United Nations Forum Adopts Ministerial Declaration Expressing Commitment to Better Highlight Role of Forests in Economic, Social Development

3 February 2011

United Nations Forum Adopts Ministerial Declaration Expressing Commitment to Better Highlight Role of Forests in Economic, Social Development

3 February 2011
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

United Nations Forum on Forests

Ninth Session

11th & 12th Meetings (AM & PM)

United Nations Forum Adopts Ministerial Declaration Expressing Commitment


to Better Highlight Role of Forests in Economic, Social Development


Participants also Hold Dialogue with Collaborative Partnership on Forests

As part of the ninth session of the United Nations Forum on Forests, more than 30 ministerial-level participants today committed themselves to better highlighting the vital role of forests in addressing complex challenges of economic and social development — in particular at the highest levels of the global agenda.

Adopting a Ministerial Declaration to that effect, they also committed themselves to taking a “meaningful decision on forest financing” at the Forum’s next session, scheduled for 2013, and made recommendations aimed at raising the profile of forests during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2012.

According to the text, ministers committed to improving the livelihoods of the at least 1.6 billion people who depended on forests — particularly in developing countries and those with economies in transition — by creating the conditions needed for them to manage forests in a sustainable manner.  Among other actions, they also committed to developing and implementing cross-sectoral and multi-institutional policies and actions at all levels, which would integrate sustainable forest management into development plans and programmes.

The ministers further agreed to contribute substantively to Rio+20 and its preparatory process, in particular by highlighting the economic, social and environmental benefits of forests and the contributions of sustainable forest management to the themes and objectives of the Conference.

Raising the profile of forests at Rio+20 was a resounding theme throughout the Forum’s work today.  During a morning round table on that topic, delegations expressed their expectations for the Conference and explored the ways in which that “critical juncture” could further the goals of sustainable forest management.  “We have never had a better opportunity to raise the profile of forests,” said the representative of the United Kingdom during that round table.  He noted that, 20 years after the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the “Earth Summit”) in Rio, much work remained to be done, with particular regard to the theme of Rio+20 — developing a “green economy” in the context of long-term human development.

Participants also called attention to other issues — including the establishment of an international forest financing mechanism and the impact of global carbon credit programmes on the world’s forests — that they felt should be raised at the upcoming Rio Conference.

Preparations for Rio+20 were also prominent in a ministerial dialogue with the heads of the 14 member organizations of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests held this afternoon.  Participants considered how to ensure that forests were at the centre of the Rio+20 agenda while discussing the Collaborative Partnership’s role in advancing coherent and coordinated actions and initiatives in support of all types of forests in all countries.

An additional round table, on implementing a cross-sectoral and cross-institutional approach, saw participants working to identify areas for effective collaboration spanning various sectors — including legal systems, civil society and others — and exchanged both knowledge and lessons learned.

The Forum will meet again at 10 a.m. Friday, 4 February, to conclude its ninth session.

Round Table 3

ZAINOL RAHIM ZAINUDDIN, High Commissioner of Malaysia to Kenya, was Chair and Moderator of Round Table 3, on “Forests-plus: A cross-sectoral and cross-institutional approach”.  Affirming that forests were the intersection for all aspects of human life, he said they were crucial for economic and social development, poverty eradication, food security, mitigating climate change and for the livelihoods more than 1.6 billion people worldwide.  The objective of the Round Table was to share knowledge and lessons learned on challenges to sustainable forest management and forest policy in the context of cross-sectoral and cross-institutional complexity, and to identify areas for effective intersectoral coordination and collaboration.

In the ensuing discussion, many speakers pointed out linkages with climate change, desertification and sustainable development in general, with the representative of the Netherlands stressing that “the complexity of the solution must match the complexity of the problem” with respect to the challenge of global forest governance.  A paradigm shift was needed, he said, adding that in light of the growing world population, agricultural lands would necessarily expand so that both climate change and food security should be addressed in the context of forest loss.

