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Opening Session

Welcome address

J.P.L. Srivastava1

On behalf of the Asia–Pacific Forestry Commission, I welcome you all to this conference, which is being held in Chiang Mai, one of Thailand’s most beautiful cities.

The Asia–Pacific region is home to 3.5 billion people, more than 55 percent of the global population. It houses some of the most populous countries in the world, and many of the most densely populated.

The region is currently undergoing a period of unprecedented change — a period when the vast population is shifting from subsistence livelihood to consumer mode. Higher income has increased the demand for wood and wood products as well as the environmental services provided by forests. In view of the limited resources, increasing demands have accentuated resource-use conflicts. The rapidity of globalization has added to the complexity of resource management, enhancing both opportunities and challenges. Demands on forests in the region are accelerating and, in many places, the demands on forests for economic and ecological goods and services have exceeded the capacity of forests to meet the full measure of people’s needs. Thus the conflicts and challenges confronted by forestry in the Asia–Pacific region are among the most intense in the world.

The overall situation in the forest sector continues to evolve rapidly and the opportunities and challenges in the next two decades will be more complex than the current status quo. Considering the long-term nature of forestry investment, it is important to visualize the emerging changes to better plan for the rapidly advancing future.

The rapid socio-economic and environmental changes taking place in Asia and the Pacific in the 1990s created a robust argument for examining the effect that major future trends would have on forests and the forest sector in the region, along with the concomitant opportunities and constraints that such trends would pose. The first Asia–Pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study (APFSOS)— a projection to 2010 — was completed in November 1998. Since then, the APFSOS has served as a benchmark for other regions in conducting their own outlook studies. On their own or together, these outlook studies have been useful in showing that there is an inextricable link between the future of forests and other domains of society and life. They can therefore play an invaluable role in helping to steer strategic planning and policy design related to sustainable forest management.

Considering the unrelenting rate of change in all areas of society and the environment in the Asia–Pacific region, the APFC’s twenty-first session, held in Dehradun, India in April 2006, recommended that the first outlook study be revisited to visualize the forestry scenario in 2020.

Adhering to this recommendation and acknowledging new regional society–forestry dynamics, the APFC, in partnership with member countries and other international organizations, is conducting the second Asia–Pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study (APFSOS II) to bring together diverse stakeholders and expertise and to provide broader perspectives on emerging changes, probable scenarios and their implications for forests and forestry in the region. I congratulate FAO and the APFC secretariat on initiating the study in October 2006.

While enormous economic growth in some of the largest countries in the region is going to impact the forestry sector significantly in future, another important factor is the relation between forests and poverty. It is not possible to mitigate forest degradation without alleviating poverty. Forests can play a crucial role in enhancing livelihood opportunities for forest-dependent communities, but there is need to empower communities with tenurial and occupation rights with regard to forests. Some countries are now empowering and building capacity among such people.

We are also aware that global objectives for the sustainable development of all types of forests under a Non-Legally Binding Instrument were adopted at the seventh session of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) in April, 2007. All member countries of the United Nations, including APFC countries, are committed to implementing sustainable forest management and contributing towards the achievement of shared global objectives. It was also accepted by member countries that regional forestry commissions can play crucial roles in highlighting regional specificities and assist countries in contributing towards the achievement of shared global objectives. How the APFC could establish stronger linkages with UNFF is on the agenda of the twenty-second session of the APFC to be held in Viet Nam in April 2008.

I am of the firm opinion that APFSOS II will definitely steer the forestry sector along a path that is relevant and appropriate to emerging needs. Member countries are preparing their country reports, which will not only help us to forecast probable scenarios in the forestry sector in 2020, but will help member countries to identify required policy interventions at the national level. I look forward to learning about some of these preliminary findings during this conference.

The wisdom of other professionals from NGOs, the private sector, research institutions and from governments that are participating and making presentations at this conference will guide us in projecting the trend of the forestry sector towards 2020.

I hope that this conference will culminate in the collection of a wide range of views, knowledge and arguments for projecting the forestry scenario of the Asia–Pacific region to 2020. With these words, I wish this conference great success.

1 Deputy Governor of Chiang Mai Province.

Governorís address

Pyroj Sangpuvong1

I am delighted to be here today to welcome you all to the beautiful city of Chiang Mai on behalf of Chiang Mai Province and the Government of Thailand. This conference is a major event that will help to shape the future of forests and forestry in the whole Asia–Pacific region — and Chiang Mai is honoured to be hosting such a prestigious event.

Historically, Chiang Mai was the capital of the Lannathai kingdom and many remnants of this early architecture are still evident in the city today. Chiang Mai has risen in cultural, trading and economic terms to adopt its current status as the unofficial capital of the north of Thailand, second only in national importance to Bangkok. I am sure you will enjoy the hospitality of this wonderful city during your stay.

Chiang Mai has a very rich forest heritage. Until 150 years ago, much of Northern Thailand was covered with dense tropical forests. After the signing of the Bowring Treaty, in 1855, the mainly British companies that had been logging forests in Burma moved into Northern Thailand to cut and mill teak. This new system operated very much against the wishes of the local princes and nobles — the chao — who controlled the forests in Chiang Mai, Lamphun and Lakhon. After two armed revolts by the local rulers, against teak extraction, eventually the forests passed to central control by the government in Bangkok and the Royal Forest Department was created in 1896 to administer the forests.

