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National reporting to forest-related international instruments: mandates, mechanisms, overlaps and potential synergies

S. Braatz

Susan Braatz is Senior Forest
Policy Advisor with the Secretariat
of the United Nations Forum on
Forests, New York, United States.

Harmonization and streamlining of reporting on sustainable development, biological diversity and forests can reduce the reporting burden on countries.

Countries report information re- lated to their forest sector to a vari- ety of international and regional conventions, agreements and bodies (all here referred to as "instruments", for brevity). These reports, and associated efforts to monitor and assess status and trends in forest resources and progress in meeting international commitments, help orient national and international policy deliberations and national planning processes. They are also clearly linked to national reporting to FAO's Global Forest Resources Assessment. Fulfilling the various requirements to report on the forest sector (as with many other sectors), is, however, becoming increasingly burdensome to countries.

This article reviews the requirements for national reporting to the main international instruments related to forests. (Requirements for reporting to regional forest-related instruments and processes also represent important commitments, but these fall outside the scope of this article.) The article also summarizes the instruments' efforts to identify indicators and related quantifiable forest data that can be used to monitor the impact of the instruments. Finally, it highlights recent initiatives to reduce the reporting burden on countries through harmonization and streamlining of reporting on sustainable development, biological diversity and forests.

Harmonization is the process of making reports to different instruments comparable, for example through the use of common or comparable terms and definitions, standardized units for data and common reference years. Streamlining refers to the reduction of the number of reports or the amount of information required in individual reports; this is made possible by harmonizing information among reports or reducing duplication in the reporting requests.


Ten international instruments that are in force are particularly relevant to forests. Parties or members of these instruments are asked to report on measures taken to implement their commitments under the instrument. In most cases, reporting consists of qualitative information on activities and means of implementation, such as policy, legislative or institutional measures. In a few cases, quantitative biophysical and socio-economic data on forest resources or resource use are requested. The reporting requirements are summarized here, while the Table provides information on the reports, guidelines or formats and the periodicity or dates of reporting.

United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD)

CSD was established to facilitate the implementation of commitments made at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). National reporting to CSD on implementation of the chapters of Agenda 21 provides a picture of progress made in sustainable development over the past decade. This provides a wider context for the instruments that arose from UNCED - the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF). Countries have been asked to provide national reports each year on specific topics. National reports on forests were submitted in 2000. They consisted of a brief report on the situation of sustainable forest management, progress in implementing the proposals for action of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) and the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF), the policy and legal framework and the use of criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. Country profiles, covering all aspects of Agenda 21, were compiled for each country in 1997 and updated in 2002 using information from all the national reports submitted.

Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD)

Each party to CCD is required to communicate to the Conference of the Parties (COP) the measures undertaken to implement the convention. These reports differ slightly depending on the party's category.

Information on measures taken to improve natural resource conservation, monitoring and assessment of effects of drought, and on participatory processes in NAPs, has particular relevance to sustainable forest management.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

Each party to UNFCCC is to submit initially and at certain intervals thereafter a National Communication, which includes:

In addition, each developed-country party and each party included in Annex I of the convention should report on:

Each developed-country party in Annex I or II reports on measures taken related to technology transfer and provision of financial resources.

Since 1996, all Annex I countries must provide an annual national inventory of greenhouse gas sources and sinks. The methodology for the calculations for the inventory figures is provided by the Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Specific data on forests and forest resources required for these calculations include forest area and biomass stocks, changes in area and biomass, non-forest trees, removal of wood by timber harvesting, fuelwood consumption, conversion of forest to other uses and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and removals from soils, as well as greenhouse gas emissions from combustion of woody biomass and from the pulp, paper and print industries.

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

National reports to CBD provide information on the implementation of commitments under the Convention. The first national report (1997) focused on Article 6, conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. The second national report (2001) consisted of a series of questions based on articles of the Convention; those with the most direct relevance to forest biological diversity and sustainable forest management are the articles on in situ conservation, traditional knowledge, ex situ conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. The content of the third national report, to be submitted for COP-8 in 2006, will be discussed at COP-7 in 2004.