The representative of Chad spoke of the linkages connecting forests to every other sector — cultural, economic and social.

The representative of France said he regretted the fragmentation of the institutions involved in forest management, noting that entities like the Forum on Forests and the Commission on Desertification should naturally be linked more closely.  There was a need to take advantage of the lead-up to the Rio+20 Conference in order to build a more coherent, cross-cutting approach, as well as to address the topic of forests in all related bodies, he said.

Speakers also enumerated the wide benefits derived from forests, including biodiversity, culture, botany, carbon sequestration, food, cosmetics, fuel, fodder and game.

The representative of Namibia said his country was one of the few that exported medicines derived from forests, which otherwise did not have high commercial value owing to dry conditions.  Therefore much work had to be done in support of community sustainable forest management efforts.

The Director of the National Forestry Commission of Mexico said the situation in his country was quite different because many indigenous people depended on forests for food security.

Some speakers pointed out that legal frameworks were an important part of the equation.  The representative of Australia described legislation restricting the entry of illegally logged timber.

The representative of Papua New Guinea stressed the importance of such regimes to exporting countries, saying his country was trying to meet the standards of its importing partners while focusing at the same time on sustainable development goals.

NIELS ELERS KOCH, President, International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), said that given the continuing degradation and loss of the world’s forests, and factors that could increase the losses in the future, it was crucial to move towards an interlinked view of the problem.  Many elements of the enhanced programme for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, the so called REDD-plus, already existed, he said, citing partnerships, dialogues, round tables, working groups, regional initiatives and collaborations.  However, such efforts needed a different kind of coordination and support from that they were currently receiving, he said, adding that institutions and funding mechanisms must be used more effectively.

ANDREY VASILIEV, Deputy Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), said the importance of collaboration could not be overstressed, pointing to the model provided by ECE and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in their joint Forestry and Timber Section.  Harnessing expertise from across the United Nations system as well as the United Nations-administered conventions, the Section was uniquely positioned to strengthen the forest sector and contribute to sustainable development in Europe.

Round Table 4

Raymond Landveld (Suriname) chaired Round Table 4, on “Forests and Rio+20”, which focused on topics that could be raised at the 2012 Conference, from the integration of forests into a global “green economy” to the impact of global carbon credit programmes on the world’s forests.

DANIEL REIFSNYDER, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Department of State of the United States, Moderator, opened the discussion by saying that Rio+20 presented a unique opportunity for the recognition of the role of forests and their multiple values in sustainable development, including their contribution to energy, food security, poverty reduction, land degradation, water conservation, biodiversity and climate change.

SHA ZUKANG, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Secretary-General of the Rio+20 Conference, noted that forest stakeholders had not yet agreed on goals for the Conference, and called for normative and creative ideas on what Rio+20 could bring to the forest agenda.  “The question is: what do you expect from Rio+20?  The guidance has yet to emerge.”

He said that in the lead-up to the Conference, forest stakeholders had several critical elements to consider.  First and foremost, they needed to “go beyond the focus on environmental aspects”, he said, noting that forests also provided incomes, promoted the social inclusion of marginalized groups and were linked to consumption patterns and other global trends.  Highlighting those important aspects would be essential, he said.

Noting that one of the themes of the Conference would be institutional frameworks for sustainable development, he said delegates at Rio+20 should consider elements of the non-legally binding instrument on all types of forests, and on whether they were well aligned with other global mechanisms.  For example, should forest stakeholders align their timelines with the Millennium Development Goals?  He asked delegations, in their preparations for the Conference, to consider the sensitive question of the implications of the REDD-plus carbon credit programme for sustainable forest management.

Delegates said the Conference would mark a “critical juncture” in promoting the vital importance of sustainable forest management, with many noting that one of the themes would be the development of a “green economy” in the context of sustainable development, and calling for the incorporation of sustainable forest management into that movement.

TOM ROSSER, Assistant Deputy Minister for Natural Resources and the Forest Service of Canada, said a green economy required innovative approaches to forest management and forest products.  Canada therefore welcomed the growing emphasis on achieving green outcomes for forests and supported a threefold emphasis on science, innovation and partnerships.

