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Joahannesburg Summit 2002
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Ministers' Message to Johannesburg Summit Calls for More Support to Sustainable Forestry Initiatives

15 March, New York– Ministers attending the United Nations Forum on Forests have issued a call today for the World Summit on Sustainable Development to advance sustainable forest management as a way to alleviate poverty and stem land and forest degradation.

The Summit, which will take place in Johannesburg from 26 August to 4 September, is expected to result in action-oriented initiatives that promote sustainable development based on the interdependence of decision making on economic growth, social development and environmental protection.

Forestry issues, the ministers agreed, must be considered as a priority agenda item at the Summit, and they called for an "enhanced" political commitment to promote sustainable forest management. They also emphasized the importance of financing to progress toward sustainable forest management, as well as partnerships to help transfer environmentally sound technologies to help countries manage their forests sustainably.

Although forests cover roughly a third of the Earth's land surface, the world's forests are continuing to decline, especially in the tropics. In the 1990s, the world lost about 9.4 million hectares of forest, or two per cent of total forests-an area the size of Venezuela.

The ministers called for new initiatives that confront some of the root causes of deforestation, such as the direct relationship between high levels of poverty and areas that suffer the greatest rates of deforestation, such as the tropical forests. The illegal trade in forest products was a major concern to the ministers, who called for immediate action to beef up domestic forest law enforcement efforts.

"We've discussed forest issues for over a decade now, and we know what needs to be done," according to Nitin Desai, Secretary-General of the Johannesburg Summit. "What we need now are actions and initiatives that can help meet the needs of the people who live in or around the forests while protecting and preserving our forest ecosystems."

He added, "The strong message that the ministers at the Forest Forum are sending to the Summit indicates that it is urgent that the international community and national governments show even greater resolve to move the forest agenda forward so we can get results."

Representatives from several developing countries reported that although programmes had been formulated, tight resources limited what they could accomplish. R. K. Bamfo of Ghana's Forestry Commission said, "One of the implications is the stretching of financial resources in the light of competing needs from other sectors of the national economy, such as education and health. The need for additional financial resources to achieve the goal of sustainable forest management is therefore pressing for countries such as Ghana."

Ludolf Shati, Malawi Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Affairs said that the 65 per cent poverty level in his country had a direct impact on deforestation. "This has led to overdependence on fuelwood as a source of energy and income, which contributes to high levels of deforestation."

Malaysia's Deputy Minister of Primary Industries, Datuk Anifah Aman, said that "unending allegations, attacks and misinterpretations" had led an increasing number of municipalities and local governments in developed countries to ban or restrict the use of tropical timber. He said, "Crying foul over some areas of abuse and generalizing that deforestation can best be combated through such unilateral actions reflect the lack of understanding of the larger and more fundamental issues of poverty, indebtedness and unemployment which drive populations to resort to the forest for livelihoods." He added that Malaysia "would like to underscore that timber certification should not be used as a non-tariff barrier, as it is against the principle of free trade."

Not everyone thought the ministerial statement went far enough. Gudrun Henne of Greenpeace said that "this is bad news for indigenous peoples, forest animals and the environment," adding that only 20 per cent of the world's original forest remains as large, intact tracts of ancient forest. Forest ministers, she said, "not only failed to take concrete action, but encouraged their destruction."

The ministers issued their statement at the second session of the UN Forum on Forests, which will meet annually to promote efforts to implement a wide array of sustainable forestry management proposals.

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24 August 2006