December 1996




Item 5 of the Provisional Agenda


Rome, Italy, 10-13 March 1997


Secretariat Note


During recent years there has been intensive debate and action on the follow-up of UNCED in forestry. This document provides a concise review of progress and identifies issues in five selected important areas: forest resource assessment, criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management, trade in forest products, national forest programmes and the international institutional framework.


1. Since the twelfth session of COFO and the ministerial meeting held in conjunction with it in March 1995, forestry matters have remained prominent on both international and national agendae. Great efforts have been made towards achieving sustainable forest management as a follow-up to the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and the agreements related to forestry. FAO has given high priority to providing support to the forestry activities of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) and related international initiatives and to assisting member countries in their activities to translate the UNCED intentions into national forest policies, strategies and programmes.

2. At its third session in April 1995, CSD reviewed progress in the implementation of UNCED's Agenda 21 in forestry i.e. Chapter 11, and 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 "Forest Principles"). The Director-General had forwarded to the Chair of CSD the Rome Declaration on Forests adopted by the ministerial meeting on forests. CSD decided to create the Inter-governmental Panel on Forests (IPF) with a broad mandate which included five areas of work: implementation of UNCED's decisions through the formulation and implementation of national forests and land use plans, international cooperation in financial assistance and technology transfer, forest assessment and development of criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management, trade and environment relating to forest products and services and international organizations and multilateral institutions and instruments including appropriate mechanisms. In order to assist IPF, an international secretariat was established in the United Nations, New York. In addition to the technical inputs provided by its Forestry Department, FAO outposted one senior forestry officer to strengthen the IPF secretariat. IPF met three times and its final session was held in February 1997 to prepare its report to the fifth session of CSD in April 1997. Delegates to be briefed during this COFO session on the results of the IPF deliberations.

3. The purpose of this document is to inform delegates and facilitate the discussion of selected aspects of particular importance at the current stage of efforts towards sustainable forest management and to seek COFO's views on issues arising from the analysis of these aspects. The document does not revisit all topics discussed by IPF. It is rather intended to give all COFO members the opportunity to discuss the current most important issues and provide advice to member governments, the international community and to FAO on future orientations of efforts. Section II reviews progress and issues relating to sustainable forest management. Section III proposes a number of actions on matters of concern to member countries and interest groups on which COFO may provide guidance.


4. The period since March 1995 when COFO last met has witnessed an intense level of activities both at international level and in many countries. IPF generated much analytical work and intense discussions in which many member countries and representatives of NGOs and the private sector were actively involved. A number of developed and developing countries organized international workshops on the topics on which IPF was working or on related subjects. An increasing number of countries from the developed as well as the developing world have revised or are in the process of revising their national forest policies, strategies and legislation. New policies and laws are accompanied by significant efforts of adaptation of the institutional framework for forestry which is also a reflection of the trends in many countries to reduce the role of the public sector. National forest programmes (NFPs) were formulated and launched in many countries covering all types of forests.

5. In reviewing progress and experience at national and international levels, five aspects emerge as critical in the efforts towards sustainable forest management and sustainable forestry. They are:

(i) the need for adequate information on the state of forest resources and on the understanding of factors affecting it; (ii) the definition of criteria and indicators of the sustainable management of forests; (iii) the development of trade in forest products; (iv) the launching of NFPs; and (v) the international institutional framework in support of effective cooperation in forestry.

Assessment and continuous observation of forest resources

6. In the context of FAO's Forest Resources Assessment 1990 (FRA 1990), a "Survey of tropical forest cover and study of change processes" (Forestry Paper 130) highlights the trends in land cover change by region and by climatic zone and the estimates of forest cover state and change which were based on country reports.

7. During its second and third sessions the IPF discussed global forest assessment. Reports from these sessions provide an overview of current status, recent developments and the outlook for the future.

8. For inclusion in the State of the world's forests report 1997, an update of FRA 1990 was made to provide an interim estimate of the status in 1995 and changes since 1990 regarding information on the world's forests. It is anticipated that such an update will not be prepared for the State of the world's forests report 1999, since a more in-depth report will be published in the year 2000 (FRA 2000).