TIM ROLLINSON, Director General, Forestry Commission of the United Kingdom, added: “We have never had a better opportunity to raise the profile of forests.”  He noted that, 20 years since the 1992 “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro, many of the same problems continued to face the world’s forests.  Much work remained to be done, in particular with regard to the Conference theme of developing a green economy in the context of long-term human development.

Reflecting on the theme of the Forum’s current session, “Forests for people”, he emphasized that for 1.6 billion people around the world, forests were not just part of a green economy — they were the only economy.  That should be a major consideration not only at the Conference but also at the Millennium Development Goals Summit in 2015, he added.

YOUNHYO HA, Deputy Minister, Forest Service of the Republic of Korea, said forests were playing a key role in helping to realize his country’s green economy.  While it had experienced severe forest degradation during and after the Korean War, and was therefore well aware of the negative impact, the Republic of Korea had made strides towards reforestation at the national level in recent years.  The country had adopted a new development paradigm based on “low-carbon green growth”, which had resulted in the creation of green jobs, the conservation of biodiversity and the provision of biomass energy.

Noting that only one year remained before the “great opportunity” of the Rio+20 Conference, he underlined the need to strengthen sustainable forest management practices at all levels.  He called for regional and international efforts in that regard — including the establishment of an Asian Forest Cooperation — and highlighted the creation of the Global Green Growth Institute, inaugurated in his country in 2010.

KODJO MENAN ( Togo) said his country was experiencing severe deforestation, which was in turn contributing to repeated cycles of drought and flood.  Sustainable forest management was needed to break that cycle and reduce poverty, he said, noting that the country needed to “restart its economy based on green principles”.  For that reason, Togo was committed to implementing a number of policies promoting sustainable development, including the REDD-plus carbon reduction programme.

However, not all delegations agreed.

HENRI DJOMBO, Minister for Sustainable Development and Forest Economy of Congo, said that while countries must invest in and adapt to a sustainable green economy — including by reducing deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions — he was concerned that the REDD-plus programme might give developed countries a “right to pollute” through carbon credits in developing countries.  REDD-plus was, therefore, a major consideration as the Forum prepared for Rio+20, he emphasized.

CLEMENS NEUMANN, Director General, Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection of Germany, said forests frequently became the “premature victims” of the one-sided or short-term economic interests of only a few actors, with forest degradation and rural poverty too often the consequence.  In view of the upcoming Rio+20 Conference, therefore, a critical focus must be the urgent call for the implementation of worldwide forest-related economic planning and actions with a long-term perspective for the future.  Germany supported a number of such mechanisms, including the development of control instruments that would allow consumers to recognize goods produced in a sustainable manner, the certification of biomass production, legislation against illegal logging and a further extension of forest areas.

JASSER JIMENEZ (Nicaragua) said his country had carried out many activities with a view to sustainable development, including social programmes aimed at reducing poverty in areas affected by climate change, the creation of the National Reforestation Crusade, and greater effectiveness in the management of water resources, pasture and other aspects.  Nicaragua had also restored more than 50,000 hectares of forest and expected to restore more in coming years, he said.  In addition, a new forestry law had been implemented, providing incentives for the sustainable management of forests, and the country actively encouraged women to play a bigger role in forest management.

Turning to Rio+20, he called for discussions on the promotion of technical and financial support for mechanisms intended to improve the quality of life for local populations.  He also echoed a call, sounded throughout the ninth session, for the creation of an international financing system for sustainable forest management.

MOURAD BENMEHIDI ( Algeria) also joined that call, highlighting the need to ensure that developing countries were financially able to implement sustainable forest management programmes.  In the same vein, he said, the outcomes of Rio+20 must include a “broad framework”, taking the needs of all Member States into account, in particular those with low forest cover, which faced the challenges of desertification and land degradation.

Ministerial Dialogue with Collaborative Partnership on Forests

SHA ZUKANG, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, welcomed the heads of the 14 member organizations of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests and other high-level participants, saying the dialogue was an opportunity to hear each other’s priorities and plans.  It would address how best to promote the International Year of Forests and how to further implementation of forest financing, the non-legally binding instrument on all types of forests and the Global Objectives on Forests.

The dialogue would also consider how to ensure that forests were central to the agenda of the Rio+20 Conference in 2012, he said.  It also provided the opportunity to consider the Collaborative Partnership’s role in advancing coherent and coordinated actions and initiatives in support of all types of forests in all countries.  He invited members of the Collaborative Partnership to share with Member States their views on the work of their individual organizations and on how to accelerate collaboration across organizations.

EDUARDO ROJAS-BRIALES, Assistant Director-General, Forestry, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Chair of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, said the International Year had generated new momentum for all forest programmes, creating opportunities, synergies and networks that had shaped the operating environments and priorities of the organizations that had come together in the Partnership to support the Forum’s work as part of a continuing process of advocacy and awareness-raising on sustainable forest management.

Effective support to make Forests 2011 a success required careful integration and strengthened coordination within the forest sector itself and with other sectors, he said.  It also required more effective and unified engagement with global processes, as well as regional, national and local ones.  Efforts were moving beyond the Collaborative Partnership’s traditional constituencies and allowing a greater awareness of the diverse range of forest actions and solutions for the benefit of people, development and the environment, he said, adding that they should now focus on further improving cooperation and strengthening the collective impact of members’ work on the ground.  The lead-up to Rio+20 provided an opportunity to demonstrate the connection between sustainable forest management and green economies, as well as the potential of investing in forests for green growth, green food, green technologies, a greener landscape and sustainable livelihoods.

Under-Secretary-General SHA, introducing the panellists for the dialogue, asked them what plans their organizations had for promoting Forests 2011 and how they would generate awareness of the roles that forests played in people’s lives and in environmental economic and social development.  He also asked how the organizations would engage audiences beyond their traditional constituencies.

HELEN CLARK, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), explained that the agency worked with countries — though REDD and other programmes — to help them reinforce their capacity to fight deforestation.  It also worked with the Global Environment Fund (GEF) on financing small projects in more than 120 countries.  Additionally, UNDP worked with the World Bank and other stakeholders, and welcomed further potential partnerships with Member States in order to advance forest objectives in the most efficient manner possible.

JULIA MARTON-LEFÈVRE, Director-General, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), noted that the International Year of Biodiversity, 2010, had significantly raised the profile of biodiversity, and she expressed hope that the International Year of Forests, 2011, would do the same for forests and forest-related institutions and programmes.  IUCN planned a variety of programmes, including the publication of new analyses and statistics on topics such as the relationship between local forest communities and international markets, promoting the International Year through several web-based platforms and reaching out to new constituencies such as faith-based communities and youth.  “This is a turning point for the forest community,” she noted.

FRANCES SEYMOUR, Director-General, Centre for International Forestry Research, said the Centre for International Forestry Research was in the process of creating diverse partnerships to ensure that its scientific work had an effect in politics and other sectors beyond the scientific community.  Among its activities was the holding in December of Forest Day Five in Durban, South Africa, to raise awareness of scientific forestry issues.

DENNIS GARRITY, World Agro-Forestry Centre (ICRAF), said there was need for a more compelling vision of the forestry of the future, in particular agro-forestry, which described the role of trees on working farms, the coverage of which was increasing dramatically.  Drivers such as climate change would increase that growth even further.  In addition to their income and soil benefits, farm trees provided natural fertilizers, he said, describing evergreen-agriculture initiatives in Africa and India.  He called for a more determined drive for policy changes across sectors that would encourage the tremendous advantages of agro-forestry.

NIELS ELERS KOCH, President, International Union of Forest Research Organizations, said the International Union of Forest Research Organizations brought together about 15,000 scientists around work intended to benefit forests and people.  He spoke about upcoming conferences, a scientific assessment of forest management and the REDD-plus approach that the assessment was recommending in order better to link sustainable forest management to all related international concerns.

