United Nations
Commission on Sustainable Development

Statement



                                    STATEMENT
                                       BY
                                 MR. NITIN DESAI
                             UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL
                         FOR ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL AFFAIRS


                          THIRD MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE
                     ON THE PROTECTION OF FORESTS IN EUROPE


                                 Lisbon, Portugal
                                   2 June 1998


Honorable Ministers
Excellencies
Ladies and Gentlemen


      It is a great honour and a pleasure to have this opportunity to
address you on this important occasion of the Third Ministerial
Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe, in this historic
and beautiful city of Lisbon.  I would like to take this opportunity
to report the progress in international forest policy deliberations,
point out some of the challenges for sustainable forest management.

      At the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development
(UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, forests were among the most
controversial of the issues being considered.  However, despite the
prevailing polarization concerning forests there was an agreement on
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 so-called "Forest
Principles," and Chapter 11 of Agenda 21 with the inadequate title of
"Combatting Deforestation".

      By contrast, the "Post-Rio" period 1992-1995, was one of
confidence building and of emerging North-South partnerships enabling
the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) to
establish the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) at its Third
session in April 1995.

      Following two years of intensive work, in February 1997 the IPF
developed consensus on proposals for action on a very large number of
complex and politically sensitive issues.  These were subsequently
endorsed by the Fifth session of the CSD in April 1997 and by the
Earth Summit +5 Special Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGASS) IN
June 1997.  The Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF) has been
established under the CSD to continue the process of consensus-
building and to address the many issues that need further
consideration and resolution.

      The IPF process provided an opportunity to establish new
partnerships among countries, NGOs and UN agencies with the active
involvement of many European countries.  For example, our host
countries, Portugal, Cape Verde and Senegal sponsored an Expert
Meeting on Rehabilitation of Degraded Forest Ecosystems.

      There were many other such initiatives and this booklet I have
here which lists international initiatives towards sustainable forest
management has on its cover the flags of 24 countries and the logos of
10 international organisations.  This stimulation of a constructive
dialogue between concerned public officials, international experts and
NGOs is in many ways one of the most valuable products of the IPF
process which needs to be sustained in the follow-up IFF process.

      At the regional level the European Forest Ministers Conference on
Forest Protection is unique in the world.  It has had a major impact
on strengthening sustainable forest management (SFM) in Europe by
clarifying the concept and interpreting it in a European context which
is characterized by:

- a very wide range of socio-economic and environmental conditions

- great diversity of forests from the Mediterranean to the boreal
region;
     
- existence of a very large number of private forest owners, many with
very small holdings - "family forests".

      I believe this experience has valuable lessons for the global
process where perhaps the degree of diversity of concerns is even
greater.

      Mr. Maini, the head of the UN Secretariat which supports the
global forestry process, often describes this diversity in terms of
four types of country situations:

      First, countries with a high level of per capita forest cover and
      a high level of consumption of forest products, of which there
      are some in Europe but is more typical, say, of Canada.

      Second, countries with a low level of per capita forest cover and
      a high level of consumption of forest products, a situation more
      typical of Europe;

      Third, countries with a high level of forest cover but a low
      level of consumption of forest products, a situation found
      typically in some developing countries with extensive tropical
      rainforests; and

      Fourth, countries with a low level of forest cover and a low
      level of consumption of forest products, a situation typical of
      most developing countries, in fact for most of the world■s
      population.

      The concerns that each group of countries bring to the global
dialogue differs.  Those with a low level of forest cover are often
concerned about their ability to meet current and future needs.  Those
with a higher level of forest cover, particularly in the developing
world, are concerned about their capacity to use the developmental
potential of the resource.  There are differences also in priority
issues for forest management, e.g. the emphasis placed on preventing
forest fires clearly varies depending on whether the dominant forest
type is tropical, Mediterranean, temperate or boreal.

      Despite all of these divergencies of interest there is now a
common commitment to the idea of sustainable forest management as a
basic principle to guide policy.  The idea of sustainability arose in
fact in forestry in the concept of sustainable yield.  But sustainable
forest management goes beyond this to combine economic, ecological and
social concerns.

      We recognise now that forests provide much more than the
sustainable yield of forest products.  They have a broader ecological
role in watershed management and biodiversity conservation.  They
yield social values in terms of recreation and landscape preservation. 
All of these diverse contributions that forests make to our well-being
have to be reflected in the principles of sustainable forest
management and in the criteria and indicators developed for assessing
sustainability.

      It is a matter of some satisfaction that in a European context
you have been able to reach substantial agreement on these matters. 
At the global level the CSD based process has also made very useful
advances in this front.  We are now moving the consensus achieved in
IPF forward through the IFF process and in the year 2000, you and your
counterparts from other countries will have to take the difficult
political decision of whether to go ahead to work for a legally-
binding instrument on forests.  This is a sensitive issue on which
views differ.  My hope is that the open and informal dialogue in the
IFF process will lead to a convergence of views one way or the other.

      I urge you to support this process through your participation,
through initiatives that maintain the dialogue in an informal setting,
through your financial contributions to support the IFF process and
above all through enhanced assistance to developing countries for
implementing sustainable forest management.  On the last point, I
would draw your attention to the fact that at present, the flow of
development assistance for forestry activities is barely a quarter of
the amounts estimated in Agenda 21.  I would also urge that the
assistance focus not just on the countries with extensive tropical
rain forests but also on countries with low forest cover where much
needs to be done to rehabilitate degraded forests and wastelands and
increase the supply of forest products to meet rising demands.

      Sustainable forest management cannot work in isolation from
development policy in other sectors.  In my country, India, I would
argue that sustainable forest management requires not just a sound
forest policy but also an agriculture policy that promotes alternate
cropping patterns and raises the productivity of agricultural lands
near forests, an energy policy that pays special attention to
providing alternatives to those who depend on firewood, a construction
policy that encourages alternatives to timber and an urbanisation
policy that contains low density urban sprawl.  Sustainable forestry
is possible only in the context of an overall strategy to promote
sustainable development in all sectors of the economy.  This in many
ways is the message of Chapter 11 of Agenda 21 and we need to reflect
this imperative of integration in decision-making arrangements at all
levels.

      The ownership structure of forest lands differs from country to
country.  A large part of forests are publicly owned and managed by
public authorities.  But there are extensive privately owned forest -
large areas leased and operated by big companies, community owned and
managed forest, small woodlots of which there are millions in Europe. 
An important issue for forest policy is the nature of the rights and
obligations of these other owners, how their decisions can be
influenced in the direction of sustainability and how they can be
compensated for the non-market services they provide.  A closely-
linked issue relates to the special nature of financing required for
forestry where, compared to other areas of investment, the time period
for recovery of investments has to be long and to start several years
after the initial investment and where only a part of the benefit of
investment accrues to the owner.  All this calls for a measure of
subsidisation; but in an environment where budgets are under pressure,
subsidies are an anathema.
      
      I spoke of ownership, but we must also recognise that there are
some people, forest dwellers mainly, who may not have ownership in the
conventional sense but who have clearly customary rights and a moral
claim on the resource.  The issue here is not just one of their rights
and obligations but also of how they can be fully involved in the
management of the forest and not be marginalised in the land they have
inhabited for centuries.  Properly conceived, their knowledge,
experience and commitment to the health of the forest as also their
often sacred attachment to it can be a powerful force for sustainable
forest management.

      Let me mention also the particular importance of the gender
dimension.  The consequences of unsustainable forestry do not impinge
on both sexes equally.  In poor communities in particular, it is the
women who have to cope with shortages of firewood, depletion of water
resources and even land erosion.  In the Chipko province in India
women were in the forefront in protecting Himalayan forests.  Their
full involvement in decision making is essential.

      Let me finally touch on another element that forest policy has to
take into account - the emotional attachments that we have to the
trees, woods and forests that we know in our everyday lives.  On the
road to my village in India there are two very large trees.  As
children we had even given them names and I remember still the sense
of security I felt when we were coming home at dusk and the two trees
came into sight.  Every time I go to my village I look for these two
familiar friends, and if they were ever to disappear, the road to my
village would become less familiar, less friendly.  Our memories of
the landscapes we have loved are built so often around trees and woods
that form a part of them.  Our myths and legends almost always have a
special role for forests.  And this emotional attachment can go quite
far.  In my country women and men have risked their lives to stop
trees from being cut.  Perhaps there is something in our genes,
something deep in our psyche, some vestige of our simian ancestry that
arouses these passions and makes it very difficult to look at forest
policy simply in terms of cold calculations of costs and benefits. 
These are the emotions that account for the capacity of NGOs to
mobilise opinions and for the fierce passion of public debates on the
subject.  A forestry minister ignores these passions at his peril.

      The state of our forests, more than any other resource, is seen
by the public as the measure of our commitment to resource
conservation and long-term sustainability.  You have the great
responsibility of protecting and enhancing a vital part of the
patrimony of your people. The success that attends to your efforts
and those of your counterparts in other regions, will determine
whether or not we have made the transition to the path of sustainable
development that we promised the world at Rio in 1992.

                                 -----

 


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Date last posted: 5 December 1999 15:45:34
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