By 1900, Thailand accounted for 25 percent of the world’s teak production. However, production was far above sustainable levels and depletion of the once rich forests led to the national logging ban in 1989.

Today, there are still rich remnants of the original forests in Chiang Mai Province, in places like Doi Inthanon National Park and Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. I hope you may have the opportunity to visit these forests during your stay in Chiang Mai and, in fact, I know some of you will visit Chiang Mai University’s forest restoration project in the upper Mae Sa Valley watershed area in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park.

Ladies and gentlemen, I know you have important deliberations to undertake and I will not detain you from this work. Once again, I welcome you to Chiang Mai and hope that you will enjoy the famous hospitality of the people from my province. I wish you every success in these vital deliberations and I look forward with great interest to seeing the results of this conference.

1 Chair, Asia–Pacific Forestry Commission (APFC) and Director-General of Forests, India.

Presidential address

Paisal Kuwalarath1

It is my very great pleasure to be here today to deliver the Presidential Address to this conference, and to welcome you to Chiang Mai on behalf of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and the Government of Thailand. I am delighted to see such a large gathering of distinguished colleagues convened to discuss the crucial issue of the future for forests and forestry in the Asia–Pacific region.

Ladies and gentlemen, a great many challenges confront forests and forestry in the Asia–Pacific region.

Despite our best efforts, forests in many countries are still disappearing or are being heavily degraded at an alarming rate. Each year in this region, millions of hectares of forests are destroyed by forest fires (often intentionally), cleared for agriculture or by industrial harvesting and impacted adversely by pests and diseases. Every year we hear stories of diminishing biodiversity as plants, birds and animals become extinct. Key species such as tigers and elephants have disappeared from most of their natural habitats.

As forests become degraded and disappear, the livelihoods of the rural people who are dependent on them for food, shelter and food are diminished; these people are often forced to migrate to cities in search of employment and new lives. Destruction of forests causes immense social upheaval and impoverishment.

The agenda of problems to be solved is very broad and is familiar to most of us, encompassing soil degradation and erosion, declining water quality, declining wood supplies (especially for high quality timber), forest fires, climate change, invasive species, loss of cultural and spiritual values, desertification, landscape degradation, securing land tenure, illegal logging and associated trade, corruption and the vast range of social issues associated with poverty in forest areas.

In Asia especially, as populations increase and economies become increasingly wealthy, the pressure on the dwindling forests in the region increases.

But as people become wealthier and economies shift from subsistence-oriented and underdeveloped to industrial and postindustrial status, enhanced methods to combat problems and challenges become available. We can look to many developed countries in Europe and in this region, where the pressures to harvest natural forests have been removed and the forests are flourishing.

Here in Thailand, we also have evidence of this trend in improvement as our own economy has strengthened.

Prior to 1989, Thailand was losing an average of 330 000 hectares of forests each year. In 1989, the government imposed a complete ban on logging in natural forests. This ban did not, of course, completely eliminate illegal logging or forest loss due to fires and shifting cultivation, but the impacts have been very positive. Since 2000, the annual rate of forest loss in Thailand has been only 59 000 hectares.

The logging ban, of course, created a huge problem for Thailand’s wood-processing industries in the short term. But, in the longer term, our industry has learned to adapt and change. Today, Thailand produces significantly more wood panels, pulp and paper than it did before the logging ban. Thailand’s forestry exports now earn more than US$1 billion each year, compared to less than US$140 million in 1988. We have become major importers of logs, we have shifted utilization towards rubberwood and we have also established significant areas of eucalyptus plantations, in particular, as an alternative source of wood.

Economic development is enabling Thailand to adapt and make progress on both economic and environmental fronts. We have not solved all the problems, but we are moving forward with confidence.

But, forestry is also about people and perhaps our greatest challenges remain on the social front. Thailand still has many rural people living below the poverty line who are dependent on forests for part or all of their livelihoods. Pressures to survive mean these people are often forced to encroach on protected forest areas.

In an effort to address this problem, the Government of Thailand is implementing a number of programmes. For example, under one programme, some forest dwellers in protected areas have been granted 2.5-hectare plots from the government in a bid to stop them from further encroaching on forest reserve areas.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has just announced a new loan project aimed at further improving the well-being of these people and to increase forest coverage across the country. Under the project, the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives will provide loans for people living in forest reserve areas to plant teak trees and pay back the loans once they can sell the timber. If it succeeds, the loan-for-trees scheme will also reduce forest encroachment.

Around the region we see many other countries seeking to address similar challenges. It is difficult work, but the rewards for success are obvious.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to conclude this address by leaving you with a quotation from the late great French oceanographer and ecologist, Captain Jacques Cousteau, who observed:

If we were logical, the future would be bleak, indeed. But we are more than logical. We are human beings, and we have faith, and we have hope, and we can work.

For many countries in the Asia–Pacific region, the forestry situation has many serious challenges. But, Cousteau’s advice is sound. We can work with faith and with hope, and together we can produce a brighter future.

1 Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Thailand.