JAN MCALPINE, Director, United Nations Forum on Forests Secretariat, said the Forum was based upon a structure of collaboration with forest stakeholders.  That collaboration, which had evolved into the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, was a voluntary one that had been tremendously successful, she said.  As part of its work, the Partnership decided on themes for the Forum’s work — including the current theme, “Celebrating forests for people”.  Member States also worked together collaboratively, helping the Partnership to be more effective, she said, pointing to the “border-to-border” initiative launched yesterday by Rwanda as an example of innovative collaboration between members of the Partnership.

GUSTAVO FONSECA, Director of Natural Resources, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), said the Collaborative Partnership had innovated in the realm of technical experience and others, but that was not enough.  It could help facilitate pilots in developing countries, including least developed countries and small island developing States, and assist them in harmonizing their information for reporting purposes, he said.  Among other efforts to further those aims, GEF had agreed to finance a project, through the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), to reduce deforestation in low forest cover countries.  It also planned to bring all its experience to bear in its future work with the Forum in the area of forest financing, including on identifying gaps and barriers to funding, in order to help the Forum reach informed agreements on that topic at its next session.

GERHARD DIETERLE, Adviser, World Bank, said collaboration was needed at all levels for the creation of a financing mechanism for sustainable forest management.  The international financing architecture for forests had become very complex, and there were risks that developing countries would not have the capacity to execute its requirements, he said.  The World Bank supported REDD-plus and was committed to establishing a common delivery platform for that and other programmes.  Additionally, implementing the “portfolio approach” — which meant that some $1 billion in about 65 distinct lending operations were currently in play — had presented challenges, he said, adding that the Bank was starting to develop a joint approach to integrating its efforts within a joint delivery platform.

LUC GNACADJA, Executive Secretary, United Nations Convention to Combat Deforestation, said parties to that treaty had a huge stake in forestry.  Describing the many benefits of dryland forests, he said their significance was still underrated and failed to attract financial investment.  In preparing for Rio+20, it was important to “think outside the box” in dealing with conflicting priorities, he said, stressing that the drivers of deforestation must be addressed, as must soil productivity and degradation.

AHMED DJOGHLAF, Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity, said forests contained 80 per cent of biological diversity and the current rate of extinction was some 1,000 times the natural rate.  He described the forest-related targets of the recently adopted Nagoya Protocol, saying it aimed at halting deforestation by 2020, for example, and restoring a considerable amount of degraded forests by that year.  It was important to translate those targets into national strategies and action plans before Rio+20, he stressed.

Mr. ROJAS-BRIALES emphasized the importance of ensuring an enabling environment and of working towards a world evaluation system that properly and fully assessed the value of the contributions of natural resources, including diverse species and forests, which were an extraordinarily long-lived asset.  Unless that was done, the resources would be taken for granted, threatening sustainability, he said, stressing the need to build the institutional level of forestry better for that purpose.

EMMANUEL ZE MEKA, Executive Director, International Tropical Timber Organization, said that 20 years after the “watershed” Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the international community again had an opportunity to take stock of its progress in sustainable development.  Some tangible advances had been achieved, including the implementation of sustainable forest management through normative guidelines and the reduction of forest degradation, among others.  However, those achievements had been hampered by the lack of predictable financing and effective coordination and integration with local communities and other stakeholders.  Despite political willingness to advance towards sustainable forest management, the topic was still not a priority and forests were not treated in the holistic manner that would ensure their protection, he said.  It was time for stakeholders to redouble their efforts to raise forest issues as a priority and to ensure predictable funding, including for the integration of forests into a “green economy” and other new and emerging areas.

IBRAHIM THIAW, Director, Division of Environmental Policy Implementation, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said the planet’s 7 billion people depended on forests for numerous goods and without addressing forests, the notion of a green economy would merely be empty words.  The regeneration of forests had to happen without coming into conflict with the agricultural sector, he said.  He went on to affirm that forest benefits were undervalued in dollar terms, which led to forest governance being sequestered in non-economic departments.  Forests should not merely be on the agenda at Rio+20, but at its centre, he stressed.

