Time to Be ‘Bold, Collaborative and Decisive’ in Elevating Forests in New Development Agenda, Forum Told as Two-Week Session Opens

ENV/DEV/1513
4 May 2015
Eleventh Session, 2nd & 3rd Meetings (AM & PM)

Time to Be ‘Bold, Collaborative and Decisive’ in Elevating Forests in New Development Agenda, Forum Told as Two-Week Session Opens

With 1.6 billion people depending on forests for food, fuel, shelter and income, now was the time to strengthen the global political commitment to sustainably manage one of the planet’s most cherished resources, top United Nations officials stressed today, as the United Nations Forum on Forests opened its eleventh session.

The two-week session, which runs until 15 May, was convened under the theme “Forests:  progress, challenges and the way forward for the International Arrangement on Forests”.  Established in 2000, the International Arrangement promotes implementation of internationally agreed actions on forests.  Its spirit traces back to the so-called “Forest Principles”, adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Brazil.

In opening remarks, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said the Forum had the formidable task of strengthening the International Arrangement by turning an ambitious vision into a practical structure that catalysed action on the ground.  Some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable relied on forests for their survival.

“The sustainable management of forests — in partnership with those who live in the forest regions — will be critical for meeting our ambition to eradicate poverty,” he stressed.  Indeed, forests built resilience and offered effective and cost-competitive carbon capture storage.  Shaping the International Arrangement beyond 2015 would require defining the ways it would advance the forest-related sustainable development goals.

As the only universal intergovernmental body on forest issues, the Forum must deliver on commitments, including through proper financing, he said.  The forest sector must be integrated in the sustainable development agenda at local, national, regional and international levels, with the broad participation of indigenous and local communities, and civil society groups, which possessed forest-related knowledge.  Women’s role as forest managers and agents of change also must be recognized and their participation in decision-making ensured.  With that, he encouraged participants to build on the unique opportunity that 2015 provided in preserving the balance between man and nature.

Along similar lines, Forum Chair Noel Nelson Messone, Minister for Forests, Environment and Protection of Natural Resources of Gabon, said major analytical and substantive work carried out over two years showed an emerging convergence on the way forward for the International Arrangement beyond 2015.

This year’s theme covered three areas, he said:  review of the International Arrangement’s effectiveness and consideration of future options, of progress towards the achievement of global forests objectives and implementation of the non-legally binding instrument an all types of forests, and of the International Arrangement’s contribution to the internationally agreed development goals.  The high-level segment would offer an opportunity to prepare a strong draft ministerial declaration as an input to the post-2015 agenda process.

In addition, he said, a Forum resolution should outline a framework for the design, function and direction of the International Arrangement.  It should include measures on strengthening both implementation and financing of sustainable forest management, financing of International Arrangement institutions, and ways to improve the engagement of major groups.

“We cannot afford to lose a precious opportunity to integrate forests into other major development processes,” he said, stressing that the Forum’s outcomes would help elevate forests in the new development agenda and climate change framework.  “We need to be bold, collaborative and decisive”, he said.  “Failure is not an option.”

In his remarks, Eduardo Rojas-Briales, Assistant Director-General of the Forestry Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Chair of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, described progress in the implementation of the so-called “Forest Instrument” — the Non-Legally Binding Instrument on All Types of Forests — and in the four Global Objectives on Forests.

Over 15 years, he said, the Partnership had established more than 30 initiatives, including for the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and the achievement of forest-related Aichi biodiversity targets.  He cited the lack of human and financial resources as an operational challenge, while expressing hope that the Forum’s deliberations on the Partnership’s future would be guided by its accomplishments and the contributions it could make to the Arrangement.  He also discussed the Partnership’s activities over the last two years (document E/CN.18/2015/7), highlighting work to elevate forest issues in the post-2015 agenda process.

Also today, the Forum heard a number of presentations of reports on the Forum’s inter-sessional activities around the world.  Manoel Sobral-Filho, Director of the Secretariat of the United Nations Forum on Forests, introduced the Secretary-General’s report (document E/CN.18/2015/2) on the “Review of the effectiveness of the international arrangement on forests and consideration of all future options, including Secretary-General conclusions and recommendations”, which he said would serve as a base for the Forum’s discussions.

He also presented the Secretary-General’s reports on:  “Reviewing progress towards the achievement of the global objectives on forests and the implementation of the non-legally binding instrument on all types of forests” (document E/CN.18/2015/3); Means of implementation for sustainable forest management and forest law enforcement and governance at all levels” (document E/CN.18/2015/4); “Enhanced cooperation and policy and programme coordination, including the provision of further guidance to the Collaborative Partnership on Forests” (document E/CN.18/2015/5); as well as a note by the Secretariat on the Forum Trust Fund (document E/CN.18/2015/8).

Raymond Landveld (Suriname) and Charles Barber (United States), Co-Chairs of the Ad Hoc Expert Group on the International Arrangement on Forests, introduced the report of the second meeting of the Open-Ended Intergovernmental Ad Hoc Expert Group on the Arrangement (document E/CN.18/2015/11).

Independent experts Juergen Blaser, from Switzerland, and Jorge Illueca, from Panama, presented the Independent Assessment Report on behalf of five consultants and two co-facilitators appointed by the Forum.  The report, which offered regional perspectives, served as an input to discussions at the second meeting of the Open-Ended Ad Hoc Expert Group, held in January 2015.

The Forum also heard presentations on country-led and major group initiatives in support of the Forum’s work, with Wu Zhimin (China) and Peter Besseau (Canada), Co-Chairs of the Workshop on the International Arrangement on Forests beyond 2015, presenting the report on that event, held from 29 to 31 October 2014 in Beijing.

Christian Küchli, Head of the Forest Division of Switzerland’s Federal Office for the Environment, presented the conclusions of the Interlaken+10 initiative held there in February, as part of a series in international workshops bringing together countries undergoing decentralization and governance reform in a spirit of mutual exchange and learning.  That initiative was explored in a parallel meeting by the Forum’s Major Group on Youth, the report of which was presented by Anna Stemberger.

Shatrudhwan Pokharel (Nepal) provided an overview of a workshop held in Kathmandu in February as part of a major group, which was aimed at developing recommendations for the eleventh session.  Participants stressed the role of major groups in the Forum’s work and the urgency of building robust institutions to continue work on the preservation and promotion of such a vital resource.

Introducing the study “Forests in the ECE (Economic Commission for Europe) Region:  Trends and Challenges in Achieving the Global Objectives on Forests”, jointly prepared by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization, Roman Michalak, of the UNECE/FAO Joint Forestry and Timber Section, said there had been a 1.5 per cent net increase in forest cover in the region between 2000 and 2015.

However, he said, while forests and forest resources were expanding, their contribution to the region’s economies was decreasing.  Such assessments were needed in order to review performance in achieving forestry targets.  Exchanging regional experiences could help address challenges to achieving the Objectives.

Peter Holmgren of the Centre for International Forestry Research, also speaking on behalf of the World Agroforestry Centre and Alexander Buck of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations made a joint presentation on their forest science initiative in the context of the post-2015 agenda.

Also today, the Forum elected by acclamation Vicente Bezerra (Brazil) and Wu Zhimin (China) as Vice-Chairs of the eleventh session, as well as Heikki Granholm (Finland) as Rapporteur.  It also adopted its provisional work programme.

The United Nations Forum on Forests will meet again at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 5 May, to continue its eleventh session.

General Debate

When the floor was opened for general debate, delegates outlined their perspectives on how to strengthen the International Arrangement on Forests and integrate its principles into the broader development agenda beyond 2015.  Several stressed it should make a “real impact” by catalysing financing for sustainable forest management.

For the representative of South Africa, who spoke for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, that meant a focus on measures that would enhance policy coherence and address weaknesses related to the implementation and financing of forest instruments.  The proposed Global Forest Fund, he said, should have simple modalities to ensure easy access for developing countries.

The representative of the European Union Delegation said the Forum’s work represented a solid basis for deliberations on building an overarching post-2015 framework.  The current International Arrangement had not been able to meet the expectations of Member States, he said, stressing that the new one must be able to encourage a clear focus on the challenges ahead, avoid duplication and build synergies.  A strengthened partnership among key stakeholders should be a key part of the post-2015 Arrangement, with funding raised from complementary sources.

The representative of Cambodia, speaking for the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), stressed that members had built their forest policies and programmes on the principles of sustainability in a holistic way.  Beyond 2015, the Association was developing a strategic plan for future cooperation based on collaborative partnerships, new ideas and new funding sources.

The speaker from Switzerland said the Forum had a unique chance to position forests and land use as part of the post-2015 agenda.  Failure to do so, on the other hand, posed great risks to sustainable development.  Global stewardship was needed to bring together all forest-related processes, she said, stressing the importance of harmonizing forest definitions.  The governance of forests should receive the required attention in the new Arrangement and their vulnerability to climate change recognized more explicitly.

The representative of Indonesia stressed the need for a balanced approach in perceiving forests.  While they were important for the livelihoods for billions of people around the world, they also served a much larger purpose of providing life support for the planet.  His country was determined to achieve the twin objectives of promoting people’s welfare while protecting forests.  The post-2015 Arrangement should focus on stewardship, as well as promoting a facilitating role for the sustainable management of all types of forests.

The representative of Japan urged the Forum to devise new ways of promoting sustainable management of forests, given their links with the wider aspects of life.  Japan remained among the top sources of official development assistance (ODA) targeted to forest resources and would engage actively and constructively on developing the new Arrangement.

The representative of Mexico called for clarification of the role of the Forum in the post-2015 framework and stressed the need to avoid duplicating work already being done in other areas.  Bolivia’s representative emphasized the need to include the participation and support of local and indigenous populations in efforts at development of forests in a sustainable way based on a “non-market-based” framework.

Also making statements were the representatives of Turkey, Iran, Norway, Russian Federation, India, Malaysia, Ghana, Gabon, Colombia, China, Peru, United States, Argentina, Philippines and Brazil.

The representatives of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan also spoke.

For information media. Not an official record.