Society, forests and change — creating a better future

Jan Heino1

Forestry exists and operates within a larger societal context and undergoes changes as societies evolve and develop. Understanding these larger changes is hence critical to design appropriate interventions in the forest sector. Although forestry is inherently about the future — whether it is investments in wood production or sustainable provision of environmental services — the thrust on the supply side of the problem has resulted in the biophysical aspects of production receiving most attention, resulting in the neglect of the larger socio-economic changes. Recent decades have seen major changes in forests and forestry. Most notable are: (a) A change in the demands placed on forests, with environmental services gaining increasing attention and (b) the emergence of pluralistic institutional arrangements. No longer is forestry primarily about wood production and no longer is it the exclusive domain of public sector forestry agencies. Environmental concerns such as climate change have brought forests and forestry to the centre stage of political discussion. Globalization is accelerating the pace of change, especially through, inter alia, increased market linkages, flows of capital and migration. These changes are particularly pronounced in the Asia–Pacific region, especially in view of rapid economic growth and a host of related changes. Obviously forests and forestry in the future will be different from their current status quo. This paper outlines the overall objectives of the conference and some of the questions that the conference may address in the context of the ongoing Asia–Pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study. Specifically it stresses the need to broaden perceptions, looking outside the sector and across national borders as well as looking ahead into the future.

Keywords: societal context, environmental services, globalization, Asia–Pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study

Society, forests and change ó creating a better future

I have great pleasure in welcoming you all to this very timely conference on “The Future of Forests in Asia and the Pacific” organized in the context of the ongoing Asia–Pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study, spearheaded by the Asia–Pacific Forestry Commission. We are grateful to you all for sparing your valuable time to come to Chiang Mai and to discuss an issue of topical importance. We are particularly glad to hold this conference in this beautiful city of unique cultural history with forests playing varying roles in its development.

I have been requested by my colleagues to provide an overview of the conference, in particular its background, and the questions that we may address during these three days. However, before embarking on this, allow me to draw your attention to the timeliness and significance of this conference:

I do hope that the next three days will provide us with an excellent opportunity to analyse how the future is likely to unfold, what we can expect in the next couple of decades and how we may shape the future of forestry to improve the availability of goods and services for enhancing the welfare of people now and in the future.

The need to look ahead

Although all of you are aware of the background of the conference, let me recapitulate why we have taken up this task and what are the issues and concerns that we may focus on. Forestry is inherently about the future and this is often the first lesson that we learn when we begin our careers. Long rotations — characteristic of traditional forestry — require us to look far ahead into the future. However, in practice this is often neglected on the implicit assumption that there will be a demand for whatever is produced, justifying the focus on the supply side of the problem. Consequently the biophysical and technical aspects of forestry receive much more attention, to some extent encouraging an inward-looking approach, neglecting the larger socio-economic environment. In all likelihood the slow pace of socio-economic changes has encouraged such an approach. However, what we are witnessing now are unprecedented changes in the socioeconomic environment, significantly altering the demands on forests and forestry as outlined hereunder.

Changing demands on forests and forestry

Undoubtedly the major change concerns fluxes in the priorities and objectives of forestry. For a long time wood production remained the primary objective of forestry, and environmental and social dimensions at best received incidental attention. However, recent years have seen major changes in society’s values and perceptions, with increasing emphasis on environmental services. In a number of countries this has led to significant shifts in the objectives of forestry agencies, requiring foresters to become environmental managers, including the provision of recreation. In fact there are several countries where wood has ceased to be the main source of income, and its place has been taken by forest recreation.

All the indications are that the demand for environmental services will continue to grow. Mounting evidence about climate change and its potential adverse impacts have drawn attention to the role of forests and forestry in mitigating and combating climate change. Avoiding deforestation is a major issue under discussion in national and international fora. Although there have been some disappointments with regard to marginalization of forestry under the Clean Development Mechanism, the situation is likely to change, especially as markets for emission trading grow and mature.

Another major shift relates to the increasing recognition of the social functions of forests, in particular poverty alleviation. With the Millennium Development Goals becoming the basis for national and international developmental initiatives, forestry is being compelled to give greater prominence to its role in poverty alleviation. Industry-focused production forestry in the past has often paid insufficient attention to social aspects as well as the management of protected areas; this has accentuated resource-use conflicts. Often poverty is widespread in forested areas and forestry cannot afford to neglect this aspect. Forest policies, institutions and practices are coming under increased public scrutiny necessitating adaptation to larger societal changes.

Emergence of new players

Another major development in recent decades has been the emergence of new players; this has significantly altered the institutional scenario of forestry. The historic dominance of public sector forestry agencies has been challenged as pluralistic institutional arrangements emerge. Political and economic changes, especially during the second half of thetwentieth century, have enhanced the role of the private sector, including industries and farmers in the management of forests and trees. In most countries, including in Asia and the Pacific, an increasing share of wood is produced from privately managed forests and farm woodlots. The Asia–Pacific region also has pioneering experience in industry–farmer partnerships in growing wood. This trend is likely to accelerate and impact the forest sector — including policies and institutions.

We are also witnessing increased community participation in forest and tree resource management. Again pioneering work has been done in the Asia–Pacific region in community forestry — for example joint forest management in India, forest user groups in Nepal and community-based management in the Philippines. This will continue to broaden and deepen, especially in the context of changes in tenure and as communities gain experience and develop new approaches for improved management based on experience with first generation initiatives.