CHRISTIANA FIGUERES, Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said via video message that the fact that forests were the lungs of the world and the key to reaching all sustainable development goals, including climate change mitigation and adaptation, could not be overemphasized.  They had been the focus in past years, partly because of the REDD-plus initiative and those of other Conventions.  She said progress had been made in Cancún, and forests must now feature prominently on the Rio+20 agenda.  The subject should be prominently advanced in the lead-up to 2012.  “Let us ensure that we can all take a first, second, third and fourth breath of celebration, as action on forests advances,” she said.

Following those presentations, the representative of Colombia praised the Collaborative Partnership for providing coherence in efforts to advance sustainable forest management while addressing it in a cross-cutting manner in the Rio+20 process.  She also welcomed the contributions of Partnership members to preparations for the launch of the International Year.

The representative of Brazil announced his country’s offer to host the next meeting of major groups, back-to-back with Rio+20.

Adoption of Text

The Forum then adopted the Ministerial Declaration of its ninth session.

ARVIDS OZOLS ( Latvia), Chairperson of the Forum on Forests, thanked all those who had worked so hard for so many hours to achieve consensus on the text.

JUAN MANUEL GÓMEZ ROBLEDO, Deputy Foreign Minister for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights of Mexico, also welcomed the adoption of the text, saying it provided a reinforcement of international commitments, including those made recently in Cancún, while making initiatives such as REDD-plus more amenable to implementation.  He pledged that his country would continue its work to ensure that the challenges of forests, climate change and other crucial international concerns were addressed together.

CARLOS FUENTES LOPEZ ( Bolivia) said that even though his country had supported the consensus, many of its priorities were not reflected in the text.  In particular, there was a need for a stronger commitment to the Global Trust Fund for Forests, with public and predictable inputs.  Other financing should be complementary to the voluntary fund and not replace it, he said, noting also that the text contained no acknowledgement of the rights of indigenous peoples.  There was an excessive focus on the economic aspects of forests to the detriment of other benefits, he pointed out, emphasizing that a holistic view of forests was needed to take the agenda forward.

PETER SCHWAIGER, Deputy Head of the Delegation of the European Union welcomed the adoption of the Ministerial Declaration, saying it was a good basis for collective work in the months and years to come.  The European Union would work hard to translate its political commitments into concrete actions, including by increasing the contribution of forests to sustainable development, a green economy, poverty eradication and the Millennium Development Goals; strengthening forest governance and encouraging public participation; enhancing the role of forests in climate change mitigation and adaptation; and other actions.

TAKESHI GOTO (Japan) also welcomed the Declaration’s adoption, saying it illustrated well the challenges ahead, in addition to providing a strong input for Rio+20.

SANDRA BESSUDO, Minister of Environment of Colombia, described the Declaration as a clear political message on the processes needed to advance the protection of forests.  However, it was necessary further to underscore the historic achievements made at recent global environmental conferences regarding the integration of forests into global climate change mechanisms.  In particular, the development of the REDD-plus mechanism was an “historic achievement” that should have been highlighted further in the text.

ROSARIO GÓMEZ GAMARRA, Vice-Minister for Environment and Strategic Development of Natural Resources of Peru, also welcomed the adoption of the Declaration and reiterated the importance of forests for life and well-being.  All must join together to promote sustainability, she said, adding that biodiversity and climate change initiatives must be linked with that effort.

MYUN-JOO LEE (Republic of Korea) emphasized that forests held the key to sustainable development.

DANIEL REIFSNYDER (United States), noting that the Declaration was short, in addition to all its other virtues, pledged to work with all partners to further strengthen the Forum on Forests.

ERTUĞRUL APAKAN (Turkey), describing the meeting as useful and productive, expressed a desire to host the tenth Forum in Istanbul come 2013.

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