Summary report, 9–13 May 2022
17th Session of the UNFF
The importance of forests as a cross-sectoral issue in combatting climate change, biodiversity loss and disaster risk reduction, and providing people with food, water, wood products, vital medicines, shelter, jobs, and security came to the fore at the seventeenth session of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF17). Meeting in person for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments set out a roadmap of actions on forest policy issues for the next two years.
Recognizing that halting deforestation and achieving the Global Forest Goals require concerted action by governments, the private sector, and civil society, UNFF17 held a High Level Round Table with leaders of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Convention on Biological Diversity, International Fund for Agricultural Development, UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, and the Bezos Earth Fund, along with the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Youth, to discuss UNFF responses to, role in, and expectations from forest-related multilateral developments.
The meeting also took into account the review cycle of the 2022 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development and the theme of the 2022 International Day of Forests, “Forests and sustainable production and consumption.” Delegates agreed on steps to prepare for the 2024 mid-term review of the UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2017-2030 and the International Arrangement on Forests.
UNFF17 convened in-person from 9-13 May 2022 at UN Headquarters in New York, with virtual participation allowed for members unable to attend due to COVID-19 restrictions.
A Brief History of UNFF
The UNFF was established in 2000, following a five-year period of forest policy dialogue within the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) and the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF). In October 2000, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), in resolution 2000/35, established the International Arrangement on Forests (IAF), including the UNFF as a subsidiary body of ECOSOC, with the main objective of promoting the management, conservation, and sustainable development of all types of forests.
The UNFF’s principal functions are to:
- facilitate the implementation of forest-related agreements and foster a common understanding on sustainable forest management (SFM);
- provide for continued policy development and dialogue among governments, international organizations, and Major Groups, as well as address forest issues and emerging areas of concern in a holistic, comprehensive, and integrated manner;
- enhance policy and programme coordination on forest-related issues;
- foster international cooperation and monitor, assess, and report on progress; and
- strengthen political commitment to the management, conservation, and sustainable development of all types of forests.
The UNFF organizational session, held in February 2001 at UN Headquarters in New York, agreed that the UNFF Secretariat would be located in New York. The Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), a partnership of 14 major forest-related international organizations, institutions, and convention secretariats was also established.
Key Turning Points
UNFF5: UNFF5 (May 2005, New York) agreed, ad referendum, to four Global Forest Goals (GFGs) on:
- significantly increasing the area of protected forests and sustainably managed forests worldwide;
- reversing the decline in official development assistance (ODA) for SFM;
- reversing the loss of forest cover; and
- enhancing forest-based economic, social, and environmental benefits.
They also agreed in principle to negotiate, at some future date, the terms of reference for a voluntary code or international understanding on forests, as well as on means of implementation.
UNFF6: UNFF6 (February 2006, New York) generated a negotiating text containing new language on the function of the IAF, a commitment to convene UNFF biennially after 2007, and a request that UNFF7 adopt a non-legally binding instrument on all types of forests. UNFF6 also finalized the four global objectives on forests for the IAF to:
- reverse the loss of forest cover worldwide through SFM, including through protection, restoration, afforestation, and reforestation;
- enhance forest-based economic, social, and environmental benefits, and the contribution of forests to the achievement of internationally agreed development goals;
- significantly increase the area of protected forests worldwide and other areas of sustainably managed forests; and
- reverse the decline in ODA for SFM and mobilize significantly increased new and additional financial resources from all sources for the implementation of SFM.
UNFF7: UNFF7 (April 2007, New York) adopted the non-legally binding instrument and a Multi-Year Programme of Work for the period 2007-2015. Delegates agreed that a “voluntary global financial mechanism/portfolio approach/forest-financing framework for all types of forests” would be developed and considered, with a view to its adoption at UNFF8.
UNFF9: UNFF9 (January-February 2011, New York) launched the International Year of Forests 2011. The Forum adopted a resolution on forests for people, livelihoods, and poverty eradication, which addressed, inter alia: procedures for assessment of progress; increased regional and subregional cooperation; enhanced cooperation, including with Major Groups; and means of implementation for SFM, including an ad hoc expert group process on forest financing.
