FAO hosts international meeting on public policy and forest fire
Nearly all countries, in every stage of economic development and in every ecoregion, are suffering the environmental, social and economic consequences of forest fires. These consequences have broader implications beyond the forest itself and beyond national boundaries, including tragic impacts on human health and lives. The recent occurrences of drought associated with the El Niño phenomenon have brought the effects of forest fires to the world's attention.
Reconciling the positive roles of fire as a servant of humankind and the negative effects if fire becomes the master is among the important challenges to policy-makers in sustainable forest and land-use management.
The present situation of national policy development in response to wildfires is often one of ad hoc reaction to a situation that has already developed, rather than proactive mitigation before the emergency arises. Frequently, policy development does not consider the underlying causes of fire incidence and spread, which may lie outside the forest sector and include rural poverty and deprivation, or the effects of other public policies related to land use and incentives. Sometimes forest fire incidence and spread may be caused by ill-conceived forest management policies, in particular policies of total fire exclusion that have led to the accumulation of fuel and catastrophic fire outbreaks.
In general, land-use policy development is seldom based on reliable data or information on the implications of forest fire's extent or causes, nor has it involved consultative or participatory processes with those most closely involved and affected. Even where policies linked to reducing the incidence and damage of forest fires are in place, there may be institutional weaknesses that do not allow them to be enforced, arising from shortage of public funding as a result of political instability or economic weaknesses.
To help facilitate a coordinated international response to this challenge, FAO hosted a Meeting on Public Policies Affecting Forest Fires from 28 to 30 October 1998. The meeting's 71 participants from 33 countries and 13 international organizations were drawn from government, the private sector and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and represented a wide range of land-use and other disciplines. They made the following their objectives and agreed to:
· identify, analyse and discuss the public policies that contribute to forest fires;
· collate information from institutions dealing with forest fires;
· produce recommendations on planning and policies for fire prevention, control, mitigation and rehabilitation measures;
· provide a strong message to member countries through FAO (as a neutral forum) on policy issues related to fire.
The participants first met in plenary session to hear general presentations and regional background studies. They then met in working groups to focus on regional issues and concerns. Finally, they met again in plenary to consider the recommendations of the working groups. The following sections summarize the main points of the meeting report.
Accurate information is a prequisite for development of public policies related to fire management and sustainable land-use practices
There is a need for reliable and up-to-date systems for national, regional and global fire reporting, analysis and storage of data. Such data, and information on fire causes and socio-economic and environmental effects, are required as a sound basis for policy-making. Linked to this need is the requirement for international agreement on terms and definitions as a basis for information sharing and communication. Information on resource management alternatives and their consequences is essential for the involvement of all stakeholders in policy formulation and development.
Conclusions and recommendations to FAO member countries
No single formula can cover the wide range of ecological, socio-economic and cultural conditions that exist among and within regions, nor the different objectives that different societies will have. However, most conditions do share the following common needs for:
· national and regional policies, specifically addressing forest fires, as an integral component of land-use policies;
· flexibility in policy implementation;
· clear and measurable policy objectives and implementation strategies that provide for sustainable land-use practices, compatible intersectoral policies, joint fire management responsibilities at the community level and the participation of the private sector and NGOs;
· involvement of all stakeholders in policy development, especially through devolved or community forestry approaches;
· a favourable policy environment for an appropriate balance among prevention, suppression and prescribed fire use, based on local conditions;
· policies that do not contribute further to deforestation, particularly through the use of fire;
· policies concerned with maintaining the health of ecosystems that are fire-adapted;
· land-use policies that consider the need for appropriate incentives and subsidies to promote fire prevention.
Technical aspects that can support policy formulation and implementation include:
· systematic or integrated fire management including adequate human and financial resources, vigorous training and extension programmes and appropriate silvicultural practices;
· institutional cooperation, based on cost-sharing among relevant stakeholders, intersectoral collaboration at national and local levels and international agreements where appropriate; restoration/rehabilitation focused on salvaging usable resources following fires, encouragement of natural recovery to maintain genetic integrity combined with restocking where necessary and restoration of local infrastructures;
· strengthening of technology, research and information capacities including research into new dedicated space-borne remote sensing technologies, post-fire recovery techniques, recognition of accumulated experience (particularly local indigenous knowledge) and development of evaluation systems to assess fire damage and benefits and to draw attention to the true costs and benefits of fires.
Conclusions and recommendations to FAO and other international organizations
Continued and improved collaboration and cooperation among the many international organizations involved in forest fire-related activities at global and regional levels are urged.
Transboundary or regional agreements for collaboration in fire management need to be developed, with the technical and financial support of international organizations.
International organizations are further urged to support the design and implementation of a global fire inventory or reporting system, based on an internationally harmonized terminology, in close collaboration with the fire science community and end users.
A global fire information system is needed to provide immediate access to real-time data.
FAO and other international organizations should play a catalytic role in the establishment of networks to promote the sharing of information and knowledge and technical cooperation among developing countries. Sufficient resources should be allocated for these purposes.
Guidelines and codes of practice for fire prevention and control are also required, not only in the forest sector but in any sector that could have an impact on forest fires (e.g. road alignments, power lines).
Technical assistance, from FAO or other international organizations, is still required, particularly in institutional support and capacity building.
The complete report of the meeting is available from the Forest Protection Officer, Forest Resources Division, Forestry Department, FAO, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy, or on the Internet at http://www.fao.org/waicent/faoinfo/forestry/fire/default.htm.
Latin American and Caribbean Forestry Commission: 20th Session
The Latin American and Caribbean Forestry Commission (LACFC) of FAO held its 20th session in Havana, Cuba from 10 to 14 September 1998. The session was attended by delegates from 20 Member Nations, representatives of United Nations specialized agencies and observers from four international, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.
The state of forestry in the region
The Commission reviewed the state of forestry in the region. All the countries of the region were engaged in reforestation and afforestation as a central component of their forest policies and activities. Many countries had implemented, or were considering implementing, related incentive programmes. Many countries of the region were in the process of adjusting their forestry legislation to define more clearly the links between forestry and environmental conservation.
Many countries had reviewed their national institutions responsible for forest administration or were in the process of doing so, with the intention of aligning them to the new requirements of sustainable forest development. However, the problems affecting public forest institutions - lack of political status and resources -continued to persist.
The Commission noted with concern the recent increase in the number and scale of forest fires, which coincided with the droughts associated with the El Niño phenomenon. The Commission recommended that policy issues related to fires be dealt with in a subregional group context (as well as in the 28 to 30 October 1998 international meeting in Rome [Ed. note: see the article of this edition of Unasylva]) and requested the corresponding support from FAO.
The Commission was informed of the draft FAO Strategic Plan for Forestry, which describes the mission, objectives, implementation strategies and vision for the future of FAO's forestry programme.
The Commission recognized that the forestry strategies proposed within the region had to be formulated with people's aspirations in mind in order to avoid forestry activity being directed by pressure groups whose interests were often of a different nature. It also emphasized the need to acknowledge the impact of other sectors on deforestation and forest degradation.
The Commission reviewed the outcome of the FAO Regular and Field Programmes in the 1996-1997 biennium. It called for closer attention to the region's forestry sector and more funds for key activities such as improved compilation and dissemination of information on forest resources, causes of deforestation and the impact of other sectors.
The Commission noted the concern of many countries over the reduction in the field programme in the region. It requested that FAO help countries to increase their formulation and negotiation capacity for forestry projects.
Technical Cooperation Networks, including the future of the LACFC Committee on Forestry Research
The Commission considered the activities that had been conducted since its last session by the Technical Cooperation Networks (TCNs) on national parks, other protected areas and wildlife, watershed management, agroforestry systems, dendroenergy, forestry and related environmental matters.
The Commission accepted an FAO Conference recommendation that the Committee on Forestry Research of LACFC be abolished but recommended that FAO and the Member Nations of the region reinforce interlinkage and the exchange of technical and scientific information from research, through horizontal technical cooperation among countries.
Follow-up to UNCED in forestry
The Commission recognized the importance for countries to undertake a detailed analysis of the proposed action ensuing from the Commission on Sustainable Development/Intergovernmental Panel on Forests/Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (CSD/IPF/IFF) process and to examine how it can be taken into consideration within the framework of their national forest programmes.
National forest programmes
The Commission recognized the important role of national forest programmes as a central element for implementation of the action proposed by IPF in the region. The Commission recognized the importance for the national forest programmes to receive support from top policy-makers if they were to carry out their role in the process of sustainable forest development and execute the proposals of IPF.
A special in-session seminar on forest valuation was held during the session. The Commission participants noted that some of the issues concerning forest valuation can be solved at the national level, but many forest issues have to be resolved through international negotiations, as the corresponding benefits accrue to the international community. For those countries that have forests, better valuation of forest costs and benefits for common benefits such as carbon sequestration, mitigation of climate change and conservation of biodiversity would provide a strong bargaining position.
In view of this, the Commission recommended:
i) training on the methodology and dissemination of practical tools for forest valuation;
ii) case studies to test and validate the tools for forest valuation; and
iii) sharing of this information through an informal network within the Commission.
Copies of the complete report of the Latin American and Caribbean Forestry Commission session may be obtained by writing to the Meetings Assistant, Forestry Department, FAO, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy, or on the Internet at http://www.fao.org/waicent/faoinfo/forestry/statbod.htm.
FAO European Forestry Commission: 29th Session
The 29th session of the FAO European Forestry Commission was held in Lahti, Finland. The session was attended by representatives from 23 member countries and observers from four international intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.
State of forestry in the region
The Commission reviewed the state of forestry in the region, on the basis of a synthesis prepared by the secretariat. The Commission recommended that this synthesis be published. Delegations noted that the information presented was based on the work of national correspondents in each country and expressed their appreciation of the major contribution made.
The Commission was informed that FAO would prepare a report for IFF in 1999 on the worldwide status of national forest programmes. It noted that the concept of medium- and long-term forest planning at the national level had been applied in most European countries for many years, and stressed that this should be reflected in the FAO report.
The Commission agreed that it would be useful to prepare an overview of forest policies in Europe, but warned that careful consideration should first be given to the exact scope and objective of the study and the availability of resources.
In-session seminar: socio-economic aspects of forestry in Europe
During an in-session seminar, delegates stressed the importance of a balanced approach to the three pillars of sustainable forest management (environmental, economic and social, including cultural). The points made included:
· Education and extension are central tools of forest policy.
· The forest sector must strengthen its ability to hold a constructive dialogue with society.
· Gender issues (e.g. inequality in access to employment, changes in attitude) need to be addressed.
· The small size of many European forest holdings is a major concern in formulating national forest policy.
· Concerns about the economic viability of timber production-based forest management in many parts of Europe suggest that new sources of revenue should be sought for owners or from the forest, i.e. non-wood forest goods and services.
Follow-up to UNCED in forestry and pan-European process for the protection of forests
The Commission noted the significant contribution of FAO and the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) to sustainable forest management in the region, through its continuing programme and through support for and direct inputs to the Third Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe: quantitative indicators of sustainable forest management, socio-economic aspects and data on forestry assistance to countries in transition.
The Commission recommended that priority attention be given to the implementation of the core programme of monitoring and analysis, in particular to the Temperate and Boreal Forest Resource Assessment 2000 (TBFRA 2000), and the regular collection and dissemination of statistics and information on forestry assistance to countries in transition.
The Commission reviewed possible new activities in support of sustainable forest management. On the basis of this review, the Commission agreed on the following:
· A workshop/seminar on strategies to stimulate and promote the sound use of wood and other forest products as environmentally friendly and renewable raw materials should be prepared. This topic made good use of FAO/ECE's comparative advantages.
· TBFRA 2000 would present information on carbon flows in temperate and boreal forests as a contribution to the work on climate change. This information would be made available to activities under the Framework Convention on Climate Change.
· A seminar on the role of women in forestry would be held under the auspices of the Joint FAO/ECE/International Labour Organisation (ILO) Committee in Portugal in 2001.
The Commission noted that trade and environment issues in the forest sector were highly topical, important and controversial, which necessitated a prudent approach based on FAO/ECE's comparative advantage (e.g. the possibility of a cross-sectoral approach through the World Trade Organization [WTO] and the ECE committees on environment policies and trade). The Commission requested the secretariat to explore possible approaches with potential partners.
The Commission drew attention to the problems of concepts and definitions of protected areas, some of which had become evident during work on TBFRA. It requested that the secretariat do everything possible to improve the comparability and transparency of these data.
FAO forestry strategy and implications for future programme of work and budget
The Commission considered the draft FAO Strategic Plan for Forestry which would orient the forestry programme over the next decade. Forestry aspects would be integrated into the overall FAO Strategic Framework. Both the Plan and the FAO Strategic Framework would be presented at the March 1999 Committee on Forestry (COFO) session.
In general, the Commission advocated that the Forestry Strategy be strengthened within the FAO Strategic Framework. It also suggested that there be measurable mechanisms for monitoring progress.
It was emphasized that the three current interrelated goals - environmental, economic and social - should be expanded to include "cultural" goals. It was further suggested that conservation of forest resources be singled out of sustainable forest management (SFM) and elevated to the status of a goal.
The Commission recommended that the forestry plan should include policy analysis and advice, and that the FAO Forestry Department continue its active role in international processes.
Activities under the auspices of the Commission and the ECE Timber Committee
The Commission approved its Programme of Work for 1999 to 2003, and prolonged the mandate of the Team of Specialists on Public Relations.
The Commission noted the intensifying cooperation in the forestry field among countries in transition and among countries in the Baltic region, as well as among Mediterranean countries through Silva Mediterranea.
Future of the EFC Working Party on the Management of Mountain Watersheds
The Commission decided to maintain the Working Party on the Management of Mountain Watersheds stressing that the issue should not be dealt with on an ad hoc basis. It noted that FAO is the lead agency for the implementation of Chapters 11 and 13 of Agenda 21; that the Working Party has responsibilities for the implementation of Resolution S4 of the Strasbourg Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe; and that the Working Party could play an important role in the activities of the upcoming International Year of Mountains 2002.
Copies of the complete report of the European Forestry Commission session may be obtained by writing to the Meetings Assistant, Forestry Department, FAO, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy, or on the Internet at http://www.fao.org/waicent/faoinfo/forestry/statbod.htm.