New Global Forest Agreement Depends on Local Support

NEW YORK, New York, December 27, 2007 (ENS) – The motivation of local people to safeguard their own forest resources is central to a new global forest protection agreement reached by the UN General Assembly last week.

Fifteen years after global discussions began on how to protect the world’s forests, the General Assembly has adopted a new international forest agreement that is human-centered in its orientation. While it recognizes the role of forests in conservation of biodiversity and other environmental services, the agreement puts a strong emphasis on people and communities that depend on forests for their income and livelihoods.

“This is a paradigm shift,” said Pekka Patosaari, director of the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat.

It means that through the concept of sustainable forest management “policymakers can better judge the value of their forests, in a way that ensures long-term health and sustainability of this important natural resource,” he said.

Speaking at a special event held by the UN General Assembly on December 17 to adopt the agreement, Patosaari said, “Almost all recent success stories of restoring the world’s forests are, in one way or another, based on better recognition of the needs and actions of local peoples, their ownership and access rights and ancient knowledge of indigenous tribes and communities.”

Illegal logging in the Brazilian
Amazon (Photo courtesy

“Today, forests are disappearing, not only because of a lack of knowledge on how to manage and conserve them, but also because we have not been able to establish national or international regimes or support mechanisms which would directly support people’s ownership and motivation to use the forest patrimony for the benefit of themselves and the rest of society,” Patosaari said.

The agreement, entitled the “Non-Legally Binding Instrument on All Types of Forests,” was negotiated in April within the UN Forum on Forests and transmitted to the General Assembly following its approval by the UN Economic and Social Council.

While not legally binding, the agreement approved on on December 17 sets a standard in forest management that is expected to impact efforts to reverse the loss of forest cover, reduce deforestation, prevent forest degradation, promote sustainable livelihoods and reduce poverty for people dependent on forests for their survival.

“There is much more to this instrument than just protecting trees,” General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim said at a special event following the adoption of the agreement. He emphasized the growing recognition of the role of forests in stabilizing climate change, and protecting biodiversity and ecosystems.

“And let us not forget that today, over 1.6 billion people depend on forests for fuel, food, medicine and income,” he said. “So protecting forests really means fostering sustainable development.”

Forests need to be protected because they are disappearing at an alarming rate, said Kerim, noting that over the past 15 years, more than three percent of the planet’s forests had vanished. “The instrument we have just adopted thus expresses our will to respond to this alarming trend.”

In Indonesia, which has been losing forests to illegal loggers at a rapid rate, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono Wednesday called on his countrymen to plant trees in a effort to avoid flood and landslide disasters.

Witnessing a simulation on tsunami drill at Gunung Sugih subdistrict in Cilegon, Banten to mark the third anniversary of the deadly Asian tsunami which hit Aceh province on December 26, 2004, the president said widespread deforestation could cause floods, landslides and land erosion.

Landslides and floods triggered by heavy rain this week have left over 120 people dead or missing on Indonesia’s Java island. Thousands of people have been left homeless.

Illegal logging is occurring just
outside Indonesia’s Bukit
Tigapuluh National Park on
the island of Sumatra. (Photo
courtesy JATAN)

Yudhoyono called on regional governments and all public agencies to plant trees in barren areas to save the Earth from global warming and climate change.

The use of wood energy can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and can contribute to poverty reduction, according to the latest study on global uses for wood presented by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, in November.

But the UN agency warned that the use of wood for fuel can result in deforestation or forest degradation if sustainable forest management is not effectively practiced.

Today half of the annual global harvest of roundwood is used for energy, the FAO paper states. More than two billion people depend on wood for their daily energy demand, mainly for cooking, heating and small industrial production.

In sub-Saharan Africa, fuelwood and charcoal supply over 70 percent of the national energy demand.

Now, in addition to the traditional uses of wood for fuel, wood is seen as valuable feedstock for biofuel production.

High oil prices, the need for secure energy supplies and concerns over climate change have led to a new interest in bioenergy that could affect forests because forests occupy land which could be used for crops producing liquid biofuels.

Forests and forest residues could become even more important for the direct conversion to liquid biofuels. Some experts predict that wood will become the major source of biofuels in the future, replacing agricultural crops and residues.

“Despite the apparent benefits of biofuels, caution should be exercised when planning and implementing large-scale liquid bio-fuel projects,” said Wulf Killmann, director of FAO’s Forest Products and Industries Division.

“Governments should ensure that there are no serious negative impacts on the environment and society,” he said.

Agro-fuel crops might expand into forests, generating land use conflicts and increasing deforestation, with implications for biological diversity, climate change and water.

The FAO called upon countries to develop their wood energy sectors in line with sustainable forest management concepts and to introduce safeguards for the production of liquid biofuels to avoid unwanted negative impacts on the environment and local populations.

At the special event at UN Headquarters, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang spanned the gap between local and global, saying, “To enable forests to contribute to the overall development of society, we need further pro-poor, pro-nature and pro-growth actions that link trees and forests to the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals.”

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