The emergence of civil society organizations, in particular national and international NGOs, is another major development and this has provided a unique opportunity for forestry. It may be quite appropriate to point out that it is largely due to the efforts of international and national NGOs that forests and forestry are at the top of the agendas of discussion at international and national levels. Many of them have helped to explore alternative approaches to forestry, especially underpinning the social and environmental dimensions.

On the whole, there will be many demands on forests from diverse interest groups and resolving the conflicts will require a clear understanding of the trade-offs and, more important, the ability to reach a consensus. The role of the public sector is changing from that of manager to facilitator, providing a favourable environment for the new players to perform efficiently and minimizing conflicts. Increasingly this will require knowledge and skills that are not inherent strengths among many existing public sector forestry agencies.

Globalization and the emergence of a borderless world

A characteristic of the second half of the twentieth century and the twenty-first century is the rapid pace of globalization. Globalization is not an alien concept and there has always been interaction between countries, cultures and people. However, what we are witnessing now is unprecedented. Whether we like it or not, no country or people are outside its purview, especially on account of the rapid growth of communication and transportation technologies. Capital, knowledge and to some extent labour are moving across national borders rapidly; this has already impacted forests and forestry and will continue to do so in the coming years. Wood is produced in one country, processed in another and sold and consumed in another, all influenced by changing competitiveness. Trade liberalization and economic shifts have accentuated the globalization process, often driven by multinational corporations.

We are thus quickly becoming a global village, facilitated by the development of information and communication technologies. Capital moves across borders at the click of a mouse, enhancing opportunities as well as posing a number of challenges. Ecology and economics seldom respect national boundaries and no country can exist in isolation. What happens to forests and forestry in one country is very much dependent on what happens in other countries, whether it is the increasing demand for wood and wood products, forest fires, logging bans, taxes on log exports, invasive species, spread of pests and diseases and a host of other transboundary issues.

Changes in Asia and the Pacific

Probably nowhere in the world is globalization as pronounced as in the Asia–Pacific region. It is the fastest growing region in the world and in a way has become the engine of global economic growth; it is spearheaded by a number of mature developed economies, several newly industrialized economies and most importantly large emerging economies such as China and India. The pace of economic development and consequent societal changes is unprecedented; this implies that forests and forestry will be different in the future compared to the status quo. Let me indicate some of the issues that need to be addressed in the context of these societal changes.

Rapid growth of demand for wood and wood products

One of the major issues that forestry in the region will have to address is the accelerating demand for wood and wood products stemming from the rapidly growing economies; this will result in rapid growth of imports. For example in 1990 the Asia–Pacific region imported wood and wood products (including secondary wood products) worth about US$39 billion and this increased to US$88 billion by 2005. As all of you are aware, China has become the largest importer of tropical timber and India is also making its mark on the global wood markets. Considering the current low levels of consumption and the rapid growth of income, demand for wood and wood products will continue to grow, exerting pressure on the forests within and outside the region.

Geographical shifts in wood industries

The Asia–Pacific region is not only becoming a major consumer/importer of wood and wood products. With respect to products and services, a number of countries have become major producers of wood and wood products, increasing their share in exports. China, Viet Nam, Malaysia and Indonesia have emerged as important producers of furniture. Within a short period China has become the leading exporter of wooden furniture, outpacing countries like Italy and Germany. Recent years have seen a boom in investments in panel production and the pulp and paper industry in China partly to meet increasing domestic demand, but also to cater to other markets. For example China’s forest product exports increased from about US$1 billion in 1990 to about US$16 billion by 2005. Low labour costs and a favourable investment climate have enhanced the competitive advantage of many of the countries in the region, resulting in the rapid growth of manufacturing, including in wood products.

Environmental challenges

However rapid economic growth has its costs, the most important being environmental degradation, especially loss of biodiversity, land degradation, declining water quality and more importantly increased emission of greenhouse gases that contributes to climate change. As many of these issues will be discussed in the next three days I will not dwell on them. All that I would like to emphasize is that deforestation remains a critical issue in the region with all of its local, national and global consequences. As the region races ahead in economic growth, there will be an increasing need to combat and mitigate adverse environmental impacts. Environmental costs will become extremely prohibitive and there is already evidence suggesting that the real growth rate of economies after accounting for environmental costs will be much lower than what is indicated by conventional national income accounting.

Fortunately, there are signs of change, especially as society becomes relatively rich resulting in a better appreciation of the quality of environment. Increased awareness coupled with willingness to invest in environmental improvement is already having its impact in the region. The Asia– Pacific region is at the forefront of afforestation and reforestation, and accounts for nearly half of the forest plantations in the world.

Increasing demand for energy

One important aspect that we need to keep in mind is the increasing demand for energy in the Asia–Pacific region and its direct and indirect implications on forests and forestry. Rapid economic growth necessarily requires higher energy inputs, notwithstanding efforts to enhance energy efficiencies. Almost all countries are exploring options to enhance energy security and often national security is equated with it. In the Asia–Pacific region almost three-fourths of the wood produced is used as fuel and this has important implications on the state of forests and woodlands. Traditionally forests and woodlands have provided the impoverished with energy. However, increasing emphasis on energy security and the focus on biofuels is expected to change this situation. While first generation biofuel initiatives are focused on oil-producing crops — for example Jatropha, oil-palm — this is likely to change significantly as the next generation of biofuel technologies emerges. We are still far from understanding the economic, social and environmental aspects of such energy scenarios.

