United Nations Forum on Forest Hears Briefing on Status of Trust Funds Supporting Its Work

16 April 2013
ENV/DEV/1351

United Nations Forum on Forest Hears Briefing on Status of Trust Funds Supporting Its Work

16 April 2013
Economic and Social Council
ENV/DEV/1351
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

United Nations Forum on Forests

Tenth Session

12th Meeting (AM)

United Nations Forum on Forest Hears Briefing on Status

 

of Trust Funds Supporting Its Work

 

ISTANBUL, 16 April — While welcoming a 75 per cent increase in donations to the voluntary trust funds supporting the work of the United Nations Forum on Forests, the Director of that entity’s Secretariat stressed today that contributions needed to be scaled up in the coming year so the Forum could carry out its expanded mandate and take steps to remedy its “precarious” staffing situation.

With the Forum’s tenth session expected to conclude on Friday, 19 April, delegations took a pause in closed-door talks on their final draft resolutions to hear a briefing on financial and budgetary matters, including from Director Jan McAlpine, who provided an overview of the status of the trust funds, and of the Forum’s resource requirements going forward.

Presenting a note prepared by the Secretariat (document E/CN.18/2013/13), Ms. McAlpine said that for the 2011-2012 period, the Forum Trust Fund and the Technical Cooperation Trust Fund administered by the Capacity Development Office in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs had received $6,052,719 in contributions.  That was a more than 75 per cent increase over previous years and the highest level of contributions ever received in any two-year period since the Forum was established in 2000.

The donations ranged from $20,000 to $2 million, Ms. McAlpine continued.  Using a slide presentation to highlight key points, she said they had been provided by Austria, China, Croatia, Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the Global Environment Facility (GEF).  She expressed appreciation for the generosity of the Government of Turkey, which had provided some $6.2 million to host the current session in Istanbul.  Those monies had covered, among other things, conference services and the travel of representatives from developing and transition countries to participate in the two-week gathering.

Breaking down the allocation of contributions to the Trust Fund and the Technical Cooperation Trust Fund, she said that some $2 million, or 33 per cent, had been devoted to facilitating forest-management financing.  About $1 million, or 16 per cent, had been dedicated to awareness and outreach programmes — largely to support observance of the International Year of Forests — and a little more than $500,000 had been targeted for activities relating to forests and economic development.

Ms. McAlpine noted that while contributions had indeed increased, most had been earmarked for specific projects.  As such, while the Forum Secretariat had worked very hard with donors to ensure that their contributions supported the programme of work, the provision of funds not earmarked for particular activities was equally necessary and would allow the Forum, for example, to hire the critical staff needed to carry out its mandate, and to implement extrabudgetary activities, as needed.

Indeed, she continued, the Forum currently faced a “very precarious” staffing situation.  The Secretariat had only six regular budget posts for professional staff and two posts for support staff.  As a result, half of the Secretariat was funded from extrabudgetary resources at an approximate cost of $4,000,000 biannually.  Yet, in the past few years, only $1,200,000 had been received as “un-earmarked” contributions that could be used for staffing and related costs.

Against that setting, Ms. McAlpine said that while the Forum Secretariat would be partially covered for 2013, she feared she would be forced to let several staff members go in the coming year.  “At this moment, we have zero money in the Trust Fund for staffing for 2014,” she said, while welcoming a “timely” pledge of some $250,000 from China.  She also noted that the Russian Federation had pledged to contribute $300,000 annually to the Trust Fund beginning in 2014.

Highlighting other priorities and challenges ahead, she said the Forum would need resources to handle its expanded programme of work, which would include the 2015 review of the international arrangement on forests, follow-up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) and preparations regarding the post-2015 development agenda.  She also noted the Secretariat’s work as a member of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, including its inter-agency activities.

Following that presentation, Secretariat representatives provided updates on other budgetary and legal matters.  Stadler Trengove, Office of Legal Affairs, outlined several technical points for the Forum’s negotiating committees, while Ivan Koulov, Executive Officer in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, announced that recommendations had been transmitted to the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) regarding the funding of four meetings of the Ad Hoc Expert Group on Forest Financing in 2014-2015, in the amount of $228,000.

While recalling that the Expert Group had held previous sessions at the United Nations Offices in Vienna and Nairobi, he said that convening upcoming meetings in New York would be more cost-effective.  “The bottom line”, he said, was that holding such meetings in Vienna and Nairobi would cost about $1.5 million, as opposed to the $228,000 currently being sought.  Moving the sessions to New York for the coming biennium therefore entailed “substantial savings”.

As Member States took the floor, Kenya’s representative asked for clarifications regarding the budgetary implications of holding meetings outside New York Headquarters.  He said it was his experience that, for representatives from Africa or other developing regions, travel to either Nairobi or Vienna was less expensive than travel to the United States.  The daily subsistence allowance for Nairobi would also be less costly than what would have to be provided to delegations attending a meeting in New York City.

While welcoming the report, Ireland’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, stressed that future documents could better make the link between the Forum’s activities and those tasked by the various resolutions adopted by the body.  The report could also provide a better understanding of how the Trust Fund complemented the core actions of the Secretariat.  There was also a need to provide an early indication of the financial implications of envisaged actions and tasks to be assigned to the Forum Secretariat in the draft resolutions to be adopted at the end of the current session.

Japan’s representative said meetings should be convened within budgetary means, and delegations should be provided with all pertinent information so they could make timely decisions.

Switzerland’s representative requested more information about the Secretariat’s work plan and urged the presentation of definitive information on programme budgetary implications by Thursday, before the Forum’s tenth session concluded on Friday.  She also said that country-led initiatives should be recognized formally in a report of the Forum or in some other official manner.

The representative of the United States said the activities of the Forum Secretariat had increased even as its resources remained limited.  As such, Member States needed clearly to lay out priorities for its work.  The major focus should be on making recommendations to the Secretariat on preparations for the eleventh session.  Given the nature of its work and staffing needs, the United States encouraged all countries to provide “un-earmarked” resources to the Trust Fund.  Finally, he asked whether there was any legal obstacle to carrying out an independent external evaluation that would have clear terms laid out in the draft resolution on the current session and include elements on the international arrangement on forests.

Fiji’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the Trust Fund played a vital role in sustainable forest management.  Going forward, and in light of the Forum’s increased activities, it was important to ensure a balance between the available resources and the activities that the Forum was expected to carry out.  The Group of 77 therefore encouraged contributors to donate to the Fund in order to help the Forum to contribute to preparations for the post-2015 development agenda, achieve sustainable forest management and prepare for its eleventh session.

The United Nations Forum on Forests will reconvene in plenary on Friday, 19 April, to conclude its tenth session.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.