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Environmental Concerns and the International Forest Agenda

Distinguished Co-Chairs of the IFF,

Your Excellencies, Ambassadors Bagher Asadi and

Illka Ristimakki,

Distinguished Members of the Bureau of the IFF,

Distinguished Ministers and Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

* It is my great pleasure and privilege to address this important session of the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests. I would like to express my gratitude to the two Co-Chairs of the IFF for their kind invitation to address you today. Your wisdom and steady hand have been of pivotal importance as the IFF process has begun charting its future course. I am confident that I speak for everyone in this room in thanking you sincerely for a job well done.

Distinguished Delegates,

* In my talk today, I shall endeavour to present UNEP's vision on issues relating to forests. I will focus, in particular, on the approach that we are implementing for enhancing our profile in the IPF/IFF follow-up process. Here, I will be referring to the specific areas in which UNEP possesses comparative advantages. It is my belief that UNEP - as a member of the ITFF can contribute substantively in assisting countries to move towards sustainable forest management on a global scale.

UNEP and Forests

* Forests can no longer be considered as nature's factory that produces wood alone. UNEP considers forests as ecosystems that provide a range of economic, industrial, cultural and social benefits as well as environmental benefits and services. Forests are important elements to take into account when implementing environmental management programmes at all levels.

* The conservation of forests and the protection of our environment are closely linked with efforts aimed at achieving social equity and economic growth. It is clear that deforestation is increasing in most developing countries. Tropical forested countries are losing nearly one acre of forests per second. As their sheltering habitats retreat, poor people are being driven deeper into poverty.

* Forests and other wooded lands provide vital functions to hundreds of millions of people who rely on them for food, medicine, firewood, soil rehabilitation, agriculture and water supply. As you are all aware, timber is the primary source of income in many countries in the tropics and planted forests are becoming an important part of the economy in many developing countries.

* Forests are reported to contain eighty per cent (80%) of the world■s biodiversity. They also sequestrate atmospheric carbon and are our best line of defense against climate change.

* Many crucial environmental issues are at stake in the IPF/IFF process. I shall mention a few of these issues which are of concern both to national environmental administrations as well as the forestry sector.:

- the underlying causes of deforestation and forest degradation;

- forest conservation and protected areas;

- needs and requirements of countries with low forest cover;

- forest assessment, forest biological diversity and watershed forests; and

- soil and water conservation; and forest fires.

* Forest-related issues represent for UNEP an opportunity to progress in those areas where the international community is demanding increased attention. I am referring, in particular to the co-ordination of forest-related work of international and regional organizations, and multilateral environmental agreements. The synergies of forest-related issues among trade, economics, climate and biodiversity are a classic example which have been highlighted in many international forums in the last few years.

* We require deeper analyses of the technical and scientific aspects of these synergies. We also need to increase our knowledge about how these synergies work and how this knowledge could improve our forest policy development and implementation processes.

* I am convinced that forests are an area for proving our capabilities in the UN system in fostering synergies. I also believe that forests may be our first success story in practising new modalities for managing ecosystems in a holistic manner, for improving coordination among international organizations and instruments and for implementing Agenda 21.

UNEP support to the IPF/IFF process

* I say with some pride that UNEP has been able to support very effectively the IPF/IFF process and its secretariat in New York from its initiation. We have also been supporting the Inter-agency Task Force on Forests (ITFF) since its inception in 1995 to service the IPF/IFF process.

* We regard the ITFF, as an innovative partnership mechanism. It is the main institutional legacy of the IPF/IFF process. With partners such as DESA/CSD, FAO, the CBD Secretariat, World Bank and UNDP and other international institutions concerned with forests, such as the Centre for International Forest Research ( CIFOR) and the International Tropical Timber Organization ( ITTO), ITTF has been successful in mobilizing its diverse expertise to service the international forest policy deliberations.

* In UNEP, we are determined to continue our close association with the IPF/IFF process and support your international forest policy dialogue, deliberations and negotiations.

Our commitments

* Our approach to enhance UNEP's role in the IPF/IFF process can be summarized in three keywords: leadership, partnership and coordination.

* In the last four years, UNEP has been able to play a leadership role within the ITFF, as responsible for the implementation of three elements of the programme of work of the IPF/IFF:

- the needs and requirements of countries with low-forest cover; - underlying causes of deforestation and forest degradation; and - forest conservation and protected areas.

* In performing our leadership role we have also facilitated the establishment of new partnerships by supporting Government-led initiatives such as:

- The Joint NGOs/Costa Rica Global Workshop on Underlying Causes on Deforestation, held in San Jose, Costa Rica in January 1999;

- The International Experts Meeting on Forest Protected Areas, co- sponsored by the Governments of Brazil and USA in San Juan, Puerto Rico in March 1999; and

- The International Expert Meeting on the Needs and Requirements of Countries with Low Forest Cover, in partnership with IUFRO and FAO, and co-sponsored by the Government of Iran in Tehran 4-6 October 1999.

* Co-ordination is one of the principal functions of UNEP as defined in its mandate. Accordingly we have played an active role in the ITFF, mainly in supporting the coordination among forest-related instruments, in particular between the IFF Secretariat and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Mr. Co-Chair, Distinguished Delegates,

* The proposals for actions adopted by the IPF/IFF process offer us a wide spectrum of opportunities for implementing activities at the national, regional and global levels.

* Based on the experiences gained through the IPF/IFF process, we have decided that the forests strategy of UNEP in the coming years should be focused on catalysing actions on the forest-environment interface especially in areas where we have a comparative advantage. As for example in assisting countries in implementing the IPF/IFF proposals for action on the environmental impacts of deforestation; the needs of low forest cover countries; forest conservation, protected areas and eco-tourism; and the loss of forest biological diversity.

* But, our interest on forests is not only technical.

* We are aware that conflicting demands on forest and forest-related matters are politically very sensitive. They are also a priority on the agenda of all ministries responsible for the environment in both developed and developing countries.

* The best partner of the Environment Ministries in their quest for achieving long-term ecological sustainability is an "environmentally oriented forest sector". This requires the support of a strong national policy on forests and land-use plans, formulated through an open and inclusive participatory process.

* Here, UNEP's contribution will involve building-bridges of cooperation between the environment agencies and the forest sector. This policy harmonization can result in a substantial political achievement at the national level in the coming years.

* For the period beyond the year 2000, UNEP will identify opportunities for providing policy advice and assistance to national environmental agencies in three areas. First, in establishing partnership arrangements with forest sector institutions. Second, in introducing environmental concerns in national forest policies. And thirdly, in formulating, in association with the forest sector, mutually supportive programmes for implementing sustainable forest management practices.

* I am pleased to inform you that a draft document describing our approach for implementing "Policy Actions for Enhancing the Role of UNEP on Forest Related Issues" will be distributed later today for your review. This document was prepared by UNEP Secretariat in collaboration with WCMC and our Nairobi-based partners namely ICRAF and Habitat. Comments on this draft of work in progress from governments, NGOs, major groups, private sector, international organizations and instruments will be most welcome.

Building consensus in forest policy deliberations

* My understanding is that the first task before you this week is to remove the brackets from the text adopted at the IFF third session on trade, transfer of technologies and financial resources, and on other IFF programme elements.

* The second task before you will be to reach consensus on a new international arrangement and/or mechanism on all types of forests.

* The ten options presented for your consideration in the Secretary General's Report are not mutually exclusive. A consensus can be reached if an appropriate combination of some of these options is elaborated further during this session.

* I also understand that the new international arrangement on all types of forests should take the lead on integrating in an holistic manner all forest-related issues. This is an issue where no UN body has a specific mandate and which has not received sufficient attention since Rio.

* Your third task is to agree on how to engage in further action for promoting the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests. It would be desirable that the follow-up of the IPF/IFF process continues to provide a forum for high-level policy development, co-ordination and policy implementation in an open, transparent and participatory manner.

* Your most critical decisions should include clear indications of the means of implementation of sustainable forest management in developing countries.

* It is clear that the international community requires an international arrangement and mechanism with high-level participation and authority to co-ordinate, guide and monitor forest-related work of many multilateral institutions and legally binding instruments.

Mr. Co-Chair, Distinguished Delegates,

* I wish you the best of success in performing these very important and difficult tasks. Personally, I am most interested in reviewing your report to be presented to the eighth session of the CSD. I am certain that this report will show clearly how the international community has advanced in understanding all forest-related issues and the degree of political commitment in pursuing sustainable forest management.

Concluding remarks

* Preparedness, efficiency and the political will to build consensus and engage in further action will be crucial to our success in the implementation of the global forest agenda at the beginning of the 21st Century.

* The full implementation of agreed actions is the main challenge now ahead of us. For countries, this essentially means political, financial and technical support and priority to national environmental strategies and action plans closely linked to national forest programmes. For donors and organizations like UNEP, the full implementation of agreed actions means focused cooperation and coordination in areas of common concern.

* The on-going forest policy deliberations can claim success only if they lead, through a country-driven process, to increased commitments and enhanced action at global, regional and national levels. There is no substitute for efforts at the national level.

* The Eighth Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development in April this year will have to take the political decision to establish a new institutional international arrangement for all types of forests. Our hope is that your deliberations will lead to a clear mandate on future directions.

* I wish all of you the best of success in your deliberations.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.