Social issues

While the rapid growth of the economies of Asia and the Pacific has helped significantly to reduce poverty, the region still has a very high proportion of the poor. There is growing concern about increasing income disparities, largely attributed to the asymmetries of globalization. Notwithstanding the significant reduction in poverty, the Asia–Pacific region still has about 900 million poor people with an income of less than US$1/day — accounting for almost half of the world’s poor. The persistence of poverty has direct and indirect implications on forests and forestry. The poor, especially the landless and marginal farmers, are highly dependent on forests and woodlands for a wide range of products and services and this has important implications on management practices. It is however important to clearly understand what forests and forestry can and what they cannot do to help alleviate poverty.

We should also be aware that marginalization of people and underdevelopment of forested regions have generated increased conflicts. Extremist movements in many countries, including in the Asia–Pacific region, are centred in impoverished and underdeveloped rural areas. Large tracts of forests remain out of bounds for foresters and forest management. Social and economic development of these regions will require forestry to play a crucial role, especially by creating employment and income and building up social and physical infrastructure. Forestry cannot escape from its larger social responsibilities especially in less developed forested regions.

The need to think outside the box

Evidently, to function efficiently in a rapidly changing environment, it is critical to understand the larger changes and identify the various options available. Specifically this requires us to better understand:

It is in this context that FAO in collaboration with its member countries and other partners is undertaking global and regional outlook studies that provide the larger and long-term picture of changes and to place forests and forestry in the context of such larger changes. The ongoing Asia–Pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study is part of our programme of regional outlook studies and updates the earlier study completed in 1998 and projects the outlook to 2020. Broadly the objectives of this and other regional outlook studies are to:

The primary thrust of these outlook studies is to provide a better perspective of how the environment in which we operate (outside the forest sector and at regional and global levels) is evolving in the future. Most often we focus attention on the past and pay far too little attention to how the future is unfolding. Consequently, events overtake our actions and most often we are reactionary instead of proactive. More often forest policies tend to address yesterday’s problems and our institutions are not designed to proactively create a better future. The marginalization of the forestry profession is largely due to the failure to understand the changing needs of societies and to proactively address them.

Questions and issues for consideration

This conference has been organized as part of the consultative process of the Outlook Study, to gain better insight into what the future holds for forests and forestry in the Asia–Pacific region and what we may do to enhance society’s welfare. In the next three days we will have an opportunity to discuss the varied dimensions of the future, especially how society and its perceptions are likely to change, the challenges in balancing economic, social and environmental needs and adaptations required to address the needs of the twenty-first century’s society. Our primary focus is to raise questions and issues relating to the future, articulate a broad understanding of how the future is going to unfold and how we may revisit our priorities and strategies. While we could raise several questions, let me provide an initial list that could be the starting point for our discussions:

While there could be many more such questions and we may not be able to find immediate answers to all of them, raising these issues is a critical first step. The more we raise questions and critically examine many of the assumptions, the better equipped we are to address the emerging challenges. Even with the most sophisticated models, understanding the future is difficult, especially on account of the plethora of uncertainties. But there is no escape from not considering the future: The past is history and the present is here and probably we have little flexibility in designing it. We have many more opportunities in dealing with the future, although as indicated it is riddled with uncertainties. But that makes it much more interesting and challenging, to sharpen our ability to look ahead and to visualize new paths that will serve the needs of society in a better way. So let us stay focused on the future and explore how we can make it better, especially for generations to come.

In conclusion, let me once again thank you for accepting our invitation to come to Chiang Mai to join this exciting discussion on the future. I hope your stay here will be intellectually satisfying and enjoyable. I also take this opportunity to thank our host, the Government of Thailand and in particular the Royal Forest Department, without whose help, it would not have been possible to organize this event. Also I would like to thank our many collaborators and sponsors for their support in organizing this meeting.

1 Assistant Director-General, FAO Forestry Department.

The World's forests—an evoloving perspective on politics, policies and practices

Jagmohan S. Maini1

While the Sovereignty Principle is universally accepted, the emergence of forests as an international issue in the late 1980s is attributed to the consequences of unacceptable rates of deforestation and the degradation of the environmental and socio-economic conditions of people living in and around forests as well as of humankind globally. Diverse priority concerns about forests in different countries, based on per capita forest endowment and per capita income, can be clustered into “four realities”, namely, (i) forest-rich industrialized countries, (ii) forest-poor industrialized countries, (iii) forest-rich developing countries and (iv) forest-poor developing countries. An analysis of the dynamic interface between these four realities is presented in terms of: political and policy space occupied by forests; Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) and their turf battles, resulting in a fractionalized forest agenda; and international trade; investment and international cooperation.

Forest issues and opportunities are now considered at an ever-increasing and interconnected geographic scale — from local (e.g. forest management units) to subnational, national, transboundary and regional (ecological and political) and up to global levels. Five principal components of sustainable forest management (i.e. economic equity, social equity, ecological integrity, governance and extra-territorial considerations) operate at different geographic levels and involve different governance structures and approaches to participatory decision-making. Multiple benefits provided simultaneously by forests have resulted in multiple beneficiaries and constituencies, often with conflicting demands. Forestry is a cross-sectoral issue and policy instruments to address most forest-related issues, such as deforestation, forest degradation and illegal logging, usually lie outside the mandates of agencies responsible for forest management. A similar situation exists in multilateral organizations.

