Public Initiatives

Proposals, ideas, and recommendations for sustainable forest management have been discussed and agreed upon by many of the world's governments with the support of civil society and the private sector, but action has been and still is lacking.

Promoting Sustainable Forest Management at the Intergovernmental Level

The history of intergovernmental environmental initiatives in the forest sector goes back to the mid-1980s when tropical deforestation first made the headlines across the world and led to the formation of the Tropical Forestry Action Program (1985), the largest ad hoc forest initiative to date. Up to the early 1990s, most of the international forest policy efforts remained focused on the tropics rather than on the boreal and temperate zones. Following UNCED (1992), however, new processes were set in motion to promote more sustainable boreal and temperate forest management both because of accusations of double standards from the tropical countries and because of growing international awareness that the response of the boreal zone to global climate change could exaggerate and amplify global warming itself.

The most ambitious efforts to date toward promoting international environmental agreements on forest issues—including boreal forests—were those initiated at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. A suite of legally binding conventions, legally nonbinding documents, and follow-up processes were to develop and attract the attention of governments, the private sector, and NGOs alike for the decade to come. Underlying many of the forest policy discussions, a heated debate on the need for a global legally binding treaty for sustainable forest management, a Forest Convention, has been regularly popping up and undermining efforts to implement existing agreements. At the time of writing this paper, there was still no consensus among various countries, the private sector, and NGOs on whether a Forest Convention is desirable and needed to further sustainable forest management and conservation of all forest types across the world.

The Forest Principles—1992 The Rio Conference endorsed two documents related to forests: Chapter 11 of Agenda 21, Combating Deforestation and a Non-Legally Binding Authoritative Statement of Principles for a Global Consensus on Management, Conservation and Sustainable Development of all Types of Forests. These so-called Forest Principles are a sort of soft law intended to guide countries on sustainable forest management, including in austral and boreal zones. The Statement called on countries to commit themselves to implement the principles and included a proviso that "national policies should recognize and duly support the identity, culture and rights of indigenous peoples, their communities and other communities and forest dwellers."

The Intergovernmental Panel on Forests—1995-1997 It soon became evident that the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), the body created to follow up on the agreements of the Rio Conference, could not handle the complex and time-consuming forest-related issues. Thus, in 1995, the CSD recommended the establishment of a separate body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF), to examine ways to develop the Forest Principles into a legally binding instrument or to identify other options to coordinate the future action on global forest policy. IPF resulted in a list of over 150 Proposals for Action, which were discussed and approved at UNGASS (Rio + 5). It is interesting to note that all governments involved agreed formally to implement the IPF's recommended Proposals for Action, which gives these recommendations' otherwise nonbinding status greater political weight.

During UNGASS, considerable time was also spent discussing—once again—the need for a legally binding global Forest Convention. Canada, Finland, and other Scandinavian nations advocated in favor while others such as the United States were against it, arguing that a Convention was only one of many ways to achieve sustainable forest management throughout the world and the Arctic regions. In February 1997, at the IPF's fourth and last session, nearly 100 NGOs from more than 30 countries released an "International Declaration Against a Global Forest Convention," outlining their reservations about the potential adverse impacts a Convention could have on existing forest and environmental agreements and initiatives, forest biodiversity, and forest-dependent communities.

UNGASS recommended a continuation of the intergovernmental policy dialogue on forests and established the Intergovernmental Forum on Forest, whose primary purpose was to facilitate the implementation of the IPF's Proposals for Action.

The Intergovernmental Forum on Forests—1997-2000 The Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF) was essentially a continuation of the IPF process focusing on major unresolved issues. IFF was also asked to "identify the possible elements of and work towards a consensus on international arrangements and mechanisms, for example, a legally binding instruments on all types of forest" (read: Forest Convention). Although the IFF's primary mandate was to promote and facilitate implementation of the IPF's Proposals for Action and formulate international arrangements and mechanisms to promote the management, conservation, and sustainable development of all types of forest, it ended up achieving nothing but more paper work and more Proposals for Action. Many argue that the continuing debate over a Forest Convention overshadowed the implementation of the IPF Proposals and led to the failure of the IFF. Another reason might be the reluctance of governments to effectively implement the Proposals for Action unless they are pushed very hard to do so, for instance, by NGOs and civil society. NGOs were successful at organizing and attracting government funding for a major international conference on the underlying causes of forest degradation and deforestation, thereby following up on one of the important recommendations of the IPF's Proposals for Action.

The United Nations Forum on Forests—2000-2005 The outcome of the last session of the IFF was the creation of yet another intergovernmental body called the United Nations Forum on Forest as well as an enhanced interagency task force on forests called the Collaborative Partnership on Forests.

