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Intergovernmental Forum on Forests

Item #d99may61

The Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF), established in 1995 by the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development’s Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF), held its third session May 3-14, 1999, in Geneva. The U.N. General Assembly created the IFF to “identify the possible elements of and work towards consensus on international arrangements and mechanisms, for example, a legally-binding instrument” dealing with forests. In the opening session, Undersecretary General for Economic and Social Affairs Nitin Desai underscored links between the IFF and the Convention to Combat Desertification, Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Framework Convention on Climate Change, and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. He said the IFF must foster political commitment, build consensus, and determine the form of its continuing deliberations. However, in their opening statements, the delegates stated that the North was trying to put conditions on forest trade and called for protective mechanisms to implement and maintain national forests. Specifically, they called for an international instrument to comprehensively deal with forests; underscored the need for national forestry certification in achieving sustained forest mangement; said the IFF should guide the sustainability of forests; and identified three areas of failure in forest-management policy: the underpricing of forest products, the lack of equity, and corruption and the lack of transparency in transactions. To deal with these and the other pending issues, the two working groups established at IFF-2 were reconvened. Working Group 1 covered the monitoring of implementation, underlying causes of forest degradation, traditional forest-related knowledge (TRFK), conservation, research, implementating the IPF proposals, and the role of international and regional organizations. Working Group 2 covered trade and environment, transfer of environmentally sound technologies, future supply and demand, valuation, economic instruments, and financial resources.

The challenges issued in the opening statements were followed by contention and entrenchment in the working- group sessions. Debates that had been settled in previous forest meetings (e.g., of the IPF) and meetings of other organizations (e.g., the World Trade Organisation) were reopened. No progress was made on the establishment of a legally binding instrument (LBI), and any mention of the CBD in discussions about TFRK was seen by some as an attempt to diminish the argument for a forest-related LBI. The most intense debates were over trade and the environment, which is normally the province of the World Trade Organization. The developed-country forest-product exporters wanted tariff reductions; the developing-country forest-product exporters wanted freedom from tariff- escalation policies in importing countries; some wanted to protect their own industries with tariffs; and forest-product- importing countries wanted trade-based measures to ensure that producers maintain sustainably managed forests. A large amount of contention swirled around (1) the transfer of environmentally sound technologies to developing countries and (2) forest biological resources. In essence, developing countries holding the raw biological resources in their forests wanted firm commitments that they would benefit from related technologies before they allowed access to these resources by the pharmaceutical and other industries. Most of the text of the recommendations from the IPF that was related to the underlying causes of deforestation and forest degradation [see “Costa Rica-Canada Initiative Experts’ Meeting,” p. 14, Global Climate Change Digest 12 (3), March 1999] was eliminated on the basis that it lacked sophistication because there had been insufficient time to polish it. With all these conflicting views and agendas and with the revisiting of past deliberations, delegates found it difficult to focus on the main issues and showed no sense of urgency about the fate of the world’s forests. A great deal of the text of the documents produced was bracketed and forwarded to the fourth (and final) session of the Forum to be decided there.

A complete account of this meeting is available at

  • Guide to Publishers
  • Index of Abbreviations

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