An International Forest Regime, including a Non-Legally Binding Instrument represents the progress made in intergovernmental forest policy. Some major challenges facing the forest community are discussed and five priority forest issues are identified, including a decline in the political status and high-level political support for forests as well as national and multilateral agencies dealing with forests. Some proposals for corrective actions are presented.

Keywords: forest policy and politics, fractionalized agenda, forest priorities, forest regime, international cooperation


Forests, covering about 30 percent of the world’s land surface (FAO 2007), constitute a major component of the planet’s life-support system. It is widely recognized that the socioeconomic and environmental well-being of forest dwellers, as well as of people worldwide, is closely associated with the health of forests and their sustained ability to provide a wide range of socio-economic and environmental benefits. It is universally recognized, as also noted in Forest Principle 1(a), agreed by UNCED, that states have “the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental policies and have the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of the other states or areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction” (Grayson 1995). There has been a significant evolution in the scale and scope of forest issues since their initial emergence at the high-level international political forum in 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro.

International deliberations on forests and on other related sectors, as well as dynamic geopolitical development have impacted on forests and on their contributions to human well-being. A broad global perspective on forest-related politics, policies and practices is presented as a context to the deliberations at the international conference on the Future of Forests in Asia and the Pacific: Outlook for 2020. The topics examined include: the driving forces leading to the emergence of forests on the international political agenda and the current fractionation of the global forest agenda; the expanding scale and scope of forest issues; progress in forest policy and practices since Rio; and some major challenges faced by the forest community. A number of observations and suggestions are presented to address the challenges ahead.

Emergence of forests on the international political agenda

“Forests”, among the most controversial issues deliberated on at the Earth Summit in Rio, were raised by unacceptable rates of deforestation and forest degradation that were continuing at an alarming rate. In context of the universally recognized Sovereignty Principle, the emergence of forests on the international political agenda is largely associated with the consequences of deforestation and forest degradation that extend beyond the borders of the countries where the forests are located, including: loss of environmental benefits and services, such as biodiversity; violation of human, cultural and land rights (of forest dwellers) in certain affected areas; increasing demands in developed countries for forest products from certified, sustainably managed forests and the promotion of bans and boycotts of forest products from certain countries; and transboundary impacts, such as degradation of migratory species’ habitats, quality and quantity of downstream water from degraded water catchments of international rivers and hazards associated with the transport of smoke from forest fires and airborne pollutants on human and forest health. It was the wide range of extra-territorial dimensions such as environmental international trade, human rights, human and forest health as well as the transboundary consequences of deforestation and forest degradation that catapulted forests onto the international political arena. It is interesting to note however that it was not the forest community but civil society that raised the red flag that all was not well with the forests of the world and the world of forests.

World forest cover: an overview

It is useful to examine some aspects of the distribution of the forest cover around the world that have influenced the intergovernmental deliberations and the politics, policies and practices related to forests. According to FAO (2007), nearly 4 billion hectares of forest cover about 30 percent of the world’s land area. Boreal and temperate forests occupy about 44 percent, tropical forests about 47 percent and subtropical forests about 9 percent of the world’s forest cover. However this forest cover is unevenly distributed: Five countries, namely, Brazil, Canada, China, the Russian Federation and the United States of America, collectively account for nearly 50 percent; another seven countries for 60 percent; and 25 countries for 82 percent. The remaining 18 percent of the world’s forest cover is shared by 170 countries. Sixty-four countries, located mostly in North Africa, West Asia and small islands, have less than 10 percent of their land forested and are recognized as “low forest cover countries”. At the global level, forest area per capita is estimated to be about 0.62 hectare. These statistics show that boreal and temperate forests cover about the same land area as tropical forests and that the world’s forest cover is very unevenly distributed. These are the “have” and the “have-not” countries, the so-called “Forest-Rich” and “Forest-Poor” nations, respectively.

“Four realities” based on forest endowment and economic development

It has been suggested that forest-related priorities in a country are determined by per capita forest cover as an indicator of forest endowment and per capita income as an indicator of economic development (Maini 1996; 2003). Based on these two indicators, a typology of “four realities” has been proposed as a preliminary diagnostic tool to understand the forest-related priorities of individual countries as well as to recognize potential alliances and partnerships among countries to pursue common interests (Figure 1).

Figure 1. A typology showing the influence of per capita income and per capita forest cover priority concerns* of some countries (Maini 1996; 2003)

Based on their per capita forest endowment, countries can be classified into two broad categories, namely, Forest-Rich (FR) and Forest-Poor (FP). Similarly, based on per capita income, two broad categories of countries can be recognized, namely, Industrialized (I) countries with high per capita income and Developing (D) countries with low per capita income. Combining these two indicators, it is possible to cluster the countries into the following four realities: (i) Forest-Rich Industrialized (FRI); (ii) Forest-Poor Industrialized (FPI); (iii) Forest-Rich Developing (FRD); and (iv) Forest-Poor Developing (FPD) countries. Forest-related areas of priority concern influencing their national policies as well as the positions of these countries in intergovernmental negotiation may be summarized as follows:

The proposed typology of the four realities also provides a general global framework to understand the interface between international forest policy and a number of other forest-related policy fields, as well as the demand, supply, trade and investment related to forest products.