UNFF11: UNFF11 (May 2015, New York) forwarded a resolution to ECOSOC recommending, inter alia, to:
- rename the non-legally binding instrument the “UN Forest Instrument”;
- strengthen and extend the IAF to 2030;
- decide that the IAF is composed of the UNFF and its Member States, the Secretariat of the Forum, the CPF, the Global Forest Financing Facilitation Network (GFFFN), and the UNFF Trust Fund;
- set clear priorities for the GFFFN in the UN Strategic Plan for Forests (UNSPF); and
- convene an ad hoc expert group to develop proposals on a replacement for the reference to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the UN Forest Instrument with an appropriate reference to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets, the UNSPF, and the Quadrennial Programme of Work (4POW) for the period 2017-2020.
UNFF11 also agreed on a new format for the Forum: sessions would take place annually, but based on two-year thematic cycles, with the first year comprising discussions on implementation and technical advice and the second focusing on policy dialogue, development, and decision-making.
UNFF12: UNFF12 (May 2017, New York) was the first session to be held under the new format. UNFF12 adopted an omnibus resolution covering monitoring, assessment and reporting, means of implementation, enhancing cooperation, coordination, and engagement on forest-related issues, and contribution to the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). The resolution, inter alia:
- requested the Secretariat to revise the format for voluntary national reporting on UNSPF implementation;
- adopted guidelines for country-led initiatives in support of the Forum; and
- requested the Secretariat, with the CPF, to prepare a report on actions to accelerate progress in achieving SDG 15 (life on land) and forest-related targets, and a background study on the contribution of forests to other SDGs.
UNFF13: UNFF13 (May 2018, New York) forwarded a resolution to ECOSOC which, inter alia:
- adopted a communications and outreach strategy;
- decided UNFF would consider the results of the first round of voluntary national reporting at UNFF15; and
- requested the UNFF Secretariat to initiate development of the GFFFN’s online clearing house mechanism.
UNFF14: UNFF14 (May 2019, New York) forwarded a Chair’s summary containing, inter alia:
- UNFF14’s inputs to the 2019 meeting of the HLPF; and
- information on UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) reforms pertaining to the Forum.
UNFF15: UNFF15 was supposed to convene from 4-8 May 2020 at UN Headquarters in New York. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in accordance with ECOSOC resolution E/2020/L.8, the Forum took place through virtual informal consultations. UNFF15 adopted an omnibus resolution on:
- the implementation of the UNSPF;
- monitoring, assessment, and reporting;
- means of implementation;
- emerging issues and challenges;
- the 4POW for the period 2021-2024; and
- information on the UNDESA reform pertaining to the Forum.
UNFF16: UNFF16 convened virtually from 26-29 April 2001. It adopted decisions on the UNFF POW for the period 2022-2024 and on the date, venue, and provisional agenda of UNFF17.
On Monday, 9 May, UNFF17 Vice Chair Jesse Mahoney (Australia) opened the meeting. He recalled the election of the Bureau for UNFF16-17 following the silence procedure, pursuant to ECOSOC decisions 2020/205, 2020/206 and 2020/219, including the following Vice-Chairs in addition to himself: Musah Abu-Juam (Ghana), Tomasz Markiewicz (Poland), and Javad Momeni (Iran). He also noted that Momeni had been appointed rapporteur for UNFF17.
He noted that UNFF16 Chair Kitty Sweeb (Suriname) had completed her tenure as Ambassador to the UN and that the Latin America and Caribbean Group had nominated Miriam MacIntosh (Suriname) to serve as UNFF17 Chair. Delegates elected MacIntosh by acclamation.
Delegates approved the provisional agenda (E/CN.18/2022/1) without amendment and the organization of work as proposed by the Chair.
High Level Round Table on UNFF Response to, Role in, and Expectations from Forest-related Multilateral Developments
The Round Table opened with welcoming remarks by UN General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid, UN Economic and Social Council President Collen Vixen Kelapile, and UN Assistant Secretary-General Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, on behalf of UN Secretary-General António Guterres. High-level panelists representing the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, and the Bezos Earth Fund, along with the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Youth, discussed:
- The role of the UNFF in the Glasgow Climate Pact and Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use;
- areas in which the UNFF and CBD could work together following the adoption of the post-2022 global biodiversity framework;
- the need for UNFF to engage with philanthropies by bringing forward bold but practical ideas;
- challenges faced by regional organizations in supporting SFM;
- how IFAD and UNFF could work together on recognizing the role of rural and small-scale producers and Indigenous Peoples, and on leveraging and scaling existing solutions;
- the need for a set of guidelines for conservation and Indigenous engagement; and
- the important role of youth, including the Youth Call for Action presented at the recent XV World Forestry Congress.
