DESA News Vol. 13, No. 04 April 2009


Forests and climate changeForests and climate change

Climate change poses a serious threat to forests and to the millions who depend on them for their livelihoods, food, water and shelter

Forests cover about 30 per cent of the world’s land area and contribute to the livelihoods of at least 1.6 billion people. Some 60 million people, mainly indigenous communities, live within forests, and another 350 million people are highly dependent on them. It is estimated that the annual value of international trade in forest products is approximately $327 billion in 2004, which represents 3.7 % of the global trade values in all commodity products.

In 2007, the “Non-Legally Binding Instrument on All Types of Forests” (forest instrument) was adopted by the UN Forum on Forests, and subsequently by the UN General Assembly. In this historic forest instrument Member States recognized the important contributions that forests can make to addressing climate change. The forest instrument aims to foster international cooperation and national action to reduce deforestation, prevent forest degradation, promote sustainable livelihoods and reduce poverty for all forest dependent peoples. The implementation of this instrument also enhances the contribution of forests to the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

“Forests were a forgotten sector in the climate change discussions, until the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) took it up as a far more important target of opportunity. The Stern and Eliasch reports pointed out, in no uncertain terms, the clear benefits of tackling climate change through forests,” states Jan L. McAlpine, Director of DESA’s UN Forum on Forests Secretariat.

Impact of climate change

The fourth assessment report of the IPCC projected that if current trends continue unabated, global temperature will have increased by 1.8 to 4°C by the end of this century, affecting most severely the planet’s poorest and most vulnerable and disadvantaged people. Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and ensuring the sustainable management and conservation of forests can contribute significantly to mitigating climate change.

The impact of climate change on forests can be negative or positive, under specific circumstances. The most significant effects of climate change upon forests can be seen through changes in their physiology, structure, species composition and health, largely resulting from changes in temperature and rainfall. As a consequence the important environmental services that forests provide are also at risk. One of the most publicized examples of the effects of climate change on forests is the catastrophic mountain pine beetle infestation in Canada, owing to increased temperatures, which has devastated large expanses of forests there. In the period from 1997 to 2007, an estimated 13 million hectares, or 130,000 km2, were destroyed by this pest outbreak in Western Canada.

On the other hand, global warming due to climate change can also have positive effects on forest ecosystems, for example by providing longer growing seasons, especially in temperate and boreal regions, leading to faster growth. However, unpredictable changes in composition of flora and fauna and other environmental factors should not be underestimated.

”It is very clear that forest-based mitigation and adaptation activities must take place simultaneously”, says Jan L. McAlpine.

Deforestation and forest degradation

Forests have been recently receiving greater attention, not only because of their role in mitigating and adapting to climate change, but also because of growing concerns about carbon emissions resulting from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries, where emissions are considerable and increasing. Deforestation is causing 35 per cent of emissions in developing countries, and in the least developed countries the figure is as high as 65 per cent.

Globally, forest ecosystems in 2005 contained 638 billion tons of carbon, half of it (321 billion tons) in forest biomass and dead wood. The amount of carbon in forests is greater than the amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere.

”Any strategy to address climate change through forests must take into account the whole spectrum of values and benefits that forests provide”, says Ms. McAlpine.

Bali Action Plan

The Bali Action Plan, adopted by the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 2007, established the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action under the Convention to conduct a long-term cooperative action process that will address mitigation action by considering policy approaches and positive incentives on issues relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD); and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries.

The fifteenth session of the Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change, to be held in December 2009, is expected to reach agreement on issues relating to REDD, which will have a long-term impact on forest management and financial flows to forests in the future.

"We are talking real money for forests for the first time in a long time. Even before Copenhagen, donor countries have already pledged billions towards reducing carbon emissions from forests,” states Ms. McAlpine

Forests provide great opportunities for adaptation to climate change by increasing resilience of people and ecosystems and they will also be a major mitigation option over the next 30 to 40 years. However, for forests to effectively contribute to climate change solutions and to promote sustainability, countries and the international community will need to address a far broader set of issues than climate change alone, including critical governance issues affecting forests, tenure rights, tenure, access to land, land-use planning, benefit-sharing, institutional and cross-sectoral coordination and law enforcement issues.

