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Civil Society Groups Want Decisive Action to Sustain World’s Forests, United Nations Forum Told as it Holds Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue


Major groups participating in the United Nations Forum on Forests were contributing time and resources with an urgent sense of the need to act decisively, as forests continued to disappear at an alarming rate, the Forum was told today, as it held the second part of its multi-stakeholder dialogue for the current session.

Lorraine Rekmans, facilitator for the dialogue, the first part of which took place last Wednesday, said the major groups, as representatives of civil society, wanted definitive and immediate action. They were prepared to make concrete suggestions to ensure they were part of the solution.

While the major groups were poised as partners, the text of the non-legally binding instrument was mostly silent on their involvement, she said. By contrast, certain parts of that text referred specifically to partnerships. If that partnership were to be looked upon as a marriage, then the major groups were indeed the neglected wife, or perhaps only the part-time mistress, and they intended to reconcile the relationship in a positive way.

Earlier, Hans Hoogeveen ( Netherlands), Chairman of the Forum on Forests, introduced the facilitator, noting that the multi-stakeholder dialogues had been effective in involving major groups in the Forum’s work and calling for innovative approaches to enhance stakeholder engagement in policy deliberations and in implementation of sustainable forest management at all levels.

Pointing out the substantive contributions of major groups to discussions on issues ranging from the root causes of deforestation, to the role of traditional forest-related knowledge and gender aspects of sustainable forest management, he said they had hands-on experience with the obstacles and challenges of implementing sustainable forest management at the grass-roots level.

Representatives of the following major groups addressed today’s meeting: indigenous peoples; business and industry; non-governmental organizations; farmers and small forest landowners; science and technology; children and youth; women; and small business.

The representatives of Guatemala, Pakistan, Australia, Uruguay, Switzerland, Ecuador and the United States also spoke.

Jan Heino, Chairman of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, also addressed the Forum.

The Forum will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 27 April.


The United Nations Forum on Forests met this morning to hold the second part of this year’s multi-stakeholder dialogue under the theme “Moving Beyond Dialogue to Action”.


HANS HOOGEVEEN ( Netherlands), Chairman of the Forum on Forests, recalled that last Wednesday morning, the Forum had had an opportunity to touch upon some of the major group perspectives on the non-legally binding instrument and the multi-year programme of work. Multi-stakeholder dialogues had been effective in involving major groups in the Forum’s work, and innovative approaches were now needed to take the dialogue further –- to enhance stakeholder engagement in policy deliberations and implementation of sustainable forest management at all levels. Major groups had contributed substantively to discussions on issues ranging from the root causes of deforestation to the role of traditional forest-related knowledge and gender aspects of sustainable forest management. Those stakeholders had hands-on experience in the obstacles and challenges relating to implementing sustainable forest management at the grass-roots level.

He then introduced Lorraine Rekmans, Executive Director of the National Aboriginal Forestry Association, saying she had been nominated by members of the major groups to help facilitate the dialogue session. Based in Ottawa, Canada, the Association worked to promote the involvement of indigenous peoples in sustainable forest management.

Ms. REKMANS said the dialogue had three major themes: participation by indigenous peoples and local communities; the private sector in sustainable forest management; and major group involvement in the implementation of the multi-year programme of work.

She said major groups were contributing time and resources in good faith, recognizing a sense of urgency to act decisively as forests continued to disappear at an alarming rate. The status quo was unacceptable, and as representatives of civil society, major groups wanted definitive action immediately. They were prepared to make concrete suggestions to ensure they were part of the solution.

While the major groups were poised as partners of Member States, the text of the non-legally binding instrument was mostly silent on their involvement, she said. By contrast, certain parts of that text referred specifically to partnerships. If that partnership were to be looked upon as a marriage, then the major groups were indeed the neglected wife, or perhaps only the part-time mistress. It was their intention to reconcile the relationship in a positive way.

Speaking on behalf of the indigenous peoples major group, she said many indigenous groups had a distinct legal status within their Member States, which made it difficult for them to work legally when some States refused to recognize them. The distinctiveness of indigenous people must be recognized in the non-legally binding instrument.

Noting that indigenous peoples were intimately connected to the land, she said some of them were forest people and their survival depended crucially on their knowledge of the natural world. They were primarily interested in relationships with the environment and their integral connection was central to their culture. Their relationship to the land was not simply a matter of subsistence, but was intimately embedded in their way of life.

A representative of the business and industry major group said the companies stressed the importance of the Forum and the important role the private sector could play in funding and supporting sustainable forest management. The group, however, was disappointed.

She said the forest industry in Australia was strongly committed to sustainable forest management and sought a strong statement by the Forum about the importance of sustainable forest management principles. They wished to see a stable policy setting, such as that found in Australia’s plantation sector. There was a moral and environmental imperative to address the issue of illegal logging and to ensure the legality and sustainability of forest products. Industry was willing to help the Forum achieve sustainable forest management.

