reporting burden and respective costs for countries;
(ii) Existing definitions should be adopted (wherever possible) or improved (where necessary), before developing new ones;
(iii) The current definitions used in the context of Article 3.3 of the Kyoto Protocol and FAO's Forest Resources Assessment 2000 are largely compatible, with the exception of differing interpretations of the term `reforestation', as evidenced in past climate change negotiations;
(iv) The biome-specific approach suggested for some definitions is not necessarily compatible with the actual land use or the state of forests. The biome is probably a less important driver than the forest type.
The Expert Meeting also agreed on a number of criteria for the follow-up harmonization process and made detailed recommendations on how to deal with state and change processes; forest as a land use; forest functions; and the different definitions for afforestation, reforestation, deforestation and degradation.
The Expert Meeting recommended that follow-up action be taken urgently under the umbrella of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), with FAO acting as the Secretariat. Furthermore, other stakeholders should be invited to participate in the process. As part of the implementation of the recommendations, a Task Force was established under FAO's leadership to plan and implement the follow-up action.
This report is the outcome of the implementation of the Expert Meeting's recommendation to "prepare a comprehensive analytical framework, including compilation and analysis of similarities and differences between definitions and clarification of their relationships, in order to facilitate follow-up process". The analytical framework will be discussed by the Experts in the second meeting, to be organized in Rome, September 11 - 13, 2002.
The process on harmonizing forest-related definitions at international level is a response to a global call. The issue is high on the international agenda, and the need for further elaboration of forest-related definitions, particularly with regard to their possible harmonization, has been recently signaled as a priority issue by several international fora and bodies including:
- The sixth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 6), the Hague, the Netherlands, from 7 to 19 April 2002
- Twenty-Sixth FAO Regional Conference for the Near East, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran, 9 to13 March 2002 (hosting the Tehran Process for Low Forest Cover Countries)
- The second session of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF), New York, 4 to 15 March, 2002
- UNFCCC: 16th Session of the Subsidiary Bodies (SB16), Bonn, Germany, 5 to 14 June, 2002. 6 7
The follow-up work needs to be undertaken cognizant of, and drawing on the following activities:
- SBSTA of the UNFCCC considering to apply biome-specific forest definitions, and developing forest-related definitions for the afforestation and reforestation under the CDM (Article 12 of the KP);
- IPCC developing definitions for degradation and devegetation;
- ITTO working on defining degraded and secondary forests;
- The World Conservation Union (IUCN), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and CIFOR developing a typology of plantations;
- IUFRO working on terminology (Dobbertin & Prüller 2002);
- UNEP and IUFRO working on how low-forest cover should be defined
- Previous work on definitions by FAO, e.g. in the context of FRA and the Kotka process.
It is expected that conclusions and proposals resulting from the process on forest-related definitions will be submitted to the IPCC, the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) of the UNFCCC, the Subsidiary Body for Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) of the CBD and the Committee on Science and Technology of the UN Convention on Combating Desertification (CCD), the Member Countries of the UNFF for their consideration, as well as to the participants in the so-called Kotka Process preparing the next FRA.
6 Extract from para 29 b): "The SBSTA also noted with appreciation the statement made by the representative of the FAO in relation to the process of harmonizing forest-related definitions, and acknowledged the importance of this initiative for the UNFCCC." (UNFCCC/SBSTA 2002)... It encouraged the IPCC to continue to work with FAO, and invited the IPCC to take into account the output from this process when developing definitions for forest degradation and devegetation of other vegetation types.
7 The ToR for work to developing definitions for afforestation and reforestation under the CDM mandates that SBSTA use as relevant information the reports prepared by the FAO on forest-related definitions.