Ms. McAlpine states further that “by narrowly focusing only on the carbon stock values of forests, actions being taken in an effort to solve the enormous challenge of climate change have the potential to create distortions not only in achieving sustainable forest management, including through aggravating conflicts in land management, the livelihoods of indigenous forest-dependent peoples but in the end, jeopardize the very achievement of our goals for mitigating and adapting to climate change".

Climate Change: the UN system “Delivering as One”

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) recently launched the UN Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD), which will work with countries in the development of national strategies to build monitoring, reporting and verification capacity. UN-REDD is initiating quick-start actions for pilot projects in six developing countries - two each in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

To foster coordination and cooperation on forest issues, in 2001 the UN Forum on Forests founded the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), comprising 14 major forest-related international organizations, institutions and convention secretariats. The CPF’s home is in the UNFF Secretariat, and chaired by the Assistant Director-General of FAO. The CPF recently released a Strategic Framework for Forests and Climate Change, which makes clear that intersectoral collaboration, economic incentives and the provision of alternative livelihoods are essential for reducing deforestation and forest degradation.

"DESA is uniquely poised to address the full range of economic, social and environmental aspects of climate change,” says Ms. McAlpine.

A DESA Climate Change Working Group (CCWG) on was recently established by Under-Secretary-General Mr. Sha Zukang, to make the connections between the issues DESA works on, and leverage the department’s contributions to climate change. The CCWG is co-chaired by Mr. Tariq Banuri, Director of DESA Division for Sustainable Development and Ms. Jan McAlpine, Director of the UNFF Secretariat.

As part of its work, two DESA policy briefs have been developed on “Forests, Climate Change, REDD” and “Financing Forests and Climate Change” by the UNFF Secretariat. Two other working groups established by Mr. Sha, one on the financial crisis and the other on the millennium development goals, also provided opportunities to address sustainable forest management contributions to a broader set of issues.

The best opportunity for the UN Forum on Forests and its member States to contribute to the global climate change agenda is through the framework of sustainable forest management, as a key aspect of the implementation of the forest instrument – agreed to by all 192 member States in 2007. Sustainable forest management has a contribution to make to biodiversity, to people and livelihoods, to economies, to water and to a myriad of benefits essential to the world we live in. In this context, the outcome of forests in a changing environment and financing for sustainable forest management at the upcoming 8th session of the Forum will contribute substantively to the ongoing climate change discussions.

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For more information on the UN-REDD Programme:

People shaping public servicesPeople shaping public services

Capacity-building in public service needs to take into account personnel leadership, institutions, structures, systems, procedures and processes

Achieving national development objectives and the internationally agreed development agenda, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), requires that countries have the capacity to produce and provide public services in the right quantity and quality and to ensure fair, just, affordable and equitable access to them for all. This is the critical function of human resources in the public service in every country.

Public service traditions vary around the world, depending upon historical tradition and the system of law that has come to prevail, and upon the levels of literacy and development. In a general way, many of the challenges are related to issues of globalization, rapid technological changes, unprecedented demand for democratization, decentralization, transparency and accountability, conflict and crisis. Therefore, in order to develop the requisite human resources in the public sector to address the current and future development challenges that confront them, countries must be clear on which human resources in terms of knowledge, skills, attitudes, networks and technological know-how they need and the management regimes through which such human resources can be managed.

The public service must attract and retain a fair share of the best talent as strategic for improvements in the delivery of public services, which remains as a critical strategic issue, since a number of sensitive questions need to be addressed. For instance, what talent does the current and future public service need, given the country’s development priorities and global development agenda, including the MDGs? While the latter remains a critical strategic issue, the current situation in many developing countries presents human resources management dilemmas and challenges including global competition for talent which contributes to brain drain, human resources management demand-side policies that often go contrary to the real needs and gender discriminatory practices, restricting for example women’s access to education.

Selection and recruitment innovations in the public service

Selection and recruitment processes become critical steps for maintaining a high-quality workforce on which all other human resources strategies will depend. Even tough, some innovations and changes are being applied in this respect, problems of selection and recruitment are more acute in developing countries where the talent needed in the public service may not be abundant. While in such countries high unemployment makes applications for unskilled positions abundant, the search for high and middle-level policy, strategic, professional and technical positions on which effective management of the development and service delivery process depends is a daunting one.

The public service will have to reshape recruitment and selection strategies from a “one size fits all” regimented process to one that is a hybrid of position-specific and career-specific. Holding hiring authorities accountable for the application of good practice rather than control through inflexible rules can best accomplish this goal.