9. FRA 2000 has been initiated. Major efforts are being made to respond to the demands for new information raised in international debate and formulated, among others, by IPF. Several expert meetings have been held, culminating with the expert consultation on global forest resources assessment 2000 in Kotka (Finland) in June 1996 (Kotka III)1. On that occasion recommendations were made as to the information content of FRA 2000 and the methodological approaches to be used. A process of strategic and operational planning for the assessment 2000 is under way with the multiple aim of (i) producing a work plan and (ii) specifying work modules for donors to sponsor or to which partners could contribute. Major issues for the near future are (i) mobilization of funds, securing the cooperation of countries and arranging partnerships and (ii) developing methods to acquire the new information requested.

10. Capacity building is one of the components of FAO's forest resources assessment programme, with the focus on developing assessment and systematic observations in a context of long-term planning, evaluating effects, quantitatively and qualitatively, and rectifying inadequacies. Funding has been received for a number of capacity building activities, both regional and in specific countries.

11. As a supplement to the forest resources assessment, FAO initiated a Global Fibre Supply Study which is now underway with the support of the Advisory Committee on Pulp and Wood Products. The objective of the study is to contribute reliable data, information and analysis of fibre sources in order to better estimate the global sustainable economic fibre supply up to the year 2010.

Criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management

12. UNCED led to heightened awareness at all levels of the need and feasibility to manage all kinds of forests sustainably, and of the role that forests can, and should, play in national development.

13. The definition of criteria for sustainable forest management has led to a general agreement on the essential elements of forest management and on the principles against which the sustainability of forests can be assessed. The identification of agreed-upon indicators serves as the basis for periodic, national-level assessment and monitoring of the overall effects of forest management interventions and the consequences of non-intervention. Monitoring progress of sustainable forest management against agreed criteria and indicators will allow action to be adjusted over time to better meet stated, overall aims and objectives in support of the various functions of forests recognized in Agenda 21 and the "Forest Principles".

14. A number of international processes are currently under way to help underpin the efforts of countries to comply with the above objectives. These include 1) the ITTO Guidelines and Criteria, which aim at supporting improved management of tropical forests; 2) the Montreal and the Helsinki processes, which have identified criteria and indicators for sustainable management of temperate and boreal zone forests outside of Europe, and European forests, respectively; 3) the Tarapoto Proposals for the sustainable management of the Amazon forests; 4) various processes underway for Dry-Zone Africa, Near East and Central America; and 6) various efforts by NGOs.

15. The six or, at times, seven criteria defined by the above international processes are identical, or very similar. While partly overlapping, it is on the other hand generally recognized that the indicators which correspond to identified criteria should be closely linked to national conditions, needs and priorities, and therefore vary both between processes and among countries participating in them.2

16. It is important that the present momentum be maintained, and that efforts be continued at international and national levels to vigorously pursue action aimed at the conceptualization and, above all, implementation of sustainable management of all kinds of forests. In this regard, it is suggested that the following issues need special attention:


in order to facilitate international dialogue, agencies such as FAO, IUFRO and CIFOR should continue their efforts to clarify key concepts related to sustainable forest management, and to harmonize terminology with that used in related fields of forestry;


efforts should be continued to involve those countries and ecological regions which are not participating in ongoing international initiatives. Full use should be made of already established mechanisms, existing international fora and sub-regional and regional groupings. Continued exchange of information, know-how and experience should be pursued to ensure comparability and compatibility between initiatives and to avoid duplication of effort;


special attention should be paid by governments and the international community to the need of strengthening national capacities to collect and compile reliable data for the monitoring of sustainability of forest management at national and at forest unit levels; and to help ensure that information generated is relevant, scientifically sound and technically valid and that it is used to support and improve field-level action;


further efforts are needed to clarify the relationship between national and forest management unit level criteria and indicators, and to clarify possible linkages and inter-relationships between forest management unit level indicators and forest product certification.

Trade in forest products

17. Trade in forest products is an essential factor in sustainable forestry development. In particular it is important for providing value to the forests. Some of the main trade areas which require increased attention are problems of market access, market information, market outlook activities, and the best means of ensuring that trade is not distorted by policies directed at areas on which trade has only indirect effect.

18. Agreements reached in the 'Uruguay Round' will, over a period, encourage improved access through reduced tariffs, greater scrutiny and control of non-tariff barriers, and improved standardisation of general trade rules and principles to be followed. Despite this, there are still many pressures to restrict free trade, especially in connection with environmental issues, and there are still areas where trade access will continue to be difficult.

