Volume 17, No.04 - April 2013

Feature articles

Forests – sustaining livelihoods of people worldwide

On 8-19 April, the UN Forum on Forest 10 (UNFF) will gather the world community to focus on some of the pressing issues at stake to secure healthy forests worldwide. Jan McAlpine, Director of the UN Forum on Forest Secretariat, shared some of her hopes for this major event and beyond, in an exclusive DESA News interview.

Forests cover one third of the Earth’s land mass, performing vital functions across the globe. Around 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihood and they are the most biologically-diverse ecosystems on land.

As her team in the UN Forum on Forest Secretariat is getting ready for this major event, Jan McAlpine spoke with DESA News about some of the results she hopes will come out from the Forum in Istanbul, as well as some of the main opportunities and challenges at hand.

“I have a lot of confidence in the countries of the United Nations Forum on Forests,” said Ms. McAlpine, pointing out that 197 countries now belong to this universal body, which this year will focus on economic development and forests. “I fully expect that the forum will come out highlighting key, very important points, that economic development and forests are closely intertwined,” she added.

Understanding vital role of forests

Ms. McAlpine also discussed the extent to which forests are managed, and issues related to financing that is available for forests. “Financing for forests has been on the decline now for 22 years,” she said, stating that that this has not so much to do with the economic downturn, but is rather related to the fact that people around the world do not truly understand what forests contribute.

“Once it is understood, for example, that most of the clean water of the world results from forests cleaning that water so that it is potable, drinkable, then we have a shot at starting to see some pricing go in, where it is understood that there is a direct connection with gross domestic product, exports and income,” Ms. McAlpine underscored.

Ms. McAlpine also put spotlight on the role of women, who in some parts of the world make up for 70 percent of the work force, and how they collect and make use of non-timber products like shea butter, fruits and nuts. “Forests are the pantry, the local grocery store for many parts of the world,” she said, adding that these are issues also expected to be addressed by the forum and to be brought to the attention of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the General Assembly.

Opportunities and challenges promoting healthy forests

Ms. McAlpine outlined the opportunities at hand, also emphasizing the progress made since the UN Forum on Forests was established. “We have improved an understanding, that there are the three elements – the economic, social and environmental aspects of forests,” she said.

“The biggest challenge is that forests are managed and impacted by many, many sectors and by many, many institutions and they do not work together,” she explained. She described how many governments house forests management in the agriculture ministry, where forests often become a small area of attention. “Environment ministries are usually separate from forests,” she said, adding that these different offices then tend to simply look at their own areas of objectives.

“They are not incorporating the sustainable use of forests and forest products and how to balance that out economically,” Ms. McAlpine said, outlining a situation where forests are addressed in silos.

Need for integrated forest data

Ms. McAlpine also pointed to the need to address existing data gaps caused by how different aspects related to forests are captured in isolation. For example, the Convention on Biological Diversity addresses the biodiversity issues relevant to forests, while the Climate Change Convention looks at the carbon issues related to forests and so on.

“This is mirrored in the private sector,” Ms. McAlpine added, “social institutions, statistics, governments, do not integrate this data”.

“How do we as the United Nations working as one with partners, start to identify these data areas which we need to better understand? And how do we integrate it with the policy level. Because ultimately, the United Nations Forum on Forests was developed to look at forest policy comprehensively, everything directly related to and impacting on forests.“

Role of forests makes strong impact

When we talked about memories of forests and what they mean for her, Ms. McAlpine shared her personal story. Her family moved to Africa when she was only three months old and she lived in different countries in southern and central Africa until the age of 19.

Following years in Rwanda and Burundi, the family moved to Northern Congo where they settled in an area with beautiful tropical rain forests. “I remember as a 15-year-old, a vivid moment of trekking on a long, long, walk in an area I couldn’t believe we would ever find,” she said, describing the walk with a guide, who took her to where the local tribe was living.

“They got everything for their living from the forests (…). Seeing how these people depended, interrelated to and interacted with forests appealed to me,” Ms. McAlpine explained, also referring to a book by anthropologist Collin Turnbull, which made a huge impact on her. It portrayed the death of an entire tribe of people who were forced to move from the forests and told to become farmers. “They could not survive the transition from their cultural heritage to living in a very unfamiliar managed environment. And it destroyed their society. They were gone.”

