The COFO meeting was attended by 113 States members of COFO, 17 observer States, four UN agencies, and 18 intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations. Outgoing COFO Chair, Hassan Osman Abdel Nour (Sudan), opened the meeting. Mr. H.W. Hjort, Deputy Director General of FAO, welcomed delegates, suggesting that the meeting was unique for COFO, having been preceded by consultations with representatives from the private sector and from conservation and development NGOs and that the meeting will be followed by the ministerial session. He said that FAO is providing a forum for convergence of efforts to develop criteria and indicators (C & I) for sustainable forestry, and asked delegates for their views on FAO activities related to UNCED follow-up, on the suggested CSD panel, on the trade implications of C & I, and whether the Forest Principles should evolve further.
After adoption of the agenda (COFO-95/INF. 1 - Rev. 1), Mr. John Valentine (New Zealand) was elected Chair, Mr. Abeedullah Jan (Pakistan) first Vice-Chair, and Jan Ilavsky (Slovak Republic), Rabie Fal"ah (Iran), Pedro Medrano Rojas (Chile), Moorosi Raditapole (Lesotho) and Yvan Hardy (Canada) Vice-Chairs. Mr. W.F. Sheridan (UK) was elected Rapporteur. A working group was formed, chaired by Amb. AlvarĒ Gurgel Alencar (Brazil), to develop the ministerial statement.
THE MANAGEMENT AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT OF FORESTS - THE 1995 CSD REVIEW: On Monday and Tuesday, 13-14 March, delegates discussed overall issues of forests and sustainable development, based on a set of documents: COFO-95/2 (The Management, Conservation and sustainable development of forests: major issues - preparing for CSD); COFO-95/2 - Supp.1 (Regional perspectives); COFO-95/2 - Supp.2 (Forestry initiatives related to UNCED follow-up); COFO-95/2 - Supp. 3 (Expert consultation on the harmonization of criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management (Rome, 13-16 February 1995) - summary report); COFO-95/2 - Supp. 4 (Assessing the advantages and disadvantages of a legally binding instrument on forests); COFO-95/2 - Supp. 5 (Meeting the private forest industry sector on UNCED follow-up (Rome, 8 March 1995) - summary report); and COFO-95/2 - Supp.6 (Meeting with NGOs on forestry (Rome, 10-11 March 1995) - summary report). (Editor"s note: These documents are available on the Linkages World Wide Web Server at http://www.iisd.ca/linkages/.)
The European Union welcomed the results of the Helsinki process on Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Management of European Forests. He recommended development of a legally binding instrument on all types of forests and pointed to the need for progress on certification of timber from sustainably managed forests. He supported establishment of an intergovernmental panel under the CSD, suggesting a joint secretariat under FAO and UNEP, with assistance from other UN agencies and the secretariats of the biodiversity and desertification conventions.
The US said FAO should continue to seek a better balance between environmental and developmental functions of forests in its programmes. He said FAO priorities should include information gathering and forest resource assessments, and that FAO should focus on technical assistance in SFM. He said development of C & I, through the various processes, had produced complementary, compatible results, but added that the different C & I processes need to be implemented, not harmonized or globalized. He supported study and exploration of certification and labeling schemes, but noted that other organizations were already working in this area so that FAO should not play a major role. He said national level C & I are not a basis for certification at the forest unit or stand level. He recommended that FAO be more open to NGO observers, and supported the proposed CSD panel as the appropriate forum for moving forward the international forest policy debate. The panel should be facilitated by the UN Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development (DPCSD), with FAO providing technical support in areas within its competence.
Brazil said countries should abide by the Forest Principles and relevant chapters of Agenda 21. He suggested that the Forest Principles have not yet been applied, and that it is premature to discuss a binding convention on forests. FAO should be part of the process in its recognized technical role as task manager.
Malaysia agreed with the call in COFO-95/2 for harmonization of C & I for SFM at the global level. He said that certification of timber can only be effective following establishment of internationally agreed C & I, developed through an intergovernmental process involving all stakeholders. He said any certification scheme should be: applied to all timber and timber products as well as non-timber substitutes; based on internationally agreed criteria; based on a realistic time frame for achieving SFM; and used without becoming a non-tariff trade barrier. He categorically opposed a forest protocol under the Biodiversity Treaty, noting that biodiversity conservation is only one of many forest functions. He said implementation of the Forest Principles in developing countries required transfer of environmentally sound technologies and adequate financial resources on concessional and preferential terms. He stated that the proposed CSD panel should not prejudge the need for a legally binding instrument on forests.
