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RIO+20 The Future We Want

RIO+20 the future we want

Forum on Forests Looking to Raise Profile and Financing for Forests


Istanbul, 16 April--Countries attending the 197-member UN Forum on Forests meeting now taking place in Istanbul, Turkey, are working to raise awareness of the role that forests play in the global and national economies and in development strategies while advancing best practices for managing the world's forests.

Now in its second and final week, countries are grappling with a number of proposals to follow-up on agreements reached at Rio+20 by finding ways to leverage financing for sustainable forest management and to position forest-related issues in the ongoing discussions at the UN on sustainable development goals and the UN’s future development agenda.

"The services provided by forests are still taken for granted, not fully valued or captured by markets," UN Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo told the Forum. "Being undervalued or not valued at all for their goods and services, forests continue to be over-exploited. They continue to be cleared for agriculture and other land uses without regulation or planning, causing many adverse environmental, social and economic consequences. Such impacts, as evidence has shown, rarely stay within national borders, and often stretch far beyond."

Forest products contribute about US$468 billion annually to the global economy, while studies presented at UNFF10 show that the actual economic, social and environmental values may be grossly underestimated.

How does our world depend on forests?

Close to 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihood and three-fourths of freshwater comes from forested catchment areas. About 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity lives in forests. Forests also provide other essential services. They stabilize slopes, prevent landslides and forests, such as mangroves, and protect coastal communities against tsunamis and storms. More than three billion people depend on forests for wood for cooking and heating.

"There is a lack of global understanding of the full scope of the links between forests and society, the world and the economy as a whole," said Jan McAlpine, Director of the UN Forum Secretariat. "World peace," she added, "was not possible either without looking at the relationship of forests and trees to agriculture, water, energy, climate and health, among other areas."

McAlpine said that while many delegates attending the Forum are well versed in forest policies and theories, "the Forest for People Awards helped bring the issues to life--and that makes a difference."

One of the reasons for a lack of understanding, McAlpine said, was that forests were one of the most complex systems to understand and grasp. "There is a tendency to take a narrow approach on such matters, but to achieve sustainable forest management, they must be addressed comprehensively."

But forests, she says, bring together all the elements of sustainable development, including economic and social development and environmental protection.

The role of forests in sustainable development

Developing countries reported that the global financial and economic crisis had created further impediments to addressing the financial needs of countries to sustainably manage their forests. To address financial gaps in sustainable forest management, Fiji Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests and Provincial Development, Inia Batikoto Seruiratu, speaking for the developing countries urged developed country donors to significantly increase and at least double the funding to all types of forests.

Speaking for the Africa Group, Henri Djombo, Minister for the Economy, Forestry and Sustainable Development for the Congo, reminded the Forum forests provided invaluable global ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and clean water and they were very important for energy and food security. "In Africa, peoples' livelihoods were intrinsically linked to forests, given that most States were agrarian economies."

"Forests were significant for national development and poverty eradication," Djembi said, calling for continued support to countries engaged in sustainable forestry management, carbon capture, and in providing energy, water and food. "Sustainable forestry management must be included in the international development agenda and in context of national development plans, adding that a global forest fund should be established and supported."

The Forum is also considering how the world should move forward on promoting forest issues. The present mandate for the Forum expires in 2015. While it is up to countries to decide on the form, McAlpine says it is critical that there continue to be one body devoted to forest issues.

McAlpine says the Forum outcome will also reflect the needs of low forest cover countries as well as small island developing states and least developed countries.