During the discussion, delegates remarked on the potential role of the Forum to help turn the tide on deforestation, mobilize financing for forests, and leverage partnerships and strengthen stakeholder engagement. Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, offered closing remarks.
A summary of the roundtable discussion is available at: enb.iisd.org/un-forum-forests-unff-17-daily-report-9may2022
Policy Discussions on the Implementation of the UNSPF
Thematic priorities for 2021-2022 biennium and contributions of members of the Forum: On Monday, new UNFF Director Juliette Biao Koudenoukpo presented the Secretariat’s Note (E/CN.18/2022/2), which provides background information on the three UNFF thematic priorities for the biennium 2021-2022, namely:
- reversing the loss of forest cover;
- enhancing forest-based economic, social and environmental benefits; and
- mobilizing financial resources and strengthening scientific and technical cooperation, promoting governance frameworks to advance implementation, and enhancing cooperation, coordination and coherence for SFM.
She said the Note also includes information on contributions of members of the Forum.
Activities in support of the thematic priorities for the biennium 2021–2022: Update on the activities of members of the Forum, including new announcements of and updates on voluntary national contributions (VNCs): On Tuesday, members presented updates on their national actions in support of the three UNFF thematic priorities, including any updates to their VNCs and implementation of the GFGs. A summary of the national interventions is available at: enb.iisd.org/un-forum-forests-unff-17-daily-report-9may2022
Update on the activities of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests and its member organizations and progress on the implementation of its workplan: Vice-Chair Mahoney opened this agenda item on Tuesday.
Observing the pace of implementing forest commitments is too slow, the FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UN (FAO) reported on recent CPF initiatives to “turn the tide on deforestation.” She also briefed the Forum on CPF initiatives on forests and health, forest education, forest financing facilitation, forest landscape restoration, green finance for sustainable landscapes, and ensuring sustainable wood value chains. She said to secure more financing and to guide action, more reliable data is needed, and in this vein noted CPF work on improving the coverage, quality, and transparency of forest-related data and information, including further enhancements to the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) 2025 and advancing the global core set of forest-related indicators.
The EU invited the CPF to finalize work on indicators, improve interaction between CPF members in their contributions to other forums such as the HLPF, and provide more coherent communication and outreach. He also encouraged more CPF work on sustainable and legal supply chains.
BRAZIL disagreed about CPF work on sustainable supply chains, saying this should be addressed by the World Trade Organization (WTO), cautioning there is “no one size fits all” solution and any scheme should be implemented in a non-punitive manner. ARGENTINA cautioned that deforestation-free supply chains are beyond the UNFF’s mandate.
JAPAN opposed language in the Secretariat’s Note on strengthening the Secretariat for the CPF. GERMANY expressed support for the CPF’s “decisive role” to advance collaborative initiatives to halt forest loss, such as the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration.
The US, with SWITZERLAND, called for timely updates on, inter alia, green finance and policies on deforestation-free commodity chains and for further development of CPF joint initiatives. SWITZERLAND, with GERMANY, encouraged further CPF deliberation on sustainable use of forests aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The INTERNATIONAL UNION OF FOREST RESEARCH ORGANIZATIONS noted its recent assessment of a decade of REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries under the UNFCCC) and current work on trade-offs between human health and trees and other land uses.
Update on the activities of regional and subregional organizations and processes: Vice-Chair Mahoney opened this agenda item on Tuesday. The EU encouraged the Forum to step up action to reverse loss of forest cover by continuing to work with regional and subregional organizations, the finance sector, and other partners in an integrated manner, including through cross-sectoral and landscape approaches.
Update on the activities of Major Groups and other relevant stakeholders, including the private sector and the philanthropic community, and progress on Major Group workplans: Vice-Chair Mahoney opened this agenda item on Tuesday. The EU highlighted the need for more direct inclusion and participation of Major Groups and other stakeholders in concrete actions on forests and the important role the private sector and philanthropy can play in engaging civil society.
NGOs highlighted work undertaken by the Forum and NGOs on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the forest sector. YOUTH AND CHILDREN spoke of the career development challenges faced by youth in the forest sector and called on the Forum to work with youth to ensure inclusive and equitable access to forest education for youth everywhere. WOMEN shared recent achievements including the commitment of the African Women’s Network for Community Management of Forests to plant 20 million trees for the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030). MAJOR GROUPS urged more work to identify and collect best practices and to provide capacity building to Indigenous Peoples, women, and other vulnerable groups.