The UNFF was established for a period of five years as a subsidiary body of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). In theory, the UNFF is an important intergovernmental instrument for protecting the world's forests. However, its track record has already disappointed many so far. The mandate of the UNFF is to promote the management and sustainable development of all types of forests and to strengthen long-term political commitment to this end. Participation rules have made the participation of Indigenous Peoples Organizations and NGOs more difficult and far from the spirit that reined in the open-ended and more participatory practices that ruled the IPF and IFF meetings.

Assessing sustainable forest management at the national level

Since the 1990s there has been a proliferation of Criteria and Indicators (CandI) to monitor the sustainable management of forests, mostly initiated and defined by governments as a way to follow up on the recommendations of UNCED's Forest Principles and Chapter 11 of Agenda 21. Both documents called for the identification of criteria and indicators to evaluate progress to manage forests for a wide range of environmental, social, and economic goods and services at the national level. These national-level CandI are essentially assessment tools. Two processes are relevant to boreal forests:

• the Helsinki process for European forests and

• the Montreal process for non-European temperate and boreal forests.

The Helsinki process, which was started in 1994, brings together European timber growers of boreal, temperate, and Mediterranean forests. It includes six common criteria and 27 quantitative indicators. The Montreal process, which started more or less at the same time as the Helsinki process, contains a set of seven criteria and many indicators for boreal and temperate forests. The United States as well as Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay have joined this process. Both the Helsinki and the Montreal processes have incorporated to one extent or another the importance of biological diversity, ecosystem functions, soil and water resources, and a wide range of social benefits into their sets of CandI. However, the purpose of these CandI is limited to collecting data and makes no requirements of forest managers that any particular result be achieved in the forest. Also, very few of the countries involved in the CandI processes have actually started collecting forest data according to the indicators defined. The CandI therefore have been of limited value to land-use planners or policy-makers so far.

Other Intergovernmental Instruments: Competing or Supportive Claims?

The Convention on Biological Diversity The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was adopted and ratified by more than 150 governments at the UNCED conference in 1992. For the world's forests, the CBD is potentially a very important instrument, since the majority of the world's terrestrial biodiversity lies in forests.

The Convention objectives are the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of biological resources, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from utilization of genetic resources. It is a legally binding intergovernmental instrument.

At the sixth Conference of the Parties (COP6) in April 2002, the CBD adopted an eight-year action-oriented work program on forests, which addresses forests in a holistic manner and proposes a list of 130 activities that could help tackle the forest crisis, including:

• Seeking to resolve land tenure and resources conflicts.

• Eliminating perverse incentives (in particular, subsidies that result in favoring unsustainable use or loss of forest biological diversity).

• Facilitating the participation of indigenous peoples and local communities in forest management.

However, no global priority or a timetable for national implementation was agreed upon, which therefore cast doubts on whether the work program was going to be implemented at all.

To date, the main impact of the CBD's ratification has been the development of National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs). The implementation of other forest-related commitments has been sporadic however.

The adopted decision on forest biological diversity places significant emphasis on collaboration with the UNFF, which might mark a turning point in developing a more cooperative relationship, which could strengthen both processes. The CBD access to GEF funds provides another incentive for the collaboration, since the UNFF has no dedicated resources for implementation. It remains to be seen how countries will integrate the 130 activities from the CBD's work program and the more than 270 IPF Proposals for Action on forests, such that the overlaps are used to promote mutual supportiveness and actions that will significantly contribute to end the global forest crisis.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the other legally binding convention that was adopted in Rio. The Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1997, lists a series of actions aimed at tackling climate change. There are two important links between forests and climate change. First, forests play an important role in regulating the earth's temperature and weather patterns by storing large quantities of carbon and water. Second, climate change affects forests, thereby exacerbating forest degradation. A 1994 Greenpeace report states:

Studies on the global carbon cycle suggest that boreal forests are not absorbing as much carbon as they did before 1976. As a result, the atmosphere already appears to contain 10-15 billion tones of carbon more than it would have if forests had continued to absorb carbon at the pre-1976 rate. If boreal forests continue to decline, estimates suggest that burning and rotting of boreal forests could contribute to the release of up to

225 billion tones of extra carbon into the atmosphere, increasing current levels by a third. This would accelerate the rate of climate change. (The Carbon Bomb, p. 2)

While it is possible that the boreal forest could expand into the frozen tundra as temperatures increase, such an expansion would likely be delayed by slow tree migration rates. Even in the long term, the boreal forest is unlikely to move northward fast enough to compensate for the breakdown of boreal forests at the southern part into open woodlands and grassland, which in turn will result in a lowered biological diversity and a reduced ability of these ecosystems to store carbon and water.

The Kyoto Protocol focuses a great deal on forest ecosystems as a way to limit climate change. Because trees act as "carbon sinks" by storing large amounts of carbon inorganic matter, the Protocol encouraged Parties to engage in reforestation and afforestation projects. One could think that this is good news for forests, but unfortunately priority has been given to the establishment of tree plantations rather than the conservation of natural forests. There are therefore no indications that the Kyoto Protocol will help protect boreal and other forests.

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