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