Promoting equality and valuing diversity

As the human resources management regimes change and innovate to meet the challenges posed by the need to develop, there must be commitment to improve the delivery of public service for all. Policies and practices of the public service must reflect the needs and experiences of all the people it serves. For this, promoting and valuing diversity is central in innovations needed to mould the society of the future with a workforce composed of the brightest, most talented rainbow of all people.

Leadership and human resources capacity development

One of the most critical elements of the human capacity in the public service is leadership because it is the engine that inspires and gives direction in the delivery of public services. Modern leadership needs to embrace mastery over change management and the handling of emergencies or crises to ensure that no segment of the population or area of a country is left behind to achieve the national and international development agenda. This calls for leadership capacity assessment before designing any leadership capacity development programmes and activities.

Given the diversity of political-administrative cultures and the great variety of societal environments, the leadership of each country has to be open-minded and look at all of the potential solutions to their own problems. In design, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of leadership development programmes in the immediate, short-, medium- or long-term, organizers should adopt a participatory approach, involving the beneficiaries and target groups of such programmes to make them congruent with the needs.

People matter: civic engagement, transparency, accountability in public service

It is true that public servants need to have adequate capacities and competences to produce and deliver services to the people. However, another enabling factor needed in the process is the trust in Government, regarded as internal trust among the various institutions and employees of Government and as external trust between the Government and the people it serves. But trust also needs to be perceived in terms of the trust the international community has in the Government in question. All these perspectives of trust are critical in the performance and legitimacy of public sector institutions.

Civic engagement and participation play important roles in transparency, accountability and strengthening trust in Government. There are principles and enablers vital to successful operations in civic engagement and capacity-building to this end. But there are also challenges that hobble civic engagement processes which need to be addressed.

Mainstreaming engaged and participatory governance in the public service contains a triple challenge to capacity-building. First, the public servants, including senior political and technical leaders, must develop the requisite knowledge, skills and attitudes to operate within an environment where engagement and participation of the citizens in public service is the norm.

Secondly, the citizens themselves, accustomed to being passive recipients, have gotten to learn how to engage with public servants to demand transparency, accountability and effectiveness in the delivery of goods and services in the public services. Lastly, institutions, systems, processes and practices of the public service need to be reviewed and readjusted both in structure and human behaviour to support engaged and participatory delivery of goods and services.

Serving the information age

The public service needs to change in terms of the way it engages the people and how it masters information and communications technology to support and facilitate effectiveness, efficiency, transparency, networking, knowledge management and sustainable improvement in the delivery of the public service. A shift that requires a deep change in bureaucracy for transforming Government into an interconnected, modernized organism that is able to develop with the changing world and changing technologies.

Governments all over the world are recognizing the power of new technologies for imparting such capacity-building and training in the public sector. One conduit for integration of Information and Communications Technology ( ICT)-based human capacity-building in the public sector is e-learning (or online learning), which can be defined as the use of ICT to acquire information, knowledge and skills. For the public sector, e-learning means employing information technology to access, gather, analyse and utilize information and knowledge to improve organizational performance and public service delivery, which can also open up a vista of global and regional development, best practices and a vast multitude of knowledge which resides in the virtual arena.

Employing e-learning for human capacity-building can contribute to an improvement in the efficiency of the workforce and better delivery of services. In doing so, public servants can become more creative in developing innovative ways of deploying resources and improving the quality of public service delivery.

Notwithstanding, all of the foregoing benefits of e-learning, there is a strong and urgent need to support the development of enabling ICT infrastructures and networks that are appropriate for each context. It is unfortunate that the poorest countries and areas in the world that most urgently need help in achieving the MDGs are disadvantaged by the technological divide and have less opportunity to benefit from e-learning.

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‘One-stop-shop’ on violence against women

‘One-stop-shop’ on violence against women

A new database on the extent and consequences of all forms of violence against women and means to combat it was launched today by Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro. “This is the first global ‘one-stop-shop’ for information on measures undertaken by Member States to address violence against women in terms of legal, policy and institutional frameworks,” she said. Recalling her own experience as Tanzania’s Minister for Gender Equality, she said that this tool will come in handy for decision-makers seeking out examples of action plans and strategies undertaken by other countries.

Video: (5 minutes)
Full coverage: (1 hour 17 minutes)
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