Item 6 of the Provisional Agenda


Rome, Italy, 12-16 March 2001


Secretariat Note

Table of Contents


Criteria and indicators are important tools to assess, report and monitor status and trends in sustainability of forest management. The need to continue efforts in this field was reiterated by the 14th session of the Committee on Forestry, and endorsed by the 2nd Ministerial Meeting on Forestry. "The Rome Declaration on Forestry", issued by the Ministers, called on FAO to "... facilitate and give support to national, regional and international processes related to forests, especially enhancing the implementation of national forest programmes and criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management".

This note describes the activities and progress of international and regional processes and initiatives in the development and implementation of criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. It discusses the relationship between criteria and indicators and certification efforts, highlights the complementarities between criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management and forest certification, and reviews possible implications of certification for trade in forest products. The note also outlines FAO's role and proposed future activities in these subject areas.


1. While sustaining the production of wood and timber has commonly been a stated aim of forest management in the past, the concept of sustainable forest management has been recently conceptually broadened to include, in a balanced manner, economic, environmental, social and cultural dimensions.

2. Countries have worked towards a common understanding of the concept of sustainable forest management, in line with the Forest Principles agreed at UNCED, through the development of common criteria, and have agreed upon a number of indicators by which sustainability of management can be assessed, monitored and reported.

3. Sustainable forest management in the broad sense described above, aimed at ensuring the continued availability of wood and non-wood products and environmental, social and cultural services which forests and forest ecosystems provide, is the basis for sustainable development of the forestry sector. Defining sustainable forest management in terms of present and future national and local priorities, and translating agreed principles into action to realise and sustain the full range of values of forests, is a major challenge.


4. In response to the need to arrive at a general understanding of the concept of sustainability, Government institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private forestry sector are in the process of developing criteria and indicators to define, assess, monitor and report on progress towards sustainable forest management and the effects of forest management interventions, or non-intervention, on forests and forest ecosystems.

5. National-level criteria help define the concept of sustainable forest management and define the range of forest values to be considered and the essential principles against which the sustainability of forest management may be assessed. Each criterion relates to a key element of sustainability, described by one or more indicators. Indicators are tools to assess and monitor status, changes and trends over time. They are used to measure and monitor status and trends in quantitative and qualitative attributes which reflect the values underlying each criterion. Changes over time will indicate whether a country is moving towards, or away from, sustainability in forest management, as defined by the established criteria.

6. Criteria and indicators are tools which will help guide national policies, regulations and legislation, and which will help countries monitor and report on status and overall trends in forest management. Desirable developments will be demonstrated by positive aggregate trends in the identified indicators. Based on information on the trends at national level, and on forecasts for the future based on these, policy and decision making can be rationalised and action can be adjusted and improved.

7. The ultimate aim is to promote the implementation of improved forest management practices and to further the development of a healthier and more productive forest estate to meet economic, environmental, social and cultural needs in accordance with national policies, institutional frameworks and financial possibilities.


8. National-level criteria and indicators are being complemented by the development and implementation of criteria and indicators defined at the forest management unit level. A number of the on-going international criteria and indicators processes have recently developed forest management unit level criteria and indicators in addition to those at national level.

9. The criteria at forest management unit level will likely be identical or very similar to those defined at national level, albeit with more flexibility in weighting and with the possibility of compensating lower priority given to a specific criterion, at any one time, in one forest area, with complementary action in another.

10. The forest management unit level indicators, on the other hand, will depend on local, often site-specific, environmental factors such as forest type and topography, in addition to local economic and social considerations and priorities. Forest management unit level indicators may thus differ between individual forest areas in any one country, at any one time, in accordance with prevailing conditions, priorities and objectives of management, while a balance of such needs should be assured at aggregate, national level. Forest management unit and national-level criteria and indicators must be mutually compatible to help ensure complementarity over the country.

11. Implementation of criteria and indicators at the forest management unit level will help adjust and improve field level forest management prescriptions and practices over time. Regular monitoring will help ensure that aggregate trends satisfy established national sustainability goals in the forestry sector as a whole.


12. The importance placed on the development and implementation of criteria and indicators by countries has resulted in nine major international initiatives: the Pan-European, Montreal, Tarapoto, Dry-Zone Africa, Near East, Central America/Lepaterique and the Dry-Forest Asia processes and/or initiatives, and action taken by the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) and the African Timber Organization (ATO).

13. These initiatives and processes are conceptually similar in objectives and overall approach, although differing in detail. Criteria of all of them, at the national level, centre on seven or eight globally agreed elements of sustainable forest management. This similarity has two important implications: (i) the concept and definition of sustainability is virtually the same in all processes; and (ii) mutual recognition, facilitating a common approach to the measurement, analysis and assessment of sustainability, is likely to be feasible.

14. Currently some 140 countries participate in one or several of the major processes although the degree of implementation varies considerably. In many cases, action is limited by the lack of trained personnel or institutional capacity for collecting and analysing information and following up the development and implementation of improved management prescriptions.


15. Certification is one of a number of market-based instruments that may contribute to improved management of forests and improved forestry sector development. The goal is to link trade in forest products to the sustainable management of the forest resource, by providing buyers with information on the management standards of the forests from which the timber came. As an instrument it has both strengths and weaknesses which vary with the specific circumstances of the country, the ownership of the forests, the social environment and last, but certainly not least, the markets being served.

16. Criteria and indicators provide a means to measure, assess, monitor and demonstrate progress towards achieving sustainability of forest management in a given country or in a specified forest area, over a period of time. By contrast certification is a means to certify the achievement of certain, pre-defined minimum standards of forest management in a given forest area, at a given point in time, agreed between producers and consumers.

17. As criteria and indicators, at both national and forest management unit level, are neutral assessment tools for monitoring trends, they cannot be used as substitutes for minimum agreed-upon forest management standards which underpin certification. On the other hand, forest management unit level criteria and indicators can be used to guide the development of minimum standards of performance at the management unit level, thus indirectly linking criteria and indicators at this level with forest products certification.

18. While assessment results from criteria and indicators work cannot be compared between countries, the specified performance standards used for certification purposes can, by definition, be comparable. Certification processes need to be closely linked to national and forest management unit level criteria and indicators because a number of macro-level criteria for certification, such as the legal and policy frameworks, should be based on the national-level data provided within national criteria and indicators processes. A similar dependence of national-level criteria and indicators on certification, however, need not exist. In other words, certification, though helpful, is not a necessary condition for achieving sustainable forest management.

19. The main interest in certification has been for use as a tool for market promotion in contrast to national level criteria and indicators, which have been developed primarily to support and monitor efforts to manage forests sustainably. In principle, the two should contribute towards sustainable forest management, but in practice they can deviate since the final objectives are different. This dichotomy does not exist in national level processes developed specifically to meet requirements of certification. Also, the differences are less in national criteria and indicators processes such as ITTO's, which from the outset have also developed criteria and indicators for the forest management unit level.

20. Many countries which are involved in the development, testing and implementation of criteria and indicators are also aiming at eventually providing certified forest products. Some countries have addressed the two issues of sustainability indicators and common, minimum quality standards for certification in parallel, and have focussed on how best to achieve recognition or compatibility with other certification approaches, including that of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). They all involve wide participation of interested stakeholders, although the participation and influence of different groups varies.

21. Most countries have used the international criteria and indicators as the basis or starting point for their certification activities. For example a number of producing countries who are members of ITTO have used the ITTO Guidelines for the Sustainable Management of Tropical Forests; other countries have used the Pan-European or the Montreal Process, while yet others have used ISO standards. Almost all have taken note of the FSC Principles and Criteria and made efforts to ensure a degree of compatibility. Thus there has been a considerable degree of cross-fertilisation involved.

22. Most developing countries, while making progress in the development of criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management, are making slower progress in certification since the current status of much of the forest management in developing countries is further away from the defined criteria for sustainable forest management than is the case in most developed countries - and hence from standards of certification. Furthermore, knowhow, resources, institutions and, to some extent, commitment by governments are less well developed while in many situations it is still uncertain whether certification is necessary or even desirable. Finally, the benefits to be achieved from certification need to be substantiated.


23. The relationship between certification and trade includes the question of whether certification is necessary or desirable for forest management reasons, and is therefore a much more complex issue to address. Judgements about the desirability of undertaking certification, who would do it, how it would be done, and whether it is a government or private sector responsibility, vary between countries. Certification is being promoted for several reasons - from marketing to forest management and although by itself is unlikely to ensure sustainable forest management, it does have the potential to encourage efforts towards sustainable practices. There are a number of potential benefits, and some disadvantages, but the main motivation of those undertaking certification at present is more for marketing than for forest management reasons, e.g. to gain an advantage over other suppliers in some ecologically sensitive markets, and/or for market access reasons.

24. The important need is to focus on improved, sustainable management of those forests that are at present under threat. Interest in certification as a marketing tool is only of significance if it can play a major role in meeting this goal. If it cannot, then certification is a tool that should be left to private interests to use if useful and ignore if not. The goal is to ensure that all forests are better managed, not to ensure that only those that can meet certification standards are recognized.

25. There are still a number of unanswered or unresolved issues and uncertainties concerning certification, including:


26. The purpose of criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management is to improve forest management practices. Certification is a means to certify the achievement of pre-defined minimum standards of forest management in a given forest area, at a given point in time, agreed upon between producers and consumers.

27. Sustainable forest management is possible without certification, but the reverse is not the case. Products cannot be certified unless sustainably and well-managed forests exist and there is some way of objectively determining this. That is, certification, though helpful, is not a necessary condition for achieving sustainable forest management. Certification will not have a direct impact on achieving sustainable management, but it can have a valuable indirect effect.

28. National and forest management unit level criteria and indicators are a useful, though not essential, part of certification. National-level criteria and indicators processes are essential for sub-national, forest management unit level processes. A number of macro-level indicators important in certification, such as those related to the legal and policy framework, can be based on data provided within criteria and indicators processes. Here, certification should make full use national level programmes directly, or indirectly through related forest management unit level criteria and indicators programmes.