As a nine-year-old in Rwanda, Ms. McAlpine also witnessed the country’s first genocide. She saw first-hand what can happen when more and more pressure is put on the land. “People had gradually gotten rid of most of the trees and then you have soil erosion, you have a lack of soil richness to be able to grow the kind of food you need. The domino starts to fall, leading to chaos and anarchy.”

Ms. McAlpine described how these experiences have shaped her professional life. “My whole career track, I can point back to that experience and that part of the world and seeing the interconnectedness between forests, trees and people”. At the same time, she also expressed thankfulness for now being in a position as the Director of the Secretariat of the UN Forum on Forests, where she can actually make a difference for forests and people worldwide.

“I’m looking forward to the UN Forum on Forests 10 coming up from 8 to 19 April in Istanbul,” she said. Decision-makers will then gather to tackle challenges and, as Ms. McAlpine described it with an analogy to forests, “to see what low hanging fruit can be picked and what needs to be grown and developed over time so that eventually we are on a real trajectory to addressing the synergy needed between economic, social and environmental issues”.

For more information:

UN Forum on Forests

Focusing on new trends in migration

The past 10 years have seen a steady increase in the number of international migrants across the globe, now totaling 214 million people. Ahead of the upcoming Commission on Population and Development, which is set to focus on new trends in migration, John Wilmoth, Director of DESA’s Population Division, highlighted the issues at hand as well as other demographic trends affecting development beyond 2015.

Gathering representatives and experts from a large number of UN Member States, the Commission on Population and Development will meet in New York from 22 to 26 of April. “It is a very important year at the United Nations, for the discussion on international migration in particular, because we’re planning also for the High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development”, said Mr. Wilmoth, referring to another high profile event scheduled to take place in October this year as part of the 68th session of the General Assembly.

Mr. Wilmoth also affirmed the importance of migration as part of the ongoing discussions on the post-2015 development agenda. “Migratory movements both within countries and across international borders are very important examples of population dynamics and illustrate the role of population dynamics in development processes more generally,” he explained.

Increased complexity in size and movements

Mr. Wilmoth described the work preparing for the upcoming Commission, where they intend to start off the meeting by featuring a more general discussion on some of the current patterns and trends, helping Member States to understand the overall situation.

“We work on documenting the size of the migratory flows around the world, the shape and the direction of the trends, and what we observe is that there has been an increase in the complexity, size and changes in the direction of these flows over time,” Mr. Wilmoth explained. He also pointed to the increase in the number of international migrants from around 155 million in 1990, to about 214 million in 2010.

Mr. Wilmoth also highlighted that even though international migrants represent about 3 per cent of the world’s population, the total number of migrants is most likely higher. “If we count internal migrants by any definition, any reasonable definition, we would be at over 10 percent of the world’s population,” he said.

Contributor to social and economic development

“What we have observed over the last decades, is that migration when governed fairly, can make a very important contribution to social and economic development and that is true both in the countries of origin and in the countries of destination,” Mr. Wilmoth said. “I am almost certain that countries would want to consider the relationships between migration and development in particular,” he added.

“In countries of destination, immigrants increase the productive capacity of the economy and contribute to economic growth. In their countries of origin, migration can help to alleviate problems of underemployment and through remittances can contribute to the economic and human development of those areas of the world,” Mr. Wilmoth said.

He also shared his hope that the Commission will encourage countries to think about practical measures to harness the various benefits of migration and to address challenges. “I think it is possible that countries could institute measures that would lower some of the costs of migration,” he said, giving the example of allowing people to have multiple entry visas. This would make it possible for people to migrate in circular patterns or return to their countries of origin without fear of not being able to come back to the host country.

“I hope that countries will find an opportunity to focus on the importance of protecting the human rights of migrants as part of the upcoming Commission,” Mr. Wilmoth added. “Migrants whose rights are well respected are best able to participate in the broader process of social and economic development in their host and origin societies,” he said. “On the other hand, migrants who have an irregular legal status are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, and I hope that the Commission will address this issue as well”.

