Rome, Italy, 15-19 March 2005

Objectives for FAO in Key Cross-cutting Areas


The FAO forestry programme of work and priorities are described in the FAO Medium-Term Plan 2006-11. The purpose of this paper is to provide a more detailed overview of four areas which have been selected for more in-depth discussion during the 17th Session of COFO, either in plenary, the in-session seminar, or in side events hosted by FAO. The four topics are: forests and bioenergy; forestry sector outlook studies; monitoring, assessment and reporting on forests; and the role of FAO in the international arrangement on forests. The core programme of work for each of these topics is funded by the Regular Programme; extra-budgetary resources may provide additional support to programmes that require further strengthening.

Forests and Bioenergy

1. FAO works on two components of bioenergy: the Forestry Department takes the lead on wood energy (including fuelwood), and the Sustainable Development Department takes the lead on agro energy (energy from non-wood biomass, especially in agriculture). There is a need to strengthen inter-disciplinary approaches that promote synergies between the two components. Areas of work with potential for enhanced inter-disciplinary collaboration include:

2. FAO’s comparative advantage on bioenergy stems from its role as the lead UN agency for both forestry and agriculture with a mandate to:

3. Member countries are invited to provide advice to FAO on future direction, including to:

  1. consider options for improving an integrated approach to bioenergy within FAO, for example by establishing a formal inter-departmental working group or a “priority area for inter-disciplinary action” (PAIA);
  2. promote an intensified field programme, providing policy and technical advice to member countries, including through the possible increase of extra-budgetary resources;
  3. strengthen activities for improved bioenergy information systems; preparation of outlook studies; analysis of technical, economic, social and environmental aspects of biomass for food, fuels and fibres; and identification of potential afforestation-reforestation-bioenergy projects under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
  4. consider whether the relative priority assigned to this programme within FAO is appropriate.

Forestry Sector Outlook Studies

4. FAO’s forestry sector outlook studies provide a broad look at the future of forests, focusing on the forces shaping the future of forests and options to influence those forces. Outlook studies are conducted at two levels, global and regional, and are complementary: the global studies provide the larger framework for the regional studies, while the regional studies provide feedback to update global studies. Regional outlook studies involve the broad participation of stakeholders, commencing with country outlook papers prepared by national focal points.

5. Global Outlook studies to date:

6. Regional outlook studies to date:

7. Outlook study in progress:

8. The FAO forest sector outlook studies are used for strategic planning at different levels, particularly in national forest programmes. Examples include: the Asia Pacific Forest Sector Outlook Study, which led to an assessment of the impact of logging bans and plantation incentives; the Forestry Outlook Study for Africa, which formed the basis of the forestry component of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, and the African Development Bank’s use of the Forestry Outlook Study for Africa (FOSA) to design its forestry interventions. FAO has also used FOSA to develop a forestry strategy for Central Africa.

9. Member countries are invited to provide advice to FAO on future direction, including:

  1. To update regional outlook studies at regular intervals, focusing on critical changes and revising the analysis by extending the time horizon of the forecasts;
  2. to continue a cycle of regional forest sector outlook studies on a rotating basis, revisiting each region approximately once every ten years;
  3. to periodically update and revise global outlook studies, incorporating the findings from the regional outlook studies;
  4. to synthesize outlook studies and other information to identify changes in the society – forest relationship, assessing the implications for sustainable forest management and developing policy options for consideration by member countries; and
  5. to consider whether the relative priority assigned to this programme within FAO is appropriate.

Monitoring, Assessment and Reporting on Forests

10. Sustainable forest management (SFM) extends the concept of sustainable development to the forest sector, implying balanced consideration of the social, economic and environmental functions of forests. In particular, SFM emphasizes the roles of forestry in securing a sustainable natural environment and in generating economic growth to improve living conditions in rural areas. SFM, therefore, is well aligned with the ambitions expressed in broader sustainable development goals such as those articulated in the Millennium Development Goals and the Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, with a focus on the contributions of forests to achieving those goals.