Canada stressed the progress of the Intergovernmental Working Group on Forests, whose proposed options and approaches are intended for potential inclusion in the proposed CSD panel"s work. He noted that the various efforts to establish scientifically based C & I are key to promoting global consensus on forests. He suggested FAO could play a role in involving countries not yet participating in the process, facilitating a convergence between C & I initiatives and responding to requests from the CSD may make under the proposed intergovernmental panel. The CSD should continue to act as the primary venue for global policy discussion on forests, and its panel should be open, transparent and inclusive. FAO has an essential technical role to play supporting the policy work under the CSD panel. He said there is a need for a legally binding instrument on all forests and all forest values. He supported voluntary, non- legislated certification of forest products as a means of facilitating non-discriminatory trade.
Norway said that future activities should include all concerned countries and groups, especially indigenous peoples. He said any establishment of a legally binding instrument for forests must be done in a holistic and balanced manner through a step- by-step and non-confrontational process. He said the CSD panel proposal was a positive step toward this process. The Netherlands said FAO should take the initiative to develop terms of reference for the CSD panel in cooperation with other UN agencies. He supported the EU"s recommendation to seek consensus on a step-by-step process toward a legally binding instrument. He strongly supported transparency and participation in the process, especially for indigenous and forest dwelling groups, whose presence he said had been only window dressing or forbidden in the past.
The Czech Republic stressed the difficulties of countries with economies in transition in information access and institutional capacity to implement international measures. He called for more comparable rules for creating common databases and evaluating private sector forestry and state actions.
Austria said the international community should take further steps to establish a negotiating process for a legally binding agreement, first establishing the need for and feasibility of an instrument. While it is necessary to develop a more complete understanding of ecological functions of forests, he said decisions can not wait for total certainty.
The Republic of Korea said COFO should review the adequacy of the Forest Principles, noting that there is no mechanism for their implementation. He said CSD should assume responsibility in negotiating a legally binding instrument with full participation of all groups including NGOs. South Africa did not support a legally binding agreement, because limited resources mean it would have difficulty abiding by such an agreement. Trinidad and Tobago said guidelines, frameworks, and criteria are useful, but each sovereign country must work out its own solution according to ecological, cultural and other factors. He supported the first of three options in the COFO document, that countries should work toward developing and evaluating the Forest Principles but not develop any new instrument. Sudan also supported the first option.
Finland supported a coordinated process for further consensus and implementing forestry related decisions. He said only a separate forest convention can take into account socioeconomic and environmental factors and integrate national and international resources. He endorsed FAO"s activities in forest resources assessment and information, emphasized FAO"s assistance toward capacity building and National Forest Action Plans and said the FAO regional forestry commissions are of ultimate importance.
The UK said the proposed CSD panel should prepare the basis for convergence of C & I initiatives, identify and commission research on forest and environmental issues, prepare the basis of certification and labeling for products from sustainable forests, consider a binding agreement and identify its elements, and consider the best way to deliver SFM and conservation.
The Center for International Forest Research (CIFOR) called for FAO to include more research in the international debate on forests, noting that CIFOR is testing C & I in the field.
Myanmar called for caution in developing a legally binding instrument, noting that legality should not be in conflict with national sovereignty over forest resources or national responsibility for their development. Indonesia proposed a discussion of non- wood forest products and said that COFO should recommend establishing an FAO advisory committee on the subject. He said the recent efforts on C & I could lead to confusion if no consensus is reached. Senegal endorsed the development of a legally binding instrument, with immediate negotiations initiated by the UN General Assembly. Colombia said C & I can not be established until a legally binding instrument is discussed, but he said they could be included under the CSD or the Biodiversity Convention.
India said that FAO should go beyond being task manager for the Forest Principles. He said all initiatives should be FAO-driven and that FAO can be a vanguard for efforts following Rio.
WWF International said there is confusion between C & I and certification. She supported certification efforts already underway by the Forest Stewardship Council. She noted that national C & I initiatives have not considered how they will contribute to SFM, but instead have been technically oriented and developed without broad participation. The World Rainforest Movement said emphasis was too great on poverty and population as causes of deforestation, with too little attention to consumerism and imposition on the rights of indigenous peoples. He noted that higher value for forest products could cause increased deforestation, and called for penalties for forest destruction as well as incentives for conservation. He said respect for indigenous and other forest communities is critical in development of any C & I, and that existing international instruments on indigenous peoples should be respected. Greenpeace International said consensus at COFO pointed to the need for a mandate and direction for FAO in technical services, information and assessments. She said DPCSD should provide the secretariat for the proposed CSD panel, because DPCSD is a neutral agency. C & I should not be forced into harmonization without testing first at national levels. She criticized the process to date because: the motivation has been to set rules for forest product trade; it has not addressed diversity in forest use and value, and it has not been participatory. The Sierra Club, representing the Global Forest Policy Project, noted the recent FAO experts meeting"s conclusion that use of indicators is premature. He questioned whether criteria can be effectively harmonized if they are only very general statements. He said FAO"s organizational change is only beginning, so it is not the time for FAO to assume expanded new duties. The International Alliance of Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forests said any international agreement or process must recognize self determination of indigenous peoples, their long-term presence in forests, and principles of existing indigenous peoples" declarations.
UNDP noted its work in country capacity building for national forest programmes and promised to collaborate fully with the proposed CSD intergovernmental panel. The World Bank suggested two additions to the proposed FAO agenda: direct steps for cooperation between FAO and the World Bank and other intergovernmental organizations on forest programmes; and consideration of the role of forestry in poverty reduction.
REVIEW OF FAO FIELD PROGRAMMES, DECISIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS: On Tuesday and Wednesday, 14-15 March, delegates considered a review of FAO"s field programmes in the medium- and long-term, based on COFO-95/3 (Programme implementation and evaluation reports), COFO-95/4 (Long and medium-term and 1996-97 priorities for forestry) and COFO-95/Inf. 6 (Summary of the proceedings of the expert consultation on non-wood forest products). Canada noted that the documents did not include means of measuring achievement. He pointed to the need for an increase in FAO"s budget for forests, improved policy analysis, increased involvement of women and indigenous groups and improvement of the National Forest Action Plan process. Australia called for increased recognition of women"s role in forestry, especially in community forestry. China said priority should be given to strengthening national forest departments, strengthening resources and encouraging reforestation, rational utilization of forests including non-wood products, and human resource development and training.
On Wednesday 15 March COFO also reviewed COFO-95/5 (Decisions of FAO Governing Bodies of interest to the Committee), COFO-95/6 (Recommendations of other FAO Statutory Bodies in forestry of interest to the Committee) and COFO-97/7 (Follow-up to the requests and recommendations of the eleventh session of the Committee). The Netherlands urged establishment of a center of excellence in non- wood products and the inclusion of non-wood products in national accounts. Canada emphasized the work of FAO"s regional forestry commissions and urged that they be used to enhance forestry dialogue. Greece requested greater information about FAO budgets and called for enhanced public relations efforts on behalf of foresters. Gabon noted the lack of information from the African regional forestry commission. China endorsed a leading role for regional forestry commissions and said FAO should help countries in the transition from planned to market economies. Malaysia said FAO should take the lead in assisting developing countries to implement the Forest Principles and Agenda 21"s forest provisions. Algeria noted that desertification and forest fires are not addressed in the documents. The US said the regional commissions should investigate scientific and technical aspects of forestry, and that FAO should provide a budget for these functions.
COFO FINAL REPORT: Delegates adopted the COFO report (COFO- 95/REP) during an evening session Wednesday 15 March and in a session just prior to the ministerial meeting on Thursday 16 March. The report recommends that FAO should respond positively to the CSD intersessional recommendation to establish an intergovernmental panel under the aegis of CSD, and that FAO should be prepared to participate in the process. A specific reference to that participation "possibly in a secretariat capacity" was deleted from the first draft of the report after Australia, Brazil and Malaysia objected. The report states that FAO should continue to work closely and build partnerships with other international organizations and agencies and should continue to work in an open and transparent manner with private forest industry sector and NGOs.
The report notes that some delegations expressed support for a legally binding instrument, and that others thought it premature or undesirable. Considering the difference of views, COFO agreed the way forward should be based on consensus- building in a step-by-step process.
After considerable debate on specific language, a paragraph on broadening participation calls for involvement of indigenous and local communities, the private sector and NGOs in the planning, design and implementation of programmes and policies relating to sustainable forest management and utilization. It also refers to the need to consider gender issues.
The report discusses C & I as part of the need to define basic principles of SFM, notes some delegations" concerns about premature attempts at harmonization and requests that FAO promote exchange of information, research results, data and experience between the various initiatives and among countries that have not been part of the processes. It recognized that policies and actions on formulation of C & I at the national level are the responsibility of sovereign nations but that international action could provide guidance and catalyze action. Testing and demonstration are to be carried out with close involvement of all concerned, and FAO should assist countries. The meeting recognized the need for complementarity between C & I at national and, where relevant, forest management unit levels. It points to the contribution indicators at these levels could make in clarifying environment and trade issues, including incentive systems and forest product certification. The report states the need to prevent environmental policies from serving as disguised trade barriers and recognizes certification as a potential means of promoting trade in products from sustainably managed forests, with some delegations calling for assurance that certification not be used as a non-tariff trade barrier.
The report recommends increasing FAO"s forestry budget, and requests FAO to concentrate on areas in which it has a comparative advantage, including analysis and dissemination of data and information, policy advice, coordination, advocacy and technical assistance. Other priorities include the Global Forest Resources Assessment, technical information for UNCED follow-up and C & I development, community forestry programmes and National Forestry Action Plans as a vehicle for capacity building. It gives special priority to FAO"s CSD task manager role for forestry and in support of a potential intergovernmental panel on forests.
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