19. Although there is clear evidence that trade measures alone cannot ensure sustainable management of the forests, a variety of trade policies has been proposed or implemented as means of overcoming problems, especially those connected with the environment. Regulations and policies now cover areas such as the recycling and recovery of waste paper; extending the useful life of materials, and thus reducing usage; the protection of animal and plant life from pests and diseases; human health and safety; and maintenance of air, water and land quality. There also continue to be calls for bans, boycotts or other limitations on trade. These are having, and will continue to have, varying impacts, many of which may be detrimental to forest products trade.

20. Another development with trade implications currently receiving considerable attention is the certification of forest products even though there is little clear evidence of a strong positive relationship to sustainable forest management. There are still many unresolved issues, areas where diverging views exist on major points, and a number of other uncertainties surrounding certification. There is as yet little certainty on whether market benefits will occur, or if so to what degree, and there is also concern by some exporting countries that certification will in fact act as a barrier to trade. As a result, considerable attention still needs to be paid to this subject - including more research, improved information, and a degree of harmonisation and mutual recognition among the different systems being developed.

21. Some of the issues mentioned have been the focus of attention for a considerable period of time. Others are more recent. Attention on trade has, however, been stimulated by the discussions and meetings connected with IPF. The IPF process has highlighted the fact that there is a clear need for improved trade information, analysis and coordination of efforts. There is a need to: 1) examine both policies and practices affecting trade in greater detail; 2) increase the level of information and analysis focused on trade issues; 3) identify means of protecting the environment without having undesirable effects on trade; and 4) increase the degree of cooperation and consultation involving issues affecting trade.

22. FAO is active in many of the above areas by providing, for example, statistical information on forestry; undertaking a number of long-term forestry sector outlook studies; participating in the many meetings and fora addressing various aspects of forest product certification; and undertaking analytical work on trade barriers and trade policy.

National forest programmes

23. The concept of national forest programmes (NFPs) has been widely discussed during the past decade. Based on the several frameworks which have been promoted by various international institutions and cooperation agencies as a means of achieving sustainable development (in particular the TFAP/NFAP framework), the basic principles of this concept have been fully endorsed by IPF. IPF recommended that countries develop and implement NFPs in accordance with their guiding principles, in all types of forest, thus increasing their capacity to meet the growing high and conflicting demands for forest goods and services.

24. NFPs are defined as a generic expression for a wide range of approaches to the process of planning, programming and implementation of forest activities in a country. NFP comprises both the planning of forest sector activities, including the formulation of policies, strategies and action plans, as well as their implementation, including monitoring and evaluation.

25. The purpose of NFPs is to establish a workable social, economic and political framework for forest management, conservation and sustainable development. NFPs are also political processes in the sense that orientations and decisions for action are the outcome of debates, negotiations, controversies and commitments on the part of all interested actors, often with different opinions on what should be the appropriate policy and course of action.

26. The basic NFP principles (developed by FAO in collaboration with numerous partners on the basis of past experiences, in particular with TFAP/NFAPs) recognise the following key elements: national sovereignty; integration in national policy and strategies for sustainable development; awareness-raising, partnership and participation; a holistic and intersectoral approach; a long-term iterative process; capacity building; policy and institutional reforms; consistency with and linkages to global initiatives; and harmony with national and international commitments.

27. From the point of view of external funding, NFPs provide the framework for operational coordination and harmonisation of approaches towards forest management, conservation and sustainable development, to avoid overlapping, for increasing activities which are well adapted to changing policy environments and for stimulating investment.

28. Four key issues in relation to the implementation of NFPs have been analyzed within the context of the IPF process as well as by the regional forestry commissions of FAO. The conclusions are the following:

  • country capacity building: all countries recognized the importance of assessing and, where necessary, enhancing national and international capabilities at all levels to develop, implement, monitor and evaluate NFPs. The need for technology transfer has also been stressed;
  • financing: the importance of more efficient use of existing sources of funding and of new areas for developing and implementing NFPs has been recognized, but public funds will continue to be important in most countries;
  • coordination at national level between all interested parties and at the international level between all international institutions and aid agencies is crucial for the effectiveness of NFP processes. National coordination mechanisms should be established to oversee the smooth implementation of NFPs;
  • need for coordination of various planning frameworks and conversely the necessary flexibility of NFPs to reflect the post-UNCED conventions
International institutional framework

29. During the IPF discussions, the existence of a significant potential for higher commitment and capacity of existing international institutions to support and promote the goal of conservation, management and sustainable development of all types of forests has been stressed. The IPF, therefore, has attempted to enhance understanding of the forest related mandates of concerned institutions and to encourage better coordination and collaboration in order to ensure greater complementarity and coherence of action, including at the level of their governing bodies. This should minimize overlaps and duplication and provide the means to bridge the gaps and focus on jointly agreed priorities. The informal Interagency Task Force on Forests (ITFF), established to support the work of IPF, was commended as an example of effective inter-institutional mechanisms.