Expanding international trade and investment in forest products

Forest-poor industrialized countries rely heavily on offshore sources to meet their demands for industrial wood and wood products. While nearly 80 percent of the wood harvested in industrialized countries is used as industrial wood and about 20 percent as fuelwood, the situation is the reverse in developing countries. Until recently, nearly 80 percent of international trade in forest products has been among OECD countries. However, there has been a recent increase in the market share by developing countries of raw material as well as manufactured products. An increase in per capita income is directly related to an increase in per capita consumption of forest products. With the expanding economies of India and China, there has been a significant increase in their demand for wood and forest products that is being met from other forest-rich countries. Recent developments in China are particularly significant where the export of forest products reached US$15.5 billion while imports rose to US$11.7 billion in the first half of 2007 (AFX Asia/Festiva 2007). China’s forest plantations, established by domestic and international financial investment, total 53.65 million hectares, the highest planted forest area in the world. There is a surplus of investment capital in the world and politically stable countries in tropical regions with good governance; thus short-rotation forest plantations appear to be attractive for investment in forests and forestry.

Fractionation of the forest agenda

A wide range of multiple benefits provided simultaneously by forests has resulted in an equally wide range of beneficiaries, constituencies and special interest groups. A survey conducted by the Secretariat of the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests showed that there are at least 20+ international agreements and 40+ international institutions engaged in forests and forest-related issues. The interface between forests and a few forest-relevant selective international agreements is analysed hereunder.

Forest policy and the Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs)

There are considerable interactions and potentials for synergies (UNDP 1997) between: the development and implementation of international forest policy deliberated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF), Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF) and more recently, the Non-Legally Binding Instrument (NLBI) by the UN Forum on Forests (UNFF). The three MEAs agreed by UNCED were the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) and the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD) as well as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The interface between the three UNCED MEAs and international forest policy reveals interesting areas of convergence of strategic interests.

During the past 15 years, the IPF, IFF and UNFF have formulated many proposals for action related to components of international forest policy. At the same time, the three MEAs noted above and CITES also include a number of forest-related elements and actions. This situation has led to a number of overlays of convergent and conflicting interests, involving senior political levels, both nationally and multilaterally. It is a continuing challenge to build consensus among policy and technical experts at national and international levels, to develop a coherent and coordinated approach towards sustainable forest management (SFM) and to enhance the contribution of forests to human well-being worldwide.

Evolving perspective on forests

Expanding scope and scale of forest issues

Forests are no longer considered as nature’s factories that produce wood to be delivered to the mill gate or to the stalls selling fuelwood. During the past two decades, there has been a significant evolution in the conceptual framework guiding forest management, i.e. from sustained yield to sustainable forest management; this requires a corresponding shift from forest management to forest ecosystem management for multiple benefits (Maini 1989). Furthermore, the conceptual framework guiding SFM now includes increasing consideration of good governance and avoidance of the negative consequences of human interventions beyond the borders of a country. The following five components of SFM, combining biophysical and human dimensions, are: (i) social equity, (ii) economic equity, (iii) ecosystem integrity, (iv) good governance and (v) extraterritorial impacts (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Interface between the SFM principles and the geographic scope of forest issues.

International deliberations on forest policy as well as on forest-related elements within MEAs have broadened the geographic scale of forest issues. Decisions at multilateral fora have a direct impact on consideration of forests at the regional level and on forest policy at the national, subnational and local levels (Figure 2). Two categories of regional deliberations are receiving increased political attention, namely, ecological regions such as the Congo Basin and political regions such as the European Union. The Ministerial Conference for the Protection of Forests in Europe is an excellent example of the progress in SFM attributed to close cooperation among countries in the region involving strong high-level political guidance, commitment and accountability. The Amazon Basin region is of particular interest from the point of view of forests, where the ecological region is influenced by a political institution, namely, the Amazon Cooperation Treaty (ACT). The Asia–Pacific region includes the small island developing states (SIDS), many international organizations such as the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) and the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), FAO RAP and the office of the current president and the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO).

Several regional and subregional treaties and cooperation arrangements between countries operate here (FAO 1998). FAO’s regional forest commissions perform a critical function in facilitating the advancement of the forest agenda in this as well as in other regions of the world.

Forests as a cross-sectoral issue

In Agenda 21, agreed by UNCED, references to forests are made 285 times in nearly 50 percent of the 40 chapters.2 This extensive reference to forests, made without any lobbying from the forest community, reflects the cross-sectoral nature of forests and the many constituencies, beneficiaries and special interest groups with strong interest in forests. This observation further re-enforces the expanding scope and scale of forests noted above (Figure 2). Forest is a politically sensitive cross-sectoral issue and SFM involves understanding the ecology of forests and the sociology of decision-making at various geographic scales. Forest ecosystems and human systems are both dynamic and understanding the constantly evolving interface between the two is a constantly moving target.

Progress in forest policy since UNCED


Intergovernmental deliberations at the Earth Summit in Rio were conducted on the foundations of the international policy framework for environment and sustainable development laid by the UN Conference on Human Environment held in Stockholm, 1972 and the report of the Brundtland Commission. The deliberations and decisions by the IPF, IFF, UNFF and the non-governmental World Forest Commission, supported by the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF) and numerous so-called “Country-led Initiatives” (CLIs) have contributed significantly to clarify the nature of complex, politically sensitive forest issues (Greyson 1995; Greyson and Maynard 1997; Soderlund and Pottinger 2001). The CLIs have helped consensus building towards the adoption of Proposals for Action (PFA) to address many controversial forest issues. The positive contribution of CLIs is attributed to the mobilization of knowledge of thousands of experts and to the cosponsorship of CLIs by both developing and industrialized countries as well as by civil society. Recognizing the great political and environmental diversity in the world, the guidelines for the implementation of the PFA are intended to be adjusted to reflect the political, environmental, socio-economic and cultural realities of Sovereign States. Major contributions by the IPF, IFF and UNFF include: formulating guidelines for National Forest Programmes (NFPs); developing SFM criteria and indicators by about 155 countries in nine regional processes covering about 85 percent of the world’s forest cover; highlighting the concerns of low forest cover countries; recognizing that international cooperation programmes should be country-driven rather than donor-driven; and more open and participatory decision-making process. Recent publications, many sponsored by multiple institutions (for example by FAO, CIFOR, ITTO,

IUFRO and other organizations), have made significant contributions to clarifying and addressing many cross-sectoral issues. At its Seventh Session held in 2007, the UNFF reached a landmark decision to adopt a Non-Legally Binding Instrument (NLBI) after nearly 12 years of very intense negotiations (UNFF 2007). Declining international cooperation towards capacity building in developing countries remains an issue of major concern (Savcor Indufor Oy 2006).

Are we lost in a political jungle?

The forest community is now facing enormous challenges in mobilizing high-level political support to implement the forest agenda at national, regional and global levels. Forest policy is not the primary driving force in most countries but tends to be a residual policy field. While forests were a priority on the international political agenda at UNCED, as well as for a few subsequent years, political support for forests has declined during the past few years, as exemplified by the recent G8 and other ministerial declarations. There appears to be a decline in the political status of national agencies responsible for forests; support for multilateral agencies engaged in forests; the Official Development Assistance (ODA) specifically targeted at forests; and the status of forest faculties in many universities around the world.

The major challenge facing the forest community

There has been a distinct shift in high-level political priorities in the launch of this millennium. The current focus is on human/societal well-being, particularly on equitable social, economic and political development (The Cropper Foundation 2001) and combating terrorism while support for forests per se appears to be declining. Whereas many other “beneficiary” sectors at UNCED were explicitly connected with forests, has the forest sector moved much “beyond the mill gate” and articulated effectively the significant contribution of forests to “societal well-being”? The forest community collectively has not clearly established a meaningful partnership with various constituencies benefiting from forests and mobilized their political support for forests. There is an urgent need for the forest community, at all levels, to be actively and visibly engaged in and influencing selective broader societal issues, even those that may be controversial. There is a need to “humanize” forests. A high-level political personality to champion the cause of forests is urgently warranted.

Critical overarching issues and opportunities

Among many issues and opportunities facing the forest community, the following five are identified as high priority for the forest community.

Critical issues facing the UNFF are also relevant to the Asia–Pacific region.

An overview of observations and experiences

Per capita income and per capita forest cover appear to be important factors in defining forest-related priorities in a country. During recent years the geographic scale and the conceptual framework for SFM have expanded considerably to include social, economic, ecological, governance and extra-territorial dimensions. Multiple benefits provided simultaneously by forests have resulted in multiple beneficiaries, constituencies and institutions with overlapping mandates. A number of forest-related elements are included in MEAs agreed at UNCED and in CITES. This situation has led to overlays of convergent and conflicting interests over the political space occupied by forests at national and international levels.

Significant progress has been made towards an International Forest Regime that includes the Forest Principles agreed by UNCED, the recent UNFF agreement on the NLBI and forest-related elements in MEAs. Managing forest as a cross-sectoral issue requires building partnerships with other sectors to advance forest agendas. The CPF, chaired by FAO, is an outstanding example of international interagency partnership.

The context surrounding the forest sector has changed significantly since the beginning of this millennium. The high-level political community is now placing high priority on achieving the MDGs. It is critical that the forest agenda is actively articulated in terms of its contribution to achieving the MDGs while anchored in UNCED’s Forest Principles and the commitments associated with the recently agreed NLBI.

The Asia–Pacific region is a very dynamic and rapidly evolving microcosm of the global political, policy, environmental and forest landscape. There is an impressive wealth of expertise and experience in the region (Durst et al. 2005). Formulation of the Outlook for 2020 will need to be relevant to the high-level political agenda, particularly for achieving the MDGs.

1 Adjunct Professor Faculty of Forestry, University of Toronto, Canada.

2 Agenda 21 Chapters (abbreviated titles) referring to forests include: Ch. 5: Demographic Dynamics; Ch. 7: Human Settlements; Ch. 8: Integrated Decision Making; Ch. 9: Atmosphere; Ch. 10: Land Resources; Ch. 11: Combating Deforestation; Ch. 12: Combating Desertification; Ch. 13: Mountain Development; Ch. 14: Agriculture and Rural Development; Ch. 15: Biodiversity; Ch. 16: Biotechnology; Ch. 17; Oceans; Ch. 18: Water; Ch. 24: Women and Equitable Development; Ch. 26: Indigenous People and their Communities; Ch. 32: Farmers and Ch. 40: Information for Decision Makers.


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