Interlinkages between the Global Forest Goals and targets and the Sustainable Development Goals under review by the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in 2022 and international forest-related developments: Vice-Chair Mahoney opened this agenda item on Tuesday. The FAO shared the outcomes of the XV World Forestry Congress. The EU emphasized the need for the UNFF and other international processes to address forest-related issues in a coherent, consistent, and mutually supportive manner and promote the importance of forests for achieving the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and the 2030 Agenda.
CHINA noted the important role of forests in post-COVID-19 pandemic recovery and the achievement of the SDGs and called for increased attention to and implementation of the UNSPF to better guide global recovery. CONGO called for considering how value chains are developed and to fight against youth unemployment and poverty. BRAZIL shared his country’s proposal for a new dedicated global biodiversity fund under the CBD. ARGENTINA expressed caution regarding the framing of the UNSPF as an integrated framework and requested further discussion on how this would be implemented. UGANDA highlighted the importance of women as change agents in the forest sector and of addressing the challenge of land ownership to enable women to engage in forest conservation.
On Friday, Chair MacIntosh introduced the Chair’s draft summary on this agenda item, which will serve as UNFF’s official input to the 2022 session of the HLPF. The summary says that progress toward achieving SDG 15 (life on land) has stalled, and the UNFF urges the HLPF to:
- seize the opportunity and tap into the potential and capability of the UNFF to contribute to its deliberations on and success towards forest-related SDGs, particularly SDG 15;
- recognize the UNFF as the only global policy body on forests with universal membership that captures forest-specific technical and policy capabilities and also assists delivery of important financing, through its GFFFN;
- recognize the UNSPF as the reference framework for forest-related instruments and action and call for better integration of the GFGs into the major international frameworks related to forests, as well as advancing implementation of forest-related commitments;
- better leverage the UNFF to promote and highlight forest-related contributions to sustainable development, by helping to ensure and maximize complementarities, synergies, and coherence among forest policies, programmes, and projects of Member States, partners, and stakeholders in advancing the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the UNSPF; and
- recognize the role of the CPF and its strategic vision towards 2030.
Implementation of the UNSPF communication and outreach strategy and the International Day of Forests in 2022: Vice-Chair Mahoney opened this agenda item on Tuesday. The EU called for: an evaluation of the impact of the 2021 flagship publication; more work on the risks linked to forest cover and the benefits of SFM, including impacts on human welfare; greater consistency in outreach efforts; and increased outreach to regional groups.
The PHILIPPINES, KENYA, GABON, GHANA, INDIA, and SAUDI ARABIA reported on their International Day of Forests (IDF) national celebrations. India highlighted that they included activities on “farm forests” and Ghana explained how they enlisted students for a national tree-planting campaign. The US said it was looking forward to working with UNFF for the 2023 IDF on forests and health. MALAYSIA said it celebrated all international forestry- and biodiversity-related events. CHINA asked that IDF materials be provided to members earlier to allow sufficient time to mount effective campaigns.
AUSTRALIA expressed interest in working the UNFF Secretariat and other members to share the communications and outreach strategy, make it more targeted, and ensure wider reach and delivery. The DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO asked for assistance in its communications efforts on promoting the rational use of forests.
SWITZERLAND called for revamping and modernizing the UNFF website to make it more informative and easier to navigate. She also suggested developing simple publications aimed at the public to explain the role of forests in contributing to all of the SDGs. MONGOLIA supported the idea of updating the UNFF website and suggested adding a special section on best practices in forest conservation, reforestation, and reduction of land degradation, putting a special focus on the use of innovative approaches.
FAO noted that it produced a video spot in 11 languages for the 2022 IDF, which was broadcast by several news channels, and launched a publication on forest products in a global bioeconomy.
Means of implementation, including operations and resources of the GFFFN: On Tuesday, Vice-Chair Musah Abu-Juam opened discussion on this agenda item. UNFF Director Koudenoukpo introduced the Secretariat’s Note (E/CN.18/2022/3). GABON noted it is the first African country to be paid for results in forest protection and management, having received USD 150 million from the Central African Forest Initiative. SURINAME said it is one of three “carbon negative” countries, with Panama and Guyana, and highlighted its work on a climate finance roadmap to strategically identify opportunities.
The EU called for:
- UNFF Secretariat facilitation to attract private and philanthropic sector funding;
- an assessment of the GFFFN and areas for improvement; and
- a status report on establishing the Beijing GFFFN office.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO stressed that funds for protecting forests are a duty, not a development finance “handout,” given forests’ global contribution to fighting climate change. CHINA said already-limited funding for the GFFFN was reduced by COVID-19, but the Network still needs support given that forest financing is integral to post-pandemic recovery. COLOMBIA said public and private sector investment in forests is needed for addressing climate change and other environmental issues cost-effectively and improving local economies.