11. Monitoring and assessment of progress towards SFM provides feedback and input to national policies and international agreements. In this regard, FAO has played a key role over the past fifty years, adapting its Forest Resources Assessment programme to the changing and increasing requirements for broad forest sector information. FAO proposes to further enhance its role in monitoring, assessment and reporting on progress towards sustainable forest management as follows:

National Forest Assessments and National Forestry Information

12. Reliable and representative information and knowledge about forest resources is an essential requirement for supporting policy development and implementation at the national level. This is most efficiently done through systematic recording of complex information as a representative set of field sites, providing data that can be aggregated and analysed at the national level. Unfortunately, many developing countries lack the resources and capacities to implement forest assessments. For this purpose, FAO has developed a cost-effective approach to national forest assessments (NFA). FAO currently supports NFAs in seven countries, with requests for support having been received from about twenty additional countries.

13. The main features of the NFA approach are: the broad involvement of national institutions; its relatively low cost; rapid implementation with results within two years; low-intensity field sampling that covers an entire country; and information on the status of resources and their management and use. It has been designed to monitor trends through repeated inventories using information management and analysis, including forests, woodlands and trees outside forests. It also provides potential for collaboration between developing countries as well as capacity building of institutions and professionals.

14. FAO proposes to increase its support to NFA, thereby building national capacities and providing a knowledge base for policy enhancement within the forest sector as well as through integration with other sectors. Further, FAO supports capacity building for national forestry information systems that enable managers and policy-makers to have access to timely information to support national policies and programmes, as well as to meet international reporting requirements. The target is:

15. To this end, FAO will use the Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) and support from donors through the FAO/Government Cooperation Programme.

Global Forest Resources Assessment

16. The Global Forest Resources Assessment process has always been a core activity of the FAO Forestry Department. Since 1948, FAO has provided global forest resource assessment reports at approximately ten-year intervals. The latest comprehensive assessments were carried out in 1980, 1990 and 2000. The information requirements have constantly increased, developing from needs for timber resource information into today’s more holistic requirements related to sustainable forest management.

17. The key players in the FRA 2005 update process are the national FRA correspondents identified by each country, who have actively participated in the process of developing specifications and in collecting and analyzing national information. An advisory group that consists of experts from selected national and international institutions and Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF) members provides technical guidance to the process.

18. As a result of its work in FRA and its mandate to provide Member Nations with information about forests, FAO has developed comprehensive databases and related documentation that are accessible to all countries through the internet and multi-lingual publications.

19. At the 16th Session of COFO in 2003, FAO was requested to prepare a five-year Global Forest Resource Assessment update 2005 (FRA 2005), focusing on key trends and building on the seven thematic elements of sustainable forest management, drawn from criteria and indicators processes. The core of FRA 2005 is a set of 15 tables using common terms and definitions for all countries. Requests for data covering 1990, 2000 and 2005 focus on trends rather than status. The exercise provides an opportunity to update data reported for 1990 and 2000 and to extend the time series to determine possible recent shifts.

Support to Work on Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management

20. FAO facilitates and catalyzes regional and international processes and helps the development and implementation of criteria and indicators in a number of developing countries. FAO also provides information about their development and implementation worldwide and works closely with the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) in this field.

Streamlining National Reporting through the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF)

21. Many countries have voiced concerns over the number and complexity of requests for forest-related information from international processes. They have asked for harmonization of efforts and for a reduction in the reporting burdens. In addition to continuing its work on the harmonization of forest-related definitions, FAO has taken these concerns into account in FRA 2005. For example, requests for data on forest biomass and carbon are consistent with information required by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); information on threatened species is based on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) classifications; employment data draw from the International Labour Organization (ILO) definitions; and information on removals is linked to reporting on forest products.

22. FAO is also leading an initiative of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF) to develop streamlined national reporting on forests. The first phase of this project is to identify gaps and overlaps between the information collected by various CPF members. The next phase would be to eliminate duplication, consolidate reporting requirements and to develop a joint CPF information framework on forest reporting. The overall goal is to improve the effectiveness and to reduce the cost of monitoring, assessment and reporting on forests at the national level and in the international processes.

23. Member countries are invited to provide advice to FAO on future direction, including:

  1. FAO support to national forest assessments and strengthening national forest information capacity;
  2. evolutionary expansion in the scope of global forest assessments; and
  3. FAO’s role, working through the CPF, in collaborative efforts to harmonize forest definitions and to improve the effectiveness of monitoring, assessment and reporting on forests, including a reduction in the “reporting burden” on countries.

FAO’s Role in the International Arrangement on Forests

24. FAO has played a key role in supporting the intergovernmental follow-up process of UNCED on forests, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF), Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF) and the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF). The focus has been on the translation of international commitments into action through support to countries to implement agreed actions, including IPF/IFF proposals for action. As stressed in the very first proposals for action agreed by IPF, national forest programmes are central to action on the ground. Support to national forest programmes has consistently been one of FAO’s highest forestry priorities for the past decade. Currently, FAO’s support is being expanded through its partnership with the National Forest Programme Facility. FAO has also provided substantial inputs to supporting IPF, IFF and UNFF sessions and inter-sessional initiatives by preparing technical and policy documents and seconding professional staff to the UNFF secretariat.

25. FAO has been an active contributor to the formation of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF) and its predecessor, the Inter-agency Task Force on Forests, chairing both partnerships. FAO’s active role and leadership has contributed to enhanced collaboration among the CPF members and to tangible CPF products, including the sourcebook on funding for sustainable forest management; the portal that provides easy access to national reporting on forests; the CPF website; and the process on harmonizing forest-related definitions.

26. The FAO Regional Forestry Commissions play a vital role in linking countries with the global forest dialogue. This is especially true in those regions where there is a relatively low level of participation by forestry officials in the global dialogue. FAO regularly informs the Regional Forestry Commissions about developments in the UNFF process, and the Commissions have sponsored a number of workshops that focus on implementation of the IPF/IFF proposals for action. The Commissions have also considered their own roles in the context of the evolving international arrangement. The Regional Forestry Commissions also serve as a key venue for international forest policy discussions at the regional level, thus playing a key role in the international policy dialogue for over 50 years.

27. The Regional Forestry Commissions report to the FAO Committee on Forestry (COFO). For over 30 years, COFO has served as an action-oriented forum for global forest dialogue. COFO is a unique biennial forum, gathering heads of national forest agencies and other senior government representatives, and occasionally also ministers. In addition, COFO increasingly attracts representation from other international organizations, civil society, the private sector and research organizations.

28. Decisions on the future of UNFF are expected to be taken at its Fifth Session (16-27 May 2005, New York). Regardless of possible changes in the UNFF mandate, working modalities or institutional setting, FAO involvement in the international arrangement on forests will continue to be proactive. Given its limited resources, FAO proposes to continue to focus its work on assisting countries to achieve sustainable forest management, through its regular and field programmes; through continuing to provide regional and global venues for action-oriented forest dialogue; through continued leadership in CPF; and by providing global information on forests for the use of countries, regions, and intergovernmental deliberations.

29. Key objectives of FAO in supporting an international arrangement on forests would include:

  1. assist countries in achieving sustainable forest management, particularly through support to national forest programmes in partnership with the National Forest Programme Facility, and to strengthen intersectoral cooperation;
  2. strengthen collaborative and coordinated efforts in the CPF through chairmanship and significant inputs to CPF work, including at the regional and national levels;
  3. strengthen coordination and communication between the global and regional levels through the regional forestry commissions, which are well placed to contribute to the global dialogue by presenting, interpreting and adapting global recommendations to regional conditions and by articulating regional concerns to bring them to the attention of global bodies such as COFO and UNFF;
  4. play a central role in monitoring, assessment and reporting on forests by collecting, processing, disseminating and helping to build country capacity to provide forest information that facilitates action-oriented decision-making by countries and within international forest-related processes, including through the global Forest Resources Assessments (FRA); State of the World’s Forests (SOFO); regional outlook studies; harmonization of forest definitions; national forest programme updates; the FAO Yearbook of Forest Products; support to national forest assessments and information; and criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. At the same time, seek, together with other CPF members, to reduce reporting burdens on countries.

30. Member countries may wish to provide advice on future direction, including:

  1. the role of national forest programmes, Regional Forestry Commissions and COFO within the future international arrangement on forests;
  2. FAO’s role in monitoring, assessment and reporting on progress towards sustainable forest management; and
  3. to identify priority activities for FAO, given the expectations for a strong role for the Organization in the future international arrangement on forests, including leadership of the CPF.