New patterns of population flows

When discussing new trends in migration, Mr. Wilmoth pointed to the fact that there has been a large increase in the number of migrants who move from less to more developed countries. “In many of the more developed countries, the per cent of the population that is foreign born has increased very significantly in recent decades,” Mr. Wilmoth said, also referring to some of the challenges that this presents for the integration process in hosts societies.

Mr. Wilmoth also described movements taking place between countries of the so-called global South. “There are these new poles of economic activity in the various countries that are growing very rapidly, for example China, Brazil, India, providing an attraction for migrants from other countries of the global South,” he explained. “So there are new patterns taking place in countries that don’t have the same experience of mass immigration as some of the Northern countries,” Mr. Wilmoth added. “For them it’s a particular challenge how to establish a set of migration policies that enables and encourages that movement.”

Population dynamics beyond 2015

As the world community prepares for the development agenda to succeed the MDG framework beyond 2015, Mr. Wilmoth shared some of the important population aspects that need to be secured. “The issues that really matter first are the issues related to population health, which have been well reflected in the MDGs framework that exists,” he explained, also suggesting a broader focus on health spanning the entire life course.

“But we’ve also been talking a lot about population dynamics,” he added. This includes migration, urbanization, population growth, and population ageing, which are often referred to as population megatrends. “These are the big mass movements of population that have very important implications for social and economic development and for human well being across the board,” he said.

“All of these present important opportunities for development, but also challenges to countries as they try to find ways to manage these flows of people,” he added. “In all cases we need to be thinking about policies that focus on managing those trends and possibly affecting them in a desirable way, but also on policies that allow us to adapt to those changes,” Mr. Wilmoth concluded.

For more information:

DESA’s Population Division

46th Session of the Commission on Population and Development

Responsive and accountable public governance

Responsive and accountable public governance

The Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) will meet from 15 to 19 April for the twelfth annual session. The twenty-four CEPA experts on public administration will focus on the role of responsive and accountable public governance in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the post-2015 development agenda.

CEPA was established by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to support the Council’s work promoting and developing public administration and governance among Member States in connection with the Internationally Agreed Development Goals (IADGs). This year, the Committee will focus on the areas of making public governance work for the post-2015 development agenda; stakeholders’ accountability in public governance for development; and creating an enabling environment for development beyond 2015.

To facilitate the discussion, observers of CEPA, academia and NGOs in public administration will be responding to DESA’s Division for Public Administration and Development Management (DPADM), which is calling for inputs. The collection of inputs will be presented to CEPA for consideration in deliberation and report in its recommendation to ECOSOC. This is part of the ongoing discussion on the preparation of the post-2015 development framework in the UN system.

Public governance beyond 2015 and stakeholder accountability

CEPA Members Margaret Saner, Hyam Nashash, and Rowena G. Bethel will present their paper that focuses on the challenges ahead for public administrations in relation to the MDGs and other development goals beyond 2015. It examines how the emphasis on governance over the past few years has been interpreted at the local level. The paper focuses on the successes along with areas for improvement.

Another report by CEPA members Jan Ziekow and Francisco Longo will highlight the important role of accountability as an indicator of democratic governance and as an instrument to improve the performance of institutions and the delivery of services. Accountability plays a dual role in both public and private collaborations. Resources in such collaborative ventures should be well-managed and efficiently used.

Creating an enabling environment

CEPA members Bin Hao and Siripurapu Kesava Rao identified key components in their report, which will address the steps towards a successful post-2015 development agenda. The report underscores the need for an enabling environment, including human capital development in the public sector and performance reporting, monitoring and evaluation of public service delivery.

This need is also reaffirmed by Wu Hongbo, DESA’s Under-Secretary-General, who states, “in the recent Rio+20 Summit, democracy, good governance and the rule of law, at the national and international levels, as well as an enabling environment, were deemed essential for sustainable development. The Rio+20 Summit affirmed that to achieve sustainable development, we need institutions at all levels that are effective, transparent, accountable and democratic.”

Additionally, a conference paper by CEPA member Walter Fust on public-private partnerships in sustainable development and for social networking will be included in the discussion.

The meeting is also assisted by the PaperSmart initiative aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of the organization, and managed by the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM).

For more information:
12th Session of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA)

Call for inputs: 12th Session of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA)