Global action

Posted: 1 August 2000

Author: Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud

Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud reviews the major international efforts developed over the past decade to save the world's forest.

Fears about the future of the world's forests have resulted in the creation of a powerful non-governmental movement interested in safeguarding natural and old-growth forests around the world.

Increasingly the focus on the protection of biodiversity and the ecological functions of forests is linked to safeguarding the livelihoods of local and indigenous peoples.

Largely as a result of NGO pressure and public action, there has been a range of official attempts to address what many are beginning to recognize as a "global forest crisis". Some of the major initiatives are:

  • The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also know as the 'Earth Summit' which gave birth to the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF).
  • The UN Food and Agricultural Organization's (FAO) Tropical Forestry Action Programme (TFAP).
  • The International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA) which led to the establishment of the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO). The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

    After Rio

    UNCED took place in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992 with the aim of decisively tackling the related problems of the environment and development. In the event, the results have been mediocre and several apparent gains for the environment have since been eroded.

    The proposal for a global Forest Convention was rejected and replaced by a chapter on deforestation in Agenda 21 and a Non-Legally Binding Statement of Principles for a Global Agreement on the Management, Conservation and Sustainable Development of All Types of Forests - usually called the "Forest Principles".

    Widespread ratification (140 countries) of the Convention on Biological Diversity gave some cause for optimism but there has been a subsequent watering down of the Convention with attempts to introduce a forest protocol being resisted by most governments.

    The CSD held a major meeting which dealt with forests in April 1995. This failed to reach any agreement on priorities for action and instead set up a two-year Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) to explore forest-related problems in more detail. NGOs are particularly concerned that biodiversity is not given special attention under the IPF.

    Action plan

    FAO established the TFAP in 1985 in partnership with UNDP, The World Bank and World Resources Institute. Its aims were to promote improved management and use of forests, including raising US$8 billion for tropical forest conservation, setting up national forestry action plans, and providing an effective international umbrella organization for donor agencies.

    Unfortunately, the aims have not been achieved and the TFAP has been accused of encouraging timber production in primary forests. In Cameroon for example, the National Forestry Action Plan has encouraged exploitation of the last areas of primary rainforest in the south and east of the country.

    In 1990, WWF concluded that: "TFAP has failed to provide consistent guidance and leadership to national governments in their tropical forests...And it has failed to convince local groups and NGOs that it offers realistic solutions in the long-term."

    Timber trade

    There is confusion about whether ITTO's main role is to promote or regulate the tropical timber trade. Following pressure from NGOs, ITTO set a target for all internationally traded tropical timber to come from sustainably managed forests by the Year 2000 and has established guidelines and criteria for sustainable tropical forest management.

    However, it has failed to achieve its own policies and in 1991 WWF concluded that: "Regrettably, many ongoing ITTO projects must be regarded as subsidised logging..." During the renegotiation of the Agreement in 1993, NGOs and some tropical country governments suggested expanding the scope of the Agreement to include temperate and boreal timber as well. This was strongly rejected by Northern "consumer" countries, which almost brought the negotiations to a halt. The ITTA which was finally renegotiated in January 1991, has like the original, no environmental controls.

    Forest council

    One of the few international initiatives that enjoys the support of WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and a wide range of other NGOs is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC is a wholly independent, non profit-making, non-governmental, membership organization, founded by representatives from environmental groups, foresters, indigenous people, community forestry groups, forest product certification organizations, and timber traders from 25 countries.

    The FSC seeks to promote good forest management worldwide, based on a set of Principles and Criteria designed to ensure that forests of all kinds are managed in ways that are:

  • Environmentally appropriate
  • Socially beneficial
  • Economically viable

    To encourage good forest management the FSC will evaluate, accredit and monitor certification organizations which inspect forest operations and provide certificates and labels verifying that wood products have been sustainably produced. The FSC trade mark on a product indicates that the wood has come from a well managed forest.

    Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud is Head of WWF's International's Forest Programme, in Gland, Switzerland. This article was adapted from Forests for Life, by Nigel Dudley, Don Gilmour and Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud. This WWF/IUCN forest policy book was published by WWF-UK, in 1996 and is available from WWF International, Avenue du Mont Blanc, CH-1196 Gland, Switzerland.