29. As stressed above, the goal of criteria and indicators processes is gradually improved forest management over time while the justification for a major thrust on certification also rests on this presumption. Certification efforts should therefore make use of national level programmes, directly or through related forest management unit level criteria and indicators, to the maximum extent possible, rather than see them as competitive. An important issue is how to develop a greater degree of mutual recognition.

30. Conversely, wherever possible, the various national efforts should make strenuous efforts to ensure that activities related to implementation of criteria and indicators are compatible with certification efforts. There is a need to address questions such as: are the processes equivalent to/sufficient for certification requirements? Can they, and do they, serve as a basis for certification efforts? If inadequate or incompatible with certification requirements, can they be modified, adjusted or developed further to more directly meet these requirements (and, is it important to do so)?


31. Criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management discussed and developed within the framework of international initiatives constitute a general framework, providing elements which countries should test and review at national level with the view to the identification of priority indicators applicable to the economic, environmental, social, institutional and ecological conditions in countries concerned.

32. It is generally agreed that, (i) all internationally identified indicators cannot be used and implemented with immediate effect, but consideration for their progressive inclusion in assessment and monitoring, as applicable, should be done in a step by step manner; (ii) the periodicity or time-span between periodic, national assessments will be determined by the institutional and economic possibilities of each country; (iii) developed as well as developing countries are in the early stages of implementation and field level assessment of indicators, underscoring the need for collaboration and exchange of information between initiatives, and among countries; (iv) attention should be given to coordinating measurement and collection of data related to the range of international commitments of countries, such as the international conventions on biological diversity, climate change and combatting desertification, and provision of information underpinning the periodic global forest resources assessments coordinated by FAO.

33. There is a need to continue efforts towards harmonisation and ensuring compatibility of concepts and terminology in forest resources assessment, sustainable forest management and other forest-related activities, which will serve as a basis for mutual understanding and recognition.

34. There is a need to continue to generate funding and increase resources at national and international levels, and to make vigorous efforts in country capacity building to underpin efforts towards improved and sustainable forest management.

35. There is a continued need to raise the awareness, at all levels, of issues, alternatives for action and likely consequences of non-action.


36. In its capacity as Task Manager in forestry among the United Nations agencies in follow-up action to UNCED, FAO supports and has acted as facilitator in the promotion of on-going international initiatives on national-level criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. In so doing, FAO works in close collaboration with secretariats of these initiatives, and with individual participating countries. It also closely coordinates action with that of international partners (notably UNEP, ITTO, CIFOR and IUFRO), facilitates country-driven work and helps strengthen linkages between on-going initiatives. FAO helps facilitate contacts and information flow among on-going, new and emerging processes and between these and other related programmes, such as national forest programmes and the global forest resources assessment in the forestry field; work within the framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity in the field of forest biological diversity indicators; and work of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in overall development indicator work.

37. In this respect, FAO in collaboration with UNEP, ITTO, CIFOR and IUFRO organized an Expert Consultation on Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management (15-17 November 2000), following a similar consultation held in 1995. In this consultation an overview of status at international level was made, with special reference to national-level criteria and indicators. Progress in the development and implementation of criteria and indicators was reviewed and ways to enhance cooperation, compatibility and common understanding among criteria and indicators processes was discussed. An important recommendation of the November 2000 Expert Consultation was the organization of a larger meeting with broader stakeholder involvement3.

38. Despite strong efforts by countries and international agencies and organizations, there are still gaps in eco-regional and country coverage in the development of criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. Regions not formally involved in on-going initiatives include inter alia a number of countries in Central Africa and in the Caribbean. Support to the involvement of countries in these and other regions and sub-regions which are presently not included but which are willing to participate in international initiatives, should be given high priority in the work programme of FAO.

39. FAO, in collaboration with national and international partners, should continue to promote and support the development and implementation of criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. Assistance to countries in the implementation of criteria and indicators at the forest management unit level, when countries so request, should be considered.

40. With regard to the above, it is proposed that priority be given to the following issues:

41. In the area of certification FAO will continue to maintain an interest in global trends and opportunities, related to both market and forest management aspects. As an Organization which acts as a neutral forum, it will assist where appropriate. In this respect, in association with the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and ITTO, FAO plans to hold a consultation dealing with the subject of mutual recognition between certification processes, to be held at FAO Headquarters, Rome, in early 2001.


1  Please refer to FAO's Forestry Information Note "Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management" for information on corresponding activities.

2  FAO's role and most recent activities in support of on-going international initiatives are detailed in FAO's Forestry Information Note on "Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management" (available on request).

3  A report of the Expert Consultation is available to the Committee.

4  The success in implementation of national level criteria and indicators does not depend solely on technical know-how but also in strong and lasting political support and commitment on the part of the Government and national forestry authorities. Continued and strengthened efforts in awareness raising in this respect are needed at all levels.