The final days debates over trade, finance and legal instruments captured the intractable essence of the IPFs divided outcomes. A characteristically frank discussion of the proper role of national versus international action on illegal forest products trade led to an exchange that could serve as an epitaph to the entire IPF process. The G-77/China and European Union dismissed each others suggestions with the same phrase: nice try.
The IPF process witnessed some shifting in the political winds, in the form of willingness on the part of previously reluctant countries to consider and even support an international forest convention. But after 18 months of research, intersessional meetings, discussion and debate, the roots of resistance that run beneath efforts to extend international forest policy still run strong and deep. Sovereignty, financial and trade-related issues still stand between the international community and any consensus on forests.
The IPF began with an ambitious agenda to forge consensus on previously difficult issues in international forest policy. It ended with negotiated text on its action proposals, the most contentious of which contain multiple options that illustrate the Panels inability to reach consensus. The intensity of the debate on proposals for action left little time for full negotiation of the conclusions, and thus, despite early overtures by the Co-Chairs, delegates were unable to fulfill their pledge to deliver a fully negotiated and therefore more authoritative final report. Controversial issues, such as whether to pursue a global forest convention or where to find the funds needed to implement sustainable forest management, resulted in either tentative language or options that expose familiar, long- standing divisions.
One theme that arose repeatedly throughout the IPF agenda was the pull between national control over natural resources and international oversight or regulation of global environmental concerns. This issue was particularly conspicuous in the debate over assessment of illegal trade in forest products. The position of Brazil, the G-77/China and India that the problem was one of national legislation and enforcement and, therefore, not open for discussion at the international level, demonstrated the sway that sovereignty continues to hold in international debate. Sovereignty served as a limit on IPF actions in numerous other issue areas, with delegations from both North and South insisting that recommendations only apply within national legal limits or according to national circumstances.
Another familiar theme is the call for new and additional financial resources and transfer of technology to developing countries. Language recalling the Forest Principles and Agenda 21 on these subjects was the vehicle used by the G-77/China to remind other countries of their position contained in the Rio agreements that achievement of the ultimate universal goal of sustainable management of forests depends in developing countries on external assistance. Although this provoked much debate, many of these references were retained in the final text. Language on a new global development fund for forests was also included in the final document, but with fairly clear opposition from donor countries and listed alongside options in which the international community would discuss the proposal or pursue actions to enhance funding in other ways.
A number of delegations seemed to view the IPF as a potential vehicle for attracting finances into the forest sector, but it is unclear whether IPFs recommendations will affect donor support for sustainable forest management. The desire by some donors to push for a global forest convention may hold promise as a means of leverage for recipient countries to demand increases in assistance as they consider whether to support a convention. This may foreshadow shifting alliances in the future.
Support from Malaysia and Indonesia for a global convention is perhaps the most notable recent shift in positions. But the support among some developing countries was matched by strong doubts from others, such as Brazil, who at one point described the move to a convention as a bid by loggers and traders to green-wash and promote their activities.
NGO efforts seemed to shift by the end of the IPF process, from encouraging stronger international action to defending against steps that might further harm the worlds forests. Although a small number supported calls for a convention, the majority of environmental NGOs opposed it as premature, leading to ineffective policies and formalizing lowest common denominator global standards for SFM, while neglecting seemingly more pressing issues that need to be addressed. Many NGOs also were of the view that the negotiation of a convention would waste valuable time and delay the implementation of any policies that would better manage the worlds forests.
The debate and divergence of opinion on action regarding a convention became the focal point of IPF-4. Yet some argued that the emphasis on a convention was excessive. A number of delegations and observers expressed frustration that IPF-4 was hijacked by discussion of the convention question when other substantive issues did not receive adequate attention.
Others considered the value of the IPF process to be an endorsement of general steps to define and pursue sustainable forest management, regardless of a convention. The IPF enhanced understanding of technical aspects of forest planning and research, spurred action in a number of countries to begin addressing forest problems, and raised the profile of emerging certification and C&I initiatives. Social concerns, participation and transparency are integrated into the IPFs action proposals, and the Panel was open to major groups, particularly indigenous peoples. Still, divergent views surround SFM as well. There is no consensus yet on what SFM means in concrete terms nor how to balance commodity and economic values of forests with ecological and sociocultural values.
The IPF left open the question of what the international communitys next steps will be related to forests. Its recommendations to the CSD provide a wide range of options that reveal the divisions that delegates were not able to bridge during the past 18 months. Observers wonder what the CSD, a body with presumably less forest expertise than the IPF and with an extensive list of issues on its agenda, will be able to make of this hodgepodge of recommendations.
The next bodies that will consider forest policy, the CSD and the UN General Assembly, have higher political authority to take decisions on these questions. Supporters of a convention hope that the higher-level political consideration that this issue will receive at the CSD will translate into greater interest in a legal instrument. Opponents are hoping that the opposite will occur that the CSD will view the non-convention options as clear alternatives. It is unclear, however, whether higher political authority will translate into political will to move toward the fundamental goals espoused in this process. The IPF demonstrated it is possible to continue the policy dialogue, but not whether another nice try can advance global forest sustainability.
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