Recommendations for the future of national forest assessments, global assessments and linkages between the two.
Experts from all regions gathered at Kotka IV
- E. OKSANEN
As recommended in 2001 by the FAO Committee on Forestry (COFO), the statutory body of member countries that advises FAO on issues and activities in forestry, FAO will continue to emphasize forest resources assessment as a priority activity, and will continue to assist national capacity building in this area. To refine the process for future global assessments, FAO brought together its many partners at an expert consultation entitled "Global Forest Resources Assessments - Linking National and International Efforts".
The meeting, organized by FAO in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and with support from the Government of Finland, was held in Kotka, Finland from 1 to 5 July 2002. It was attended by 57 experts from all regions. It was the fourth expert consultation held in this location on the subject of global forest resources assessment, and is thus referred to in short as "Kotka IV".
The previous consultations were held in 1987, 1993 and 1996. The last of these, Kotka III, was held to define the scope and output of the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000 (FRA 2000) and resulted in detailed specifications of tables and variables. In contrast, Kotka IV addressed more conceptual and strategic aspects of global forest resources assessments, building on the experiences from FRA 2000 and considering future reporting requirements at the international level. This article summarizes the conclusions and recommendations of the meeting, focusing on the three main areas discussed.
For the discussions at Kotka IV, a national forest assessment was defined as a national process that collects, manages, makes available and analyses information on forest resources, their management and use, covering the entire country; it also includes analyses, evaluations and scenario development for use in policy processes. A national forest inventory is the principal activity for collecting data within a national forest assessment; it is based on systematic field sampling and can be complemented by remote-sensing components.
The consultation confirmed the importance of national forest assessments:
National forest assessments are generally expanding in scope to address all aspects of forest resources. Assessments may include information on physical quantities and qualitative aspects as well as estimates of values of forest products and services. Assessments provide important and relevant information to the forestry sector and also to other economic sectors and policy processes, including agriculture and energy.
FRA 2000 identified significant gaps in information and timeliness of information for many countries. Potential reasons include low priorities and awareness at the national level, low national capacities and lack of financial resources. As a consequence of the information gaps, there is also lack of experience in presenting and using information from national forest inventories to support policy development, and thus a lack of awareness of the utility of good forest information. Without such awareness, countries may not give priority to national forest inventories.
It was concluded that national forest inventories and assessments, and the capacity to implement these over time, will only be maintained if the information demand originates from national forest policy processes.
Kotka IV recommended that countries needing external assistance to implement national forest assessments seek help from FAO, for example through the National Forest Programme Facility. The consultation also recommended that FAO work more closely with countries and other institutions to build national capacity for implementing national forest assessment and to raise the awareness needed to maintain this capacity and to ensure the inclusion of forest resources monitoring in national policies.
The proposal to support national forest assessments based on low-intensity permanent field sampling (described in the article by Thuresson in this issue) was considered relevant and feasible for countries lacking effective national forest inventory capacities. The approach should include strengthening of information management and analysis; of evaluating and reporting on data reliability; and of capacity for reporting to international processes.
The Global Forest Resources Assessment, led by FAO and involving all countries and other partners, reports on the worldwide status and trends of forest resources, their management and uses. The Global Forest Resources Assessment has many functions including:
The meeting noted that the Global Forest Resources Assessment can best serve the needs of many users by providing information that is as consistent over time and space, reliable and accurate as possible, including information about data quality and gaps. It should also contribute to improvement of concepts, definitions and methods related to forest resources assessments.
Following the recommendations of COFO 2001, the Global Forest Resources Assessment should continue to include information on all aspects of forest resources. Its overall conceptual framework should be guided by criteria used by the various ecoregional processes on criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management, i.e.:
Within this framework FAO, in consultation with countries, should identify key parameters related to forest resources, and should maintain and publish validated and harmonized national, regional and global data for these key parameters. FAO should gather, harmonize and validate the data for a core set of global variables, while data for the other parameters may be collected by regional FRA initiatives or other partners and should be made available through links.
Most of the data are provided by countries through national correspondents who are responsible for the data provided. Some Global Forest Resources Assessment data sets may originate from other sources, for instance remote-sensing surveys. Countries should validate national data before they are published.
The Global Forest Resources Assessment serves as a source of official, defined and validated information which may be used by international processes and may help reduce the reporting burden on countries. In defining the parameters for data collection, the reporting requirements of different processes and agreements should be taken into account. International processes are expected to support and promote the Global Forest Resources Assessment as an important mechanism to facilitate data supply from countries, and as the major contributor of information on sustainable forest management at the global level.
The participants recommended that the medium-term (five-year) emphasis should be to consolidate the progress made in the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000 (FRA 2000) towards achieving a broad assessment. This implies that for nationally reported data (in order of priority):
A procedure should be established for updating the global database as soon as possible when new national data become available. An intermediate global report should be issued around 2005. A comprehensive global assessment should be published around 2010.
Regional initiatives related to forest resources assessment should continue to contribute to the global assessment and should be coordinated with it, notably in relation to concepts, definitions and core parameters. FAO's Regional Forestry Commissions have an important role in increasing political support for country involvement in forest resources assessment. Kotka IV recognized the benefits of the regional effort coordinated by the UNECE/FAO secretariat in Geneva for the temperate and boreal countries in FRA 2000, which incorporated additional information specific to regional needs. Participation in such regional initiatives should be determined by the countries themselves.
It was recommended that FAO establish an advisory group to the Global Forest Resources Assessment, which should advise FAO and its partners on the implementation of the assessment and on its concepts, classifications, definitions, methods, organization, timing and communication of results. The group should meet approximately annually. The global assessment process should also include periodic consultation with users and national correspondents. FAO should carry out a wide-ranging user demand survey, trying to reach all potential types of users, to clarify their data requirements and to define priorities for the development of the contents of the assessment. The survey should also investigate users' willingness and ability to pay for the information required.
The participants recommended that FAO carry out a feasibility study for a remote-sensing study of land cover and land use changes to complement national reporting (see article by Tomppo and Czaplewski in this issue). Objectives of a remote-sensing study would be:
The feasibility study should include options for global coverage as well as possible partnerships for implementation of the remote-sensing study. The study should address the field sampling necessary to validate the remote-sensing output. Countries should be consulted when options are considered that may result in national-level estimates.
FAO should continue to develop the linkages with countries and regional partner institutions and to inform them about recent developments in the Global Forest Resources Assessment.
Countries should take into account international reporting requirements when designing national forest inventories and should, to the extent possible, collect data suitable for reporting against agreed international definitions for inclusion in the Global Forest Resources Assessment. FAO should advise countries in this respect.
The incorporation of national information into the Global Forest Resources Assessment should be undertaken collaboratively between countries and FAO, and should be transparent and documented to ensure credibility and consistency in the global database. It is expected that this approach will over time reduce the effort required to maintain the database.
Kotka IV made a number of recommendations that will guide the Global Forest Resources Assessment for the years to come. In particular, the important relationship with countries was emphasized. The consultation established that the role of the Global Forest Resources Assessment in relation to other international processes should be neutral and facilitating.
The major obstacle in meeting international (and national) information requirements is the continued lack of basic data. Without the establishment of field-sampling-based inventories, it will be impossible to monitor progress towards sustainable forest management and to refine forest-related policies. The Kotka IV recommendations support FAO's approach of addressing this issue through support to national forest assessments.