The US stressed that for the second phase of the clearing house there is a need to continue working with CPF members and stakeholders. She also noted that long term financing and staffing are issues and that they see value in inviting CPF members to consider seconding staff to enhance the capacity of the GFFFN.
SOUTH AFRICA stated that strengthening implementation of the UNSPF and the achievement of the GFGs requires significant improvement of implementation mechanisms. ARGENTINA stressed that private financing should be aligned with internationally agreed forest objectives and called on the Forum to heed the appeal to mobilize resources for SFM. BRAZIL indicated an intention to propose language on the resource obligations of developed countries. GHANA sought clarification on how the UNFF works with other global bodies that provide funding. JAPAN emphasized the importance of transparency and accountability, as well as observance of UN rules and procedures when undertaking activities such as the establishment of an office.
The FAO highlighted the recently released 2022 “The State of World’s Forests” report and underscored that financing for the three forest “pathways” contained in the report needs to at least triple by 2030.
At the close of the discussion, the Secretariat assured delegates they would continue providing updates on establishment of an office in Beijing, saying they have been collaborating closely with relevant UN departments. The Secretariat also provided clarifications on the second phase of the clearing house, noting that, while they had already begun to informally brainstorm with relevant CPF member organizations, they would also seek additional information from Member States,
Monitoring, assessment and reporting: On Tuesday, Director Koudenoukpo introduced the Secretariat’s progress report (E/CN.18/2022/4).
Proposed refinements to the format for voluntary national reporting on progress in implementing the UNSPF, the UN Forest Instrument and VNCs: INDIA welcomed the proposals to establish an informal advisory group on reporting and to organize a joint reporting workshop with FAO and the UNFF. CHINA noted that there may be room for further simplification in the reporting process. The EU encouraged the Secretariat to implement a pilot phase for the use of the refined format and to report on progress to UNFF18.
The REPUBLIC OF KOREA emphasized the importance of using clear definitions of terms and quantitative indicators to contribute to more adequate reporting. The PHILIPPINES shared insights from their national reporting process and expressed support for the organization by the Secretariat of future capacity-building workshops for members in relation to the revised reporting format.
CANADA expressed support for the establishment of an informal advisory group. ARGENTINA said the group should have clear terms of reference. He supported the idea of an online reporting platform if it facilitates the reporting task. The Secretariat clarified that the reasons for proposing an informal group was that: the UNFF had a positive experience with using one during work on the flagship publication; it offers more flexibility than a formal group; and, since it could work virtually, it would have no cost implications for the UNFF budget.
BRAZIL indicated preference for the Secretariat to present the format refinement proposal for further consideration by Forum members and urged that due attention be paid to capacity gaps. The US supported refining the reporting format and, with the RUSSIAN FEDERATION, scheduling the next round of reporting after the 2025 FRA.
AUSTRALIA, with ARGENTINA, stressed coordination with other reporting to reduce duplication. COLOMBIA called for harmonization of reporting on forests across different forums and not creating additional burdens for national authorities.
FAO said in order to reduce the reporting burden the CPF is making efforts to harmonize reporting by improving methodology and guidance for reporting on primary forests. Noting proposals to have FAO co-host a workshop on reporting with UNFF, she said FAO would be happy to do this if UNFF endorses the idea. As for synchronizing reporting with the next FRA, FAO noted the FRA will be issued in October 2025, so voluntary national reports to the UNFF should be scheduled after that date so that Member States submitting reports will have recent, authoritative biophysical indicators.
JAPAN urged the creation of a roadmap for the next cycle of reporting to be presented to UNFF18.
Progress on the global core set of forest-related indicators: Noting that developing the indicators continues to present challenges, the US suggested further workshops may not solve the problem where data does not exist. MALAYSIA suggested that indicators should be based on the FRA. The FAO suggested using the global core set of indicators as the basis for quantitative elements of the next national reports on the GFGs. She noted that work on the set should be completed by the end of the second quarter of 2024.