30. IPF underscored the need for international institutions to support national, subregional, regional and international action towards sustainable forest development, building a consensus of approaches and standards world-wide and improving the conditions for adequate financing. IPF suggested two paths to raise the effectiveness of coordination between international institutions, bilateral donors and countries. At national level, NFPs appear to be an effective framework that, inter alia, provides an opportunity for enhancing coordination and greater coherence in approaches. At international level, the diversity of approaches promoted by various international organizations raised the question of harmonization and consistency under a global framework.

31. There already exist many international legally-binding instruments with some relevance to forests, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA), the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) and Ramsar. The instruments deal with specific forest-related aspects in the overall context of sustainable development and they address many cross-cutting issues that are also relevant to forests, such as financial resources, technology transfer, trade and traditional forest-related knowledge. However they tend not to deal primarily, directly, cohesively and comprehensively with forests. The two major texts adopted at UNCED -the "Forest Principles" and Chapter 11 of Agenda 21 - have been regarded as a broad and balanced foundation for the conservation, management and development of all types of forests. The need for a more comprehensive and binding instrument remains much debated.

32. The complexity of issues and the diversity of interests involved in sustainable forestry underline the need to continue and enhance the holistic, cohesive and comprehensive approach to the international forest policy debate and consensus building. Such an approach should promote consultation on and ensure balanced treatment of issues related to all types of forests. Two specific options will be discussed by IPF4:


the establishment of a new body under the auspices of CSD;


the utilization of existing structures, i.e. strengthening FAO's Committee on Forestry, with two possible courses of action, the first being to revise the mandate of COFO and the frequency of its meetings, the second to organize ministerial meetings in conjunction with COFO.


33. The following are some issues or aspects on which the Committee may direct its attention and provide advice to member countries and to the Organization.

Actions by governments


to support the course of action as per the recommendations made at the Expert Consultation on Global Forest Assessment 2000 (Kotka III) and also consider the fact that resources allocated to FRA 2000 in the Regular Programme are limited and that financial and in-kind contributions are needed from governments, international organizations and donor agencies. It may also call upon countries to provide necessary data for the assessment. (cf. par. 9).


the same is valid for the finalization of the Global Fibre Supply Study which should guide countries in the careful planning of sustainable resource utilization (cf. par. 11);


to develop, implement and monitor NFPs or other policy frameworks within wider intersectoral policies and land use plans and to support these efforts through research, technology transfer and capacity building activities which enable an integrated approach towards the formulation and application of national policy frameworks (cf. par. 28);


to inform NGOs, local communities and user groups on activities related to the development of forest resources assessment, of sustainable forest management and of related criteria and indicators and encourage their participation (cf. par. 16);

Actions by FAO


to review and discuss issues (i) to (iv) highlighted in par. 16 with a view to providing guidance on priorities in this regard (cf. par. 16);


to indicate specific areas where FAO should place emphasis on activities connected with trade, such as the assessment of trade restrictions, particularly in relation to environmental issues, the analysis of ongoing initiatives for the introduction of forest products certification, and the coordination of those initiatives which could potentially improve sustainable forest management and forest products trade simultaneously (cf. par. 21);


to make recommendations concerning the mobilization of financial resources for the development of regional activities for country capacity building and transfer of technology in support of NFP processes and to advise on ways and means of improving the coordination of multilateral and bilateral agencies at international and national levels in support of NFPs (cf. par. 28);


to examine what COFO involvement should be in the event that a new policy forum is established under the auspices of CSD. Should IPF adopt the option that COFO act as the policy forum, the Committee may wish to examine the implications and make appropriate recommendations to the Council (cf. par. 32);


to encourage FAO to continue to develop the dialogue and work in partnership with NGOs in all activities relevant to supporting the achievement of sustainable forest management.

1. Extracts from the report of the Kotka III meeting will be available to delegations at COFO.

2. These processes and the criteria and indicators identified by them are described in more detail in State of the world's forest -available to COFO