Forests were among the most controversial issues considered at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 1992. The prevailing North-South polarization concerning forests did not permit agreements beyond the text of the "Non-Legally Binding Authoritative Statement of Principles for a Global Consensus on the Management, Conservation and Sustainable Development of All Types of Forests" (the so-called "Forest Principles") and Chapter 11 of Agenda 21 ("Combating deforestation").
By contrast, the "post-Rio" period 1992 to 1995 was one of confidence building and emerging North-South partnerships. This climate enabled the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) to establish the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) at its third session in April 1995. IPF was set up for a two-year period and tasked with furthering the initiatives started at UNCED and encouraging international consensus on key issues related to forests.
By the time IPF completed its work in February 1997, it had developed over 100 negotiated proposals for action on issues related to sustainable forest management, including national forest programmes; forest assessment; criteria and indicators; traditional forest-related knowledge; and underlying causes of deforestation. These proposals for action have received worldwide recognition and endorsement by a large number of intergovernmental and professional fora, including: the fifth session of CSD, Earth Summit +5 (the Special Session of the General Assembly to Review and Appraise the Implementation of Agenda 21 - UNGASS); the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC); the 1997 session of FAO's Committee on Forestry (COFO); the International Tropical Timber Council (ITTC); the fourth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity; the meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government in Edinburgh, United Kingdom 1997; the G8 Summit in Birmingham, United Kingdom; and the third Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe (see below for more details).
Other indirect effects of the IPF process included:
The outcome of IPF was endorsed by the fifth session of CSD in April 1997. Various matters, however, were left pending, including issues related to finance and transfer of technology, trade and environment, institutions and legal instruments. In view of these remaining issues, UNGASS, held in June 1997, recommended a continuation of the intergovernmental policy dialogue on forests. Subsequently, ECOSOC, at its meeting in Geneva in July 1997, decided to establish the ad hoc open-ended Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF) under CSD. IFF will submit a progress report to the seventh session of CSD in 1999 and its final report to the eighth session of CSD in 2000.
IFF's first session (October 1997) established its programme of work, which falls into three main categories:
Two bodies were instrumental in IPF's work and continue to support the intergovernmental process through IFF: the Interagency Task Force on Forests (ITFF),35 set up in 1995 to ensure coherent support to IFF by the UN system; and the Forestry Advisers Group (composed of forest advisers of development agencies from donor countries), which helps ensure consistency between international cooperation programmes and IPF proposals.
To structure the support from the UN agencies, ITFF prepared and presented to UNGASS in June 1997 an implementation plan for the IPF proposals addressed to international organizations. This plan, entitled "Interagency partnership on forests: implementation of IPF proposals for action by the ITFF", indicates the agency that will take the lead for each proposal for action (see Box 24).
Lead agencies responsible for coordinating follow-up to IPF proposals for action
· FAO: national forest and land use programmes; fragile ecosystems affected by desertification and drought; impact of airborne pollution on forests; assessment of the multiple benefits of all types of forest; criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management; technology transfer for sustainable forest management (originally under UNDP).
The Forestry Advisers Group has attempted to structure international cooperation so that it is consistent with IPF's proposals for action. In addition, it has agreed to give high priority to supporting national forest programmes.
The second session of IFF (Geneva, Switzerland, August to September 1998) included review of progress on implementation of IPF proposals; substantive discussions on trade and environment, transfer of technology and forest-related work of international and regional organizations and that being carried out under existing instruments; and background discussions on the programme elements scheduled for substantive discussion at IFF's third session (May 1999). In addition, special attention was paid to the needs of developing countries with low forest cover. Many critical issues, however, remained unresolved, including:
Various planned government-led initiatives related to these and other issues were announced.
Because of divergent views among countries, a general agreement regarding the need for a global legally binding instrument on forests remained elusive. A government-led initiative on the third category of IFF's programme of work was announced by the governments of Costa Rica and Canada. This initiative will consist of expert meetings and regional consultations on international arrangements and mechanisms to promote the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests. The first global meeting is scheduled to take place in Costa Rica in February 1999, to be followed by regional consultations and a final meeting in Canada in 2000.
34 The Six-Country Initiative was an effort made in 1997-1998 by Finland, Germany, Indonesia, Honduras, Uganda and the United Kingdom to review the implementation of IPF proposals for action at the national level. The initiative culminated at the International Expert Meeting on Putting the IPF Proposals for Action into Practice at the National Level, held in Baden-Baden, Germany in July 1998. The national case studies prepared and the results of the Baden-Baden meeting have been noted by the second session of IFF.
35 ITFF consists of the following organizations: the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR); FAO; the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO); the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD); the United Nations Department for Social and Economic Affairs; the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); and the World Bank.