Preparations for the Midterm Review in 2024 of the Effectiveness of the International Arrangement on Forests in Achieving its Objectives
On Tuesday, UNFF Secretariat Director Koudenoukpo introduced the Note on preparations for the midterm review (MTR) (E/CN.18/2022/5), which received general support. The EU welcomed the Secretariat’s proposals, saying the MTR offers an opportunity for the Forum to address existing gaps in progress on the GFGs and the 2030 Agenda, and assess ways the CPF can further support UNFF’s policy work. He suggested that UNFF conduct an analysis of its impact on the global context in such matters as deforestation and forest fires.
CHINA and INDIA offered to help with facilitation of the MTR. CHINA called for coordinating activities to improve efficiency and reduce costs. INDIA suggested that assessment of reporting be based on internationally agreed indicators relevant to specific targets. ARGENTINA stressed inclusive, transparent assessment of UNFF’s contribution to the SDGs. He recommended postponing until 2030 any consideration of a legally binding IAF under ECOSOC resolution 2015/33.
The US, SWITZERLAND, and CANADA urged assessing current arrangements, including the GFFFN and UNSPF, rather than considering establishment of a global forest fund. CANADA urged assessment of UNFF’s usefulness for the HLPF and its impact on forests globally. With AUSTRALIA and SWITZERLAND, she stressed ensuring objectivity, given that the assessment will be internal.
AUSTRALIA emphasized focusing on topics under UNFF custodianship and sought clarity on how to prioritize MTR actions. SWITZERLAND underscored the importance of neutrality and transparency in the evaluation and called for members to be more proactively engaged, for example, through the use of questionnaires.
Forum Trust Fund
On Tuesday, UNFF Director Koudenoukpo introduced document E/CN.18/2022/6 detailing contributions to and expenditures from the UNFF Trust Fund for 2021. The US encouraged members to contribute to the Trust Fund to ensure that the UNFF can meet its objectives and fulfill its mandate. The REPUBLIC OF KOREA noted that financial support of members is crucial for fostering the Secretariat’s efforts to achieve the UNSPF and GFGs and expressed a desire for more hybrid or online approaches to promote the activities of the Secretariat.
CHINA remarked on the challenges faced by the Trust Fund due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and urged the Secretariat, when the conditions allow, to make more effective and full use of the contributions from Member States.
SWITZERLAND strongly requested that, in the spirit of transparency, the Secretariat send programme budget information to all national UNFF focal points, to give members a clear idea of the UNFF budget for the coming year so that they might provide money accordingly to the Trust Fund.
On Monday, UNFF Director Koudenoukpo introduced the Secretariat Note on the challenges faced by countries, strategies adopted, and recovery measures taken to reduce the impact of the coronavirus disease pandemic on forests and the forest sector (E/CN.18/2022/7).
Date, Venue and Provisional Agenda for UNFF18
On Friday, UNFF17 adopted the decisions on the provisional agenda, and on the dates and venue for UNFF18, contained in documents E/CN.18/2022/L.2 and L.3, respectively. The provisional UNFF18 agenda includes:
- technical discussions on the implementation of the UNSPF;
- means of implementation, including the GFFFN;
- monitoring, assessment and reporting, including work on the global core set of indicators and preparations for FRA 2025;
- update on the preparations for the MTR; and
- emerging issues.
INDIA asked the Bureau to consider adding two items to that agenda:
- encouraging forests that are sustainably managed through a technically approved Working/Management Plan be treated as certified forests and its produce as certified product; and
- the management, restoration and rejuvenation of water and water bodies, including rivers, as an integral part of the forest ecosystem.
Chair MacIntosh promised that the UNFF18 Bureau would consider these proposals.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the Forum undertook informal consultations on the draft omnibus resolution. The draft resolution featured sections on:
- implementation of the UNSPF;
- means of implementation, including operations and resource of the GFFFN;
- monitoring, assessment, and reporting; and
- preparations for the MTR in 2024 of the effectiveness of the IAF.
An annex detailed proposed actions in preparation for the MTR prepared by an expert group convened in 2021.
During the first day of the informal consultations, delegates discussed a range of issues, including:
- references to other international forest-related developments such as the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration and the Seoul Forests Declaration adopted by the XV World Forestry Congress;
- how to acknowledge the challenges faced by developing countries;
- the important role of Indigenous Peoples, local communities, women and girls, and other forest-relevant stakeholders;
- referencing the special needs and circumstances of middle-income countries with respect to access to finance;
- references to payments for environmental services;
- a potential pilot phase of the proposed changes to the national reporting format;
- linkages to the core set of indicators to the amended national reporting format; and
- ensuring the independence and transparency of the MTR.
Particularly contentious issues resulted in the convