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MEA Bulletin - Guest Article No. 91 - Thursday, 29 April 2010
Forests and Biodiversity for our Future
By Jan L. McAlpine and Ahmed Djoghlaf
Almost twenty years after the Rio Earth Summit, progress towards sustainable development as envisioned in Agenda 21 remains slow and elusive. The third edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook demonstrates that the Johannesburg biodiversity target to significantly reduce the loss of biodiversity by 2010 has not been met. Equally, the ambitions of poverty elimination and incorporation of the social benefits of natural resources into the world’s way of operating have not yet been achieved. Recognizing the need to redouble efforts to implement the Rio commitments, the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Secretariats are launching a series of joint activities on forest biodiversity.

Forests are central to the implementation of the three Rio Conventions1 and the UNFF, and provide a link between them. For example, three of the four UNFF Global Objectives on Forests are directly relevant to the implementation of the CBD programme of work on forest biodiversity, including the Global Objective to significantly increase the area of protected forests and other sustainably managed forests. Similarly, other provisions of  the Non-legally Binding Instrument on All Types of Forests – while promoting effective implementation of sustainable forest management – contribute to addressing climate change and land degradation.

Most recently, in Copenhagen in December 2009, the world recognized that forests are central to achieving the objectives of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD-plus) have resulted in a new level of awareness regarding the relationship between forests and climate change amongst decision makers at the highest level. The commitments of countries under the CBD and the UNFF already cover a wide range of necessary actions to implement REDD-plus ambitions at the national level, including: strengthening sustainable forest management, including building the required institutional capacity; conserving, sustainably managing and restoring forest ecosystems; and improving forest monitoring. The joint UNFF and CBD activities aim to strengthen the capacity of developing countries to address these issues in a holistic way, inter alia as a basis for successful REDD-plus efforts. The tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD in Nagoya, Japan, 18-29 October 2010, is expected to adopt a new Strategic Plan for the period 2011-2020, with several forest-related targets that aim to further bolster linkages between the CBD, the other Rio Conventions, the Millennium Development Goals and the UNFF.

Key findings from the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010 show that while deforestation has slowed somewhat in recent years as compared to the 1990s, it is still alarmingly high. Four million hectares (40,000 sq km) of highly diverse primary forests, an area the size of the Netherlands, are lost every year.. Continued deforestation is resulting in shortages in water and food supply, including in highly vulnerable countries and regions. Perhaps the most dramatic example is Haiti, where forest cover has plunged to less than 4% over recent decades, with devastating consequences for agriculture, rural livelihoods and ecosystem resilience. The Haitian government has recognized that restoration of forests and other intact ecosystems must be at the core of long-term recovery efforts. Another example is the Mau forest complex in Kenya, where the government has started an ambitious process of conservation and forest landscape restoration, because deforestation is threatening water supply to twelve rivers essential to agriculture throughout Kenya and in neighbouring countries.

Developing countries are increasingly recognizing the important role of forests in sustainable development, including in contributing to poverty alleviation, conserving biological diversity, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. Unfortunately, the wider development community has yet to fully embrace the new paradigm of investing in intact and sustainably managed ecosystems as essential yet affordable “green infrastructure” for sustainable development.  Developing countries and their regional organizations need the full support of donors and the development community to maintain, sustainably manage and restore diverse and resilient forests. It is important to provide such support to developing countries using a comprehensive and strategic approach.  This is one significant area which the UNFF and CBD Secretariats intend to facilitate through their joint activities by bringing all relevant actors to the table. This includes the Ministries from governments representing the Rio Conventions and forest issues. Another example of a holistic approach to forest and biodiversity issues is a recent memorandum of understanding between the Secretariat of the CBD and the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), signed in Tokyo on 2 March this year, which inter alia, foresees the development of a support programme for implementation of the CBD programme of work on forests in ITTO producer countries.

To this end, the Secretariats of the CBD and the UNFF have already hosted the first-ever joint capacity-building workshop in September 2009 in Singapore, with support from the German government, the National Parks Board of Singapore, and the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity. As a unique element amongst present capacity-building efforts, the workshop brought together CBD, UNFF and UNFCCC experts from the ASEAN countries, as well as China, India, and Papua New Guinea. Expertise was also provided by 7 of the 14 members of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), a global forum of international organizations to support the implementation of sustainable forest management. Contributing CPF members included the UN-REDD Programme organizations (UNEP, UNDP and FAO), IUCN, IUFRO, CIFOR and ITTO, in addition to the CBD and UNFF Secretariats. The evaluation by workshop participants showed that this holistic and coordinated approach has resulted in new understanding of feasible solutions and synergies at both the national and regional levels. At a practical level, colleagues from differing Ministries have discovered more of a common interest than they anticipated.  This provides a new possibility for discussions about national and international forest policy and implementation, and could improve policy complementarity in the different international regimes in which these countries participate.

The CBD and UNFF Secretariats are planning to extend this type of capacity-building to other UN regions, alongside with other joint activities at global level, including the development of a joint publication in 2011 on the value of forest biodiversity for livelihoods and human well-being.

Joint CBD and UNFF activities throughout the International Year of Biodiversity (2010) and the International Year of Forests (2011) and beyond will include a series of regional and sub-regional capacity-building workshops on forest biodiversity in the context of climate change, supported and followed up at the national and regional level and expertise of members of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF). The increased attention towards forests and biodiversity due to these two International Years gives us a rare opportunity to strengthen implementation of the Rio commitments of 1992 at the national level, by supporting national governments and regional organizations. A joint ceremony for the closing of the International Year of Biodiversity in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan, on 18-19 December 2010, will provide a seamless transition to the International Year of Forests.

Scheduled to achieve results in time for the celebrations of the Rio+20 anniversary in 2012, these activities will rest on a platform of high political awareness and public interest. The basis for this cooperation is the decision of the ninth Conference of the Parties to the CBD, and the eighth session of the UNFF, which resulted in a memorandum of understanding signed between the two Secretariats in December 2009.  To coordinate joint activities, the recruitment of a joint staff member of the two Secretariats, based at the UNFF Secretariat in New York City, is being suggested, pending necessary financial support.

Forest biodiversity will remain high on the agenda throughout 2011 and 2012 and beyond, and we look forward to working with the international community, in particular with the other two Rio Conventions, to ensure that our constituencies are fully empowered to deliver the promise of Rio. The world’s forests are a good place to start.

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Jan L. McAlpine is Director of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) Secretariat, and Ahmed Djoghlaf is Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
1 The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD); the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
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