The UN's Intergovernmental Forum on Forests has been meeting at United Nations Headquarters for the past two weeks in its fourth and final session (IFF-4); the session ends this Friday, 11 February. In addition to institutional and legal issues, many other crucial issues are under discussion. These include the underlying causes of deforestation and forest degradation; forest conservation and protected areas; the needs and requirements of countries with low forest cover; forest assessment, forest biodiversity and watershed forests; forest fires; soil and water conservation; and trade, transfer of technologies and financial resources.
According to UNEP's state of the environment report, "Global Environment Outlook 2000": "Deforestation continues at high rates in developing countries, mainly driven by the demand for wood products and the need for land for agriculture and other purposes. Some 65 million hectares of forests were lost between 1990 and 1995, out of a total of 3,500 million hectares. The quality of the remaining forest is threatened by a range of pressures, including acidification, fuelwood and water abstraction, and fire. Reduced or degraded habitats threaten biodiversity at gene, species and ecosystems level, hampering the provision of key products and services."
"We must consider forests as ecosystems that provide a range of economic, industrial, cultural and social benefits, as well as environmental benefits and services", UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer noted in his remarks at the opening of the IFF-4 session on 31 January. "The conservation of forests and the protection of our environment are closely linked with efforts at achieving social equity and economic growth. ... We must cut the vicious cycle of poverty, drought, energy deficiency and deforestation."
Concern for forests and their links to economic well-being in developing countries has also made its way this week into President Clinton's 2001 budget submission, through his "Greening the Globe" initiative. The new proposal combines capacity building components with "debt-for-nature" swaps and the use of economic instruments such as multilateral investment standards.
UNEP's new policy paper on forest-related issues is an effort to focus the programme's activities on areas in which UNEP has a comparative advantage. It is a "work in progress", designed to be flexible enough to respond to new national and multilateral initiatives, such as the new United States proposal. It summarizes the actions that the organization expects to implement within its programme and in partnership with other agencies within and outside the UN system.
"Through this new policy framework, UNEP intends to put into practice a pragmatic approach to policy implementation, make its contribution to international efforts to manage ecosystems in a holistic manner, and improve coordination among international organizations and instruments", Mr. Toepfer said.
UNEP will continue its leadership role within the UN's Inter-Agency Task Force on Forests, where it has taken the lead on several issues, including the underlying causes of deforestation and forest degradation; forest conservation and protected areas; and the needs and requirements of countries with low forest cover. It will also strengthen its partnerships with two Nairobi-based organizations - the UN Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), in the area of population, land use changes, urbanization and poverty reduction, and the International Centre for Research in Agro-Forestry (ICRAF), in formulating community-inspired policy options.
The expertise offered through the new institutional arrangement between UNEP and the World Conservation and Monitoring Centre (WCMC) will be utilized in the area of harmonizing information management requirements under the various biodiversity-related treaties and conventions. This will complement UNEP's long-standing commitment to promoting synergies among international environmental agreements, and international and regional institutions.
The Intergovernmental Forum of Forests will be submitting its final recommendations to the April session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development.
For more information, please contact:
Tore J. Brevik,
UNEP Spokesman/ Director of Information, Communications and Public Information,
P.O. Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya.
Tel: (254 2) 623292, fax: 623692,
Robert Bisset on (254 2) 623084,
UNEP News Release 2000/11