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Costa Rica–Canada Initiative Experts’ Meeting

Item #d99mar47

The Costa Rica–Canada Initiative (CRCI) seeks to advance the work of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF) on international arrangements and mechanisms to promote the management, conservation, and sustainable development of forests. CRCI held an experts' meeting in San José, Costa Rica, Feb. 22-26, 1999, to determine the usefulness of having international arrangements and mechanisms, such as a global forest convention. It was attended by 87 representatives of governments, intergovernmental institutions, and nongovernmental organizations from more than 40 countries. Specifically, the meeting was to consider

  • lessons learned from the implementation of existing instruments;
  • the general concepts of legal instruments;
  • the components of any possible legal instruments on forests;
  • the experience of Central America with regard to regional cooperation;
  • guidance for regional and subregional meetings;
  • and the need for further action.

This first stage of the CRCI is to be followed by regional and subregional meetings to discuss issues that would need to be addressed by any international convention on forests and a third stage to consolidate the results of the San José meeting and the regional meetings to produce general conclusions for submission to the fourth session of the IFF in early 2000.

The participants met in four working groups. Plenary presentations were made on general concepts and terms of international instruments; the Central American experience in developing its regional forest convention; lessons learned from existing instruments in Thailand, Costa Rica, and Finland; and national forest programs (NFPs) and the Forest Partnership Agreement.

Prior to the meeting, the participants were provided a list of issues relevant to forests that might be the subjects of international agreements. At the beginning of the meeting, IFF Co-Chair Bagher Asadi noted that the list of international forest issues provided to participants was too long, lacked focus, and needed to be consolidated. Also, the problems of low-forest-cover countries needed to be addressed. Jacques Carette, Canadian CRCI Co-Chair, emphasized the need for transparent, neutral, participatory, and representative discussions. Jag Maini, IFF Secretariat, observed that forest discussions had generally followed two tracks, one on sustainable conservation and management of forests as a primary goal and the other on forests and their functions as solutions to other problems, such as desertification and global warming. Maini noted that the Forest Principles and the creation of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF), of which the IFF is a part, followed the first track. He noted that the IPF had concluded that there is a need to strengthen coordination among conventions and institutions to enable more holistic responses to forests at regional and international levels. The aim of the CRCI was to help identify how this need might be met.

Jorge Rodríguez, Central American Commission on Environment and Development (CCAD), highlighted the development of the Central American Forest Convention, the creation of the CCAD, the formulation of the Tropical Forest Action Plan for Central America, the Central American Council on Forests, and the Central American Alliance for Sustainable Development. He highlighted CCAD's role in addressing biodiversity, climate change, forests, and protected areas. Noting the transboundary nature of ecological problems, he emphasized the importance of a regional approach. Rodríguez also noted the potential for Central American forests to benefit from the clean development mechanism and to provide carbon sequestration.

Heikki Granholm of Finland highlighted the relationship between the Framework Convention on Climate Change and forests in Finland. He noted the forest sector's potential capacity to stabilize greenhouse-gas concentrations in the atmosphere through the enhancement of carbon stocks. He identified sustainable forest management as the best method for ensuring carbon sinks in Finland and pointed out that, since 1924, the rate of forest growth has exceeded that of forest depletion in Finland.

Markku Aho, Chair of the Forestry Advisers Group, outlined ways to integrate the NFP concept, the sector - program-support approach, and the forest-partnership-agreement concept into an effective and efficient mechanism for international cooperation. He noted that NFPs, while carried out by national governments, require international support, and that the concept of forest partnership agreements could promote cooperation between national and international stakeholders. He identified coordinated sectoral-program support as a new method for international stakeholders to support the actions of public and private stakeholders at the national level and proposed the creation of an international forest partnership facility for the international financing of such programs.

Guido Chaves, Costa Rican Expert for the CRCI, outlined the five steps to be undertaken by the CRCI:

  • to identify a core set of international forest issues that could be treated at an international level and could guide the regional meetings;
  • to assess the treatment of the core set of issues in existing instruments;
  • to identify issues that could potentially be advanced as elements through international instruments;
  • to identify a range of legally binding instruments for addressing the elements identified in step three; and
  • to group options as new legally binding instruments, existing instruments, or existing nonbinding instruments.

Participants divided into four working groups to discuss the first three steps. They first reviewed a preliminary list of 53 issues and agreed that the issues should not be prioritized without adequate criteria or more time for deeper discussion. They added several new issues and identified possible clusters under which to group the issues. However, in plenary, the participants opposed clustering the issues because of the potential overlap among the categories.

The participants were then asked to confirm whether existing international instruments addressed these issues and whether their treatment was sufficient or insufficient. They divided the list of issues, which had grown to 72, into four parts, with each working group being assigned 18. Each working group was to assess the treatment of its set of issues in international conventions, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Forest Principles, the IPF Proposals for Action, and international criterion-and-indicator processes. The working groups found that many of the issues were already addressed in international conventions but that treatment of these issues was insufficient except in a few cases. The working groups recommended that the system of clustering be better structured, that the approach for regional and subregional meetings be further clarified, that background documents be distributed at least two months in advance of the meetings, and that specialists participate in the meetings.

The working groups then reconvened to determine the potential for issues to be advanced in an international instrument in the short and medium term. They noted that the issue of plantations was missing and needed to be addressed. They agreed that there was potential for advancement of almost all issues at the international level with the possible exception of drought, low forest cover, and extent of national forest cover and identified additional criteria for determining the potential for advancement of issues.

The draft report of the meeting was presented to the assembled participants. In closing remarks, Michael Fullerton, Canadian Expert for the CRCI, noted that the meeting had permitted everyone opportunity to express a wide range of views and that the comments made would be taken into account when reshaping the approach for the regional meetings. At the discretion of the governments of Costa Rica and Canada, the results of the Experts' Meeting will be forwarded to the regional and subregional meetings called for in the Initiative and to the third session of the IFF in May 1999.

A full report on this meeting by the International Institute for Sustainable Development appears on the World Wide Web at

  • Guide to Publishers
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