A representative of non-governmental organizations said a major concern was that the same decision makers would continue to make decisions on how new money was spent. Non-governmental organizations would also like to see expanded involvement of the major groups. The Forum needed a different focus for different elements of the private sector. Greater application and enforcement of existing laws must be directed at industry that would help with sustainable forest management and provide a level playing field for business. Also, illegal logging was not being sufficiently addressed. Non-governmental organizations would continue to work with industry and focus on forest stewardship certification schemes, which must involve civil society and major groups. Governments could mandate some form of certification.

A representative of farmers and small land owners, noted that, in the long run, sustainable forest management would be able to take care of itself without subsidies. Sustainable forest management should not be based on subsidies only. Certification was a market-led initiative and should remain so in the future. Government involvement in certification schemes was critical. Forest owners were also developing certification schemes, and there were many examples of mutually supportive initiatives by the Government and private sector. In terms of the non-legally binding instrument, partnerships often lacked the recognition and resources for effective implementation. It would, therefore, be crucial to have a mechanism that allowed for effective recognition of public-private partnership.

The representative of science and technology, also addressing the private sector, said the Forum had heard last week about the need to adopt a portfolio approach, which included the possibility of public-private partnership requiring new and different obligations and responsibilities for both receiving and investing partners. Forestry activities in developing countries had generated much enthusiasm in the 1960s. It had been thought that private investment would provide the funds needed for developing forest sector development in developing countries. That great hope had vanished. The new private-sector contracts embedded in the portfolio approach would need to be looked at critically to see what obligations and responsibilities were needed for countries receiving investments. It was also necessary to see how science and technology could come into play, with the private sector providing its own scientific and technological knowledge. Another issue was ensuring the capacity of the people to build upon initiatives once private investment was gone.

Guatemala’s representative stressed the importance of private sector investment in sustainable forest management, noting Guatemala’s long experience with its forest institute. The institute’s autonomy made possible a long-term policy. Long-term investments would make it possible to provide incentives for forest production and management. Guatemala’s experience had resulted in forest cover of more than 3 per cent. Guatemala had achieved small, medium and long-term successful, sustainable forest management.

Reacting to that statement, the private sector’s representative noted that Australia had been able to assist in supporting much of the science that had led to the development of its plantation sector. Australia had also be able to implement a major research project with New Zealand to provide trans-Tasman forestry research to the benefit of both countries. She suggested that other delegates look at public-private sector development.

A representative of the children and youth major group, referring to forest certification, pointed out that that demand for certified timber was not very high at the moment, which was a cause of concern considering the important role that the private sector had to play. What could a country expect industry to do in funding certification initiatives?

The business and industry representative said her country had gone a long way on certification, which had been very important in supporting markets in both domestic and export forestry. Companies in Australia had worked together to send a strong message from the perspective of both native forests and plantation forests. While there had not generally been a strong demand for certification, the Government was looking into illegal logging and ensuring a reduction in the importation of illegal timber.

The representative of Pakistan pointed out that, though it might have been possible to withdraw Government funding from private–sector plantations, developing countries lacked the strong private-public partnerships to undertake similar actions.

The representative of Australia said the role of certification had not been well-enough examined at the intergovernmental level and that his country was concerned about “blockages” in that regard. The Australian Government had gradually realized that the way to get significant additional investment was to develop the partnerships with the private sector, in the broadest sense of that term, as a lot of money could be made available under appropriate financial mechanisms.

He said the Government had raised that issue in the past, both at the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests and the United Nations Forum on Forests, and felt it was important to share the details of Australia’s experience with other Governments. There was also a need to find a way forward in examining the risk of disenfranchising indigenous groups.

The women’s representative said the group wished to draw attention to what would happen when contracts were being prepared between the private sector and local communities, as far as those who were unable to read, write or negotiate in their own interests were concerned. Mechanisms must be shaped to ensure an equitable distribution of resources.

The science and technology representative drew attention to the omission of references and to the importance of education and raising awareness. There had been no mention of providing adequate financing for implementation of sustainable forest management tools in education systems, and extension programmes for local communities and land management practitioners. Without a source of stable funding, all such efforts would be wasted.

The representative of Uruguay said his country was considered to have low forest cover, but for more than 40 years it had been enacting legislation on natural and planted forests. If it continued along that path, it would cease to be considered a low forest-cover country. Although Uruguay had no certification system, it had developed other means and all enterprises wishing to be certified had been able to do so. Therefore, a certification system did not have to be a national one. Further, there might be other tools for sustainable forest management.

Regarding investment by the private sector, he cited the use of private funds in capital investments. Uruguay had for many years had a national forestry research institute. As for the question of how to involve women in forestry work, they now comprised more than 40 per cent of the country’s forestry sector, including those involved in the national research institute. Further progress could be made, in that respect.

Representing farmers and small forest landowners, another speaker stressed the need to identify who was responsible for deforestation and forest management. Local communities in Nepal were the real managers of its forest resources. Governments could facilitate local communities in managing forests in a sustainable manner. The issues of decision-making, implementation and sharing benefits needed to be addressed. Governments needed to assist local communities in developing the best policies for managing forests. The benefits of sustainable forest management should also be enjoyed by the local communities, and Government policies should involve local communities.

Introducing the next theme, strengthening major groups, Ms. REKMANS said every resource would need to be leveraged to ensure success.