In addition to the national reports, parties were invited to submit a thematic report on forest ecosystems for consideration at COP-6 in April 2002. The thematic reports provided information on the implementation of the three programme elements of CBD's Programme of Work on Forest Biological Diversity. An expanded programme was approved at COP-6, and parties have been invited to report on its implementation through a voluntary thematic report to COP-7.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)

National reports to CITES provide statistical information on trade in the species listed on the CITES appendices (i.e. species that are endangered or threatened), including some timber and woody species. The CITES Secretariat maintains quantitative time-series databases of species trade statistics. Parties to CITES are also asked to submit biennial reports, providing information on legislative, regulatory and administrative measures taken to enforce the provisions of CITES.

Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS)

National reports to CMS provide information, mostly qualitative, on steps taken to protect migratory species listed on the CMS appendices; forests are habitat to some of these species. National reports also provide information on progress in raising awareness of CMS, providing financing and implementing COP resolutions.

Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, Especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar Convention)

The Ramsar Convention produces the List of Wetlands of International Importance, a database of site information, mainly in narrative form. About one-third of the Ramsar sites are forested wetlands. National reports to the Ramsar Convention provide information on measures taken to promote membership, to implement the Ramsar Wise Use Guidelines, to increase institutional capacity, to promote international cooperation and to mobilize financial assistance.

Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (World Heritage Convention, WHC)

The World Heritage Convention focuses on sites of cultural and natural significance, including many forest sites. WHC maintains the World Heritage List, compiled from member country inventories. When a country becomes a member of WHC, it is obliged to submit an inventory of its property (location and significance) suitable for inclusion on the list. Parties to WHC must report on steps taken to identify national heritage properties, legislative and administrative actions for the application of WHC and the state of conservation of the World Heritage properties located on their territory.

United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF)

UNFF serves as the main forum for comprehensive, international policy deliberations on forests. National reporting to UNFF is voluntary. Reporting modalities have not yet been agreed, but the first session of UNFF in 2001 identified the elements constituting the monitoring, assessment and reporting (MAR) function of UNFF (UN, 2001b). MAR would involve review of:

At its first session, UNFF invited countries, regions, organizations and processes to report to UNFF on their progress in implementation of the IPF/IFF proposals for action. (The proposals for action cover a wide range of actions needed to facilitate progress towards sustainable forest management, including a number of initiatives related to monitoring, assessment and reporting on forests.) UNFF also stressed the importance of the use of regional and national criteria and indicators as a basis for reporting on sustainable forest management.

An ad hoc expert group to be established after the third session of UNFF (May/June 2003) is expected to develop proposals on the MAR function of UNFF. For the purposes of reporting to the third session, the UNFF Secretariat will develop a reporting format for national reports on implementation of the proposals for action related to the session's agenda.

International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA)

Parties to ITTA are asked to provide data annually on tropical timber and timber trade. This information is compiled into the Annual Review and Assessment of the World Tropical Timber Situation, published by the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO).

Members have also been asked to report on activities aimed at achieving sustainable forest management and on progress towards ITTO's Year 2000 Objective. The Year 2000 Objective was adopted in 1991 as the strategy by which all ITTO member countries would progress towards achieving trade in tropical timber from sustainably managed forests by the year 2000. Parties to ITTA have been asked to apply the (revised) ITTO criteria and indicators for reporting their progress. The reporting format for the national-level report calls for both qualitative and quantitative information (ITTO, 2001).


Guidelines for reporting, national reports and databases

Periodicity/date(s) of issuea

Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) Country profiles:
1997, 2002
  National reports on implementation of the Agenda 21 chapters and other issues to be discussed at that year's CSD session; national reports on forests were provided for CSD 8 (2000)  Annual (report on forests in 2000)
  National assessment reports: self-appraisal of the country's efforts to implement Agenda 21 over the ten years since UNCED
Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD) UNCCD National  First reporting: Affected African countries, 1999
Other affected countries, 2000
Non-affected countries, 1999/2000
    Second reporting:2002 (all regions)
    In future, non-affected countries will report to every session (odd years starting in 2003) and affected countries to every other session, alternating between African countries and countries in other regions
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC) National Communication, available  Annex I parties: within six months of national entry into force
  Guidelines for Annex I parties:

(under revision, to be addressed at COP-8)
Other parties: within three years of national entry into force or of the availability of corresponding financial resources
  Guidelines for Annex II parties (Decision 10/CP.2) Least-developed-country parties: at their discretion
  National Inventory (Annex I parties)
Common reporting format provided by UNFCCC Guidelines:
  IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories provide methodology:
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) National reports are available 
Every four years/1997, 2001, 2005
Guidelines for reporting (second report):< /A>

Thematic Reports on thematic programme areas
  Thematic Report on Forests (considered by COP-6, 2002),available at:< /A>

Guidelines for reporting:< /A> 
  Voluntary thematic national report on the implementation of the expanded Programme of  Work on Forest Biological Diversity 2003
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Annual reports   Annual
Reporting guidelines:
  Biennial reports Biennial
Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) Model format (1994) has been updated for voluntary use on a trialbasis for COP-7 (September 2002):
Every three years
Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, Especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar Convention) National reports   Every three years
Reporting format for national reports to COP-8 (2002): 
Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (World Heritage Convention, WHC) Reporting on the application of WHC Every six years (rotation by region): Arab States, 2000; Africa, 2001; Asia and Pacific, 2002; Latin America and Caribbean, 2003; Europe and North America, 2004/2005
Reporting format:
United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) UNFF Secretariat will suggest a format for country reports toUNFF 3 on implementation of the IPF/IFF proposals for action to be addressed at that session; thereafter, an ad hoc expert group shall develop proposals on monitoring, assessment and reporting for UNFF's consideration To be determined
International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA) Reporting done through a common reporting format used for data collection by several organizations (ITTO/UNECE/FAO/EUROSTAT Joint Forest Sector Questionnaire):
Input to Year 2000 Objective review - reporting 


As indicated above, national reporting to the ten forest-related instruments is diverse in approach, content, degree of detail, periodicity and timing. Analysis shows that the information requested by most of the instruments relates to action taken to implement commitments under the instrument; is descriptive in nature; and is focused on measures taken in policy, legislation, capacity building, financing or other means of implementation. Only a few instruments require parties to provide quantitative information related to forests or forest resources. Those that do are CITES (on species trade), ITTA (on timber trade and indicators for sustainable forest man-agement) and UNFCCC (on greenhouse gas emissions and removals from forests).

Impact indicators

Most of the instruments have provisions for collection, analysis and exchange of information and data for, among other purposes, monitoring and assessment. However, in most cases the data to be collected have not yet been specified. Several of the instruments have identified indicators to assess progress in the implementation of the instrument (or implementation indicators), but many are still working to identify indicators that can be used to assess the impact of the instrument (i.e. impact indicators).

The United Nations has recently published a set of indicators of sustainable development (UN, 2001a). These may help harmonize efforts in the sectors represented in Agenda 21 to assess progress towards sustainable development goals.

CCD began working to develop benchmarks and indicators several years ago. Implementation indicators have been identified, but work is still under way to identify the type of data needed to assess the status and trends of desertification and to identify impact indicators to monitor biophysical, socio-economic and institutional impacts of National Action Programmes. To date, 14 primary impact indicators have been identified that are relevant in the African context. These indicators are to be further defined and also considered by other regions, with a view to the development of common subregional or regional indicators (CCD, 2001).

CBD has been working for many years to develop a set of indicators that can be used to monitor and assess biological diversity. A core set of indicators was developed in 1997, and a second set in 2001 (CBD, 2001). CBD decided at COP-6 that an ad hoc expert group should be convened to refine the indicators further (Decision VI/7). At the same time, Decision VI/22 advised that existing national and regional criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management, and specifically for forest biological diversity, should be promoted and should be applied where criteria and indicators are needed for the purposes of CBD's expanded Programme of Work on Forest Biological Diversity.

Criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management

Criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management have been developed as a tool to provide countries with a framework for defining sustainable forest management and assessing progress towards this goal. Criteria define essential elements against which the sustainability of forest management is judged. Each criterion is defined by indicators, which, if monitored periodically, provide an indication of whether a country is moving towards or away from sustainability.

ITTO began work on criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management in 1990. Today there are nine major criteria and indicators processes (African Timber Organization, Dry Forest Asia, ITTO, Dry Zone Africa, Lepaterique Process, Montreal Process, Pan-European Forest Process, Tarapoto Proposal, Near East Process) involving approximately 150 countries and covering most of the world's forested area.

The processes are similar in objectives and approach, but differ somewhat in content and structure. They have all developed criteria and indicators for use at the national level, and more recently many of them have begun to test criteria and indicators for use at the forest management unit level. The processes have identified similar criteria, incorporating in some fashion the following fundamental elements of sustainable forest management:

  • extent of forest resources and global carbon cycle;
  • forest ecosystem health and vitality;
  • biological diversity in forest ecosystems;
  • productive functions of forests;
  • protective functions of forests;
  • socio-economic functions and conditions;
  • political, legal and institutional frameworks.

Source: FAO, 2001.

Use of criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management for international reporting

As already mentioned, criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management (see Box) are being used for reporting by members of ITTA on progress towards ITTO's Year 2000 Objective, and UNFF has recognized criteria and indicators as an important basis for reporting on sustainable forest management. This acceptance, and more recently that by CBD, of the potential use of criteria and indicators for international forest-related reporting represents a significant development.

The convergence of international opinion on the use of criteria and indicators offers potential opportunities for harmonizing information across the forest-related instruments and for improving reporting on forests. This was noted in one of the IPF proposals for action, which recommended "that criteria and indicators be used by FAO and other relevant organizations in order to improve consistency in reporting on forest assessment and sustainable forest management" (UN, 1997a).


The burden on countries to fulfil international reporting requirements has been noted throughout the UN system. For example, a report of the Secretary-General to the fifth session of CSD in 1997 expressed concern:

"Member States have noted that they must prepare reports not only for the Commission but also to comply with the requirements of conventions, agreements reached at major conferences and global programmes of action. For all countries, the requests constitute a burden; but for countries with limited capacity, the burden has become overwhelming. It has also become apparent that some of the information being requested is duplicative and redundant" (UN, 1997b).

Streamlining of reporting on sustainable development

The above-cited report to CSD considered various options for the streamlining of requests within the UN context for national reporting on sustainable development issues. The focus was on streamlining the reporting process, rather than on streamlining the content of the reports, which respond to legal commitments or legislative mandates. It was agreed that countries would not need to report separately to the CSD on issues on which they report to COPs of international conventions and other intergovernmental bodies; countries would only need to make these reports available to the CSD Secretariat. The report also highlighted the need to make existing information readily available so as to help avoid duplication of effort. In response, CSD is developing a UN system-wide sustainable development Web site, which will provide all national reports to CSD as well as links to reports and databases of related UN conventions and to national databases on environment and development, where possible.

Harmonization of reporting on biological diversity

Over the past few years, some major initiatives have been taken to harmonize national reporting on biological diversity, in particular to CBD, CITES, CMS, the Ramsar Convention and WHC.

In 1998 the secretariats of these five treaties and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) commissioned the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) to undertake a feasibility study to identify opportunities for harmonizing information management among the treaties. Pilot projects in four countries are now testing potential approaches including modular reporting, consolidated reporting and linking reporting to state of the environment reporting processes (UNEP-WCMC, 1999, 2000).

Another initiative has been taken by the Environmental Management Group (EMG), a forum for UN agencies and secretariats of multilateral environmental agreements whose aim is to enhance interagency cooperation in the field of environment and human settlements. EMG has identified harmonization of environmental reporting, with a focus on biodiversity-related conventions, as needing additional attention and is coordinating related efforts (UNEP, 2001).

At the regional level, the European Environment Agency is working on a project to streamline reporting systems for the 64 environmental agreements to which the European Commission is a party (EEA, 2001).

A number of major initiatives have been taken to harmonize national reporting on biological diversity


Harmonization and streamlining of reporting on forests

The concern over the reporting burden has also been strongly expressed in the international forest dialogue. One of the IFF proposals for action (19a) encouraged the development of "harmonized, cost-effective, comprehensive reporting formats for collecting and synthesizing national forest information to meet the diverse demands for reliable and timely data by various forest-related international organizations and instruments". It pointed out the need to incorporate information on relevant criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management into such reporting formats so as to "reduce reporting burdens on countries and increase the timeliness and consistency of reporting" (UN, 2000).

In 2002, UNFF invited the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), established in 2001 to support the work of UNFF, "to streamline reporting requests and, to the extent possible, to synchronize their reporting cycles so as to reduce reporting burden on countries" (UN, 2002).

In April 2002, CBD, by Decision VI/22, adopted the expanded work programme on forest biological diversity, which includes as one of its activities to "seek ways of streamlining reporting between the different forest-related processes, in order to improve the understanding of forest quality change and improve consistency in reporting on sustainable forest management".

Several international meetings have been held to work on harmonizing reporting on forests:

CPF is in the process of establishing a CPF Task Force on Harmonizing and Streamlining Forest-Related Reporting. The Task Force will examine the potential for synchronizing reporting cycles, work to harmonize and streamline reporting on forests and endeavour to improve availability of information collected by CPF members - which include FAO, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), ITTO, the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), the secretariats of CBD, CCD and UNFCCC, the Global Environment Facility, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UNEP, the World Bank and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) - in order to help reduce the reporting burden on countries.

In a related effort, an expert meeting on forest definitions, involving several CPF members and other organizations, was held by FAO in early 2002 (FAO, 2002). Reaching a common understanding of forest-related concepts, terms and definitions is instrumental to efforts to harmonize reporting on forests. The work initiated by the expert meeting will continue under the auspices of CPF.


The predecessors of UNFF - IPF and IFF - adopted many proposals for action related to forest monitoring, assessment and reporting, but the modalities for reporting to UNFF have not yet been agreed.

National reporting to the other eight forest-related instruments and the CSD vary. National reports to CITES and CMS contain information related to the conservation of species. Ramsar and WHC address the conservation and management of protected areas of international importance. UNFF, ITTA, CBD, CCD and UNFCCC, which have a sustainable development emphasis, are most relevant to comprehensive international reporting on forests. National reports to UNFCCC and ITTA are strongly quantitative, whereas the content of national reports to CBD and CCD are qualitative, focusing on the means of implementing commitments under these conventions. Both CBD and UNCCD, however, are working to identify impact indicators, or biophysical and socio-economic indicators, on which quantitative data can be collected.

There is a promising convergence of opinion on the use of criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management as a basis for assessing the state of and trends in forests, forest resource use and the equitable sharing of the benefits of that use. UNFF, ITTA and CBD have all accepted criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management as important for reporting on progress in their forest-related work. Adoption of indicators of sustainable forest management as a basis for international forest-related reporting offers potential opportunities for harmonization of information across the forest-related instruments and for improvement of reporting on forests.

Important efforts are under way to harmonize and streamline reporting on sustainable development, biological diversity and forests. The proposed CPF Task Force to develop proposals for harmonizing and streamlining forest reporting can build on similar efforts carried out for sustainable development by CSD and for biological diversity by the five biodiversity-related conventions.


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