Starting the discussion, a representative of the women’s group noted that the major groups had been asked last week to describe their vision for the multi-year programme of work and the non-legally binding instrument.

Describing that vision, the representative of farmers and small forest landowners said the non-legally binding instrument would be successful if it contributed to the implementation of sustainable forest management and the Millennium Development Goals. The question was, what was needed for that to become a reality? The instrument needed to ensure intersectoral coordination in implementing sustainable forest management. It also needed to involve ordinary people. Major groups needed to be included in the instrument in a balanced manner with Governments. The process also needed to take into account regional differences. Forest owners could offer strong organizations, which were constructive partners for Governments. Forest owners’ organizations were an effective tool in providing capacity-building in the field of sustainable forest management.

The representative of children and youth emphasized the need for real commitment to sustainable forest management. The Forum would be a success when both Governments and society could look each other in the eyes and believe that global implementation of sustainable forest management had started. A strong non-legally binding instrument needed to show how, and with what resources, the global objectives on forests would be reached. Major groups must be involved in the instrument’s development, implementation and evaluation.

Guatemala’s representative congratulated those who had conceived the participation of the major groups in today’s meeting. The Forum should make every effort to define an instrument that would not only assign resources, but bring about commitments from both sides.

A representative of the science and technology major group said a successful outcome of the session would include the recognition of the importance of science and technology. Further, it would provide an appropriate means for the inclusion of the importance of scientific knowledge as a way to improve capacity, particularly in developing countries, where the link between science and policy was least visible. Science was also important for training, and it should be a concrete aspect of providing the means for capacity-building and technological information in developing countries -- not only its collection, but also its processing -- so that policy makers could make more effective use of it.

The non-governmental organization representative said that, for environmental non-governmental organizations, a successful outcome would be a strong political commitment to the implementation by Governments of already-agreed commitments. During the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests, colleagues in the non-governmental organization major group had agreed to announce an agreement on the causes of deforestation. The group also supported decentralization and the need to provide communities with more opportunities to implement proposals for action.

The representative of Switzerland said her country was reflecting on holding workshops on sectoral governance. Switzerland was happy to hear more about land tenure rights, which was very important for sectoral governance, and governance in general. Hopefully, the instruments being negotiated this week would include land tenure rights, sectoral governance and capacity-building.

A representative of the indigenous peoples major group said they had been tireless in their continuous efforts to save the forests, because saving them meant their survival. One way to succeed in that goal was to improve the relationship among indigenous peoples, Governments and other major stakeholders. Indigenous peoples were ready to work with other sectors to save forests, not only for themselves, but also for generations to come.

JAN HEINO, Chairman of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, reiterated that the Partnership and its individual members were ready to actively participate in the non-legally binding instrument, to collaborate with the major groups and to retain contacts with them. There was vast potential in including major groups in decentralization work, and that discussion must continue.

The non-governmental organization representative noted that mechanisms still in place severely limited major groups, although they had come a long way. Some of the rules limited those from less developed countries, but they should not give up. It was necessary to plan the journey towards sustainable forest management, and there was a need for additional planning to get to the destination.

Talking about private-public partnerships must not be limited, he stressed. There was a way in which non-governmental organizations could help, but it was essential that the non-legally binding instrument and the multi-year programme of work have the right mechanisms to make that possible.

The women’s representative said the Forum would have succeeded when it had found ways to bring about community-level action in pursuit of community-level solutions. A partnership for action towards expanded participation by major groups would allow them to raise the concerns of women and other marginalized groups, particularly about land tenure and other key topics, while providing innovative ideas and experiences. Major groups could bring new ideas and ways of thinking.

She proposed that a member country host a major group-led initiative in 2008 that would allow them to have a more substantial discussion on the multi-year programme of work. Another second specific proposal was for funding a pilot programme to demonstrate innovative ways to work collaboratively together, thus demonstrating to Governments the value of working with groups.

Ecuador’s representative agreed that the contribution of major groups in forest management was essential. Ecuador had successfully carried out several initiatives with its forestry authorities to combat deforestation. A simply conservationist approach could not be taken. All actors needed to work in a more coordinated manner with forest managers.

A representative of small business said the Forum’s session should result in a strong statement outlining its clear commitment to maintaining policies and an enabling environment to ensure strong investment in forest industry. In that regard, she reiterated the positive role that industry could play.

The United States representative said she appreciated the work being done by the major groups to bring their perspectives to the Forum. It had been possible to make better decisions about forests by working with American Indian tribal governments, non-governmental organizations, business and industry. The United States supported pursuing secure land tenure, capacity building and partnership. The challenges ahead could be successfully addressed through collaboration and consultation.

Noting the proposal for a major group-led initiative, Ms. REKMANS said the discussion had highlighted the need for a mechanism in the non-legally binding instrument that would enable the participation of the major groups.

Concluding the discussion, Mr. HOOGEVEEN said the major groups had been active in the discussion, putting forward concrete ideas. An innovative, major group-led initiative would be a good sign that work with those groups was moving from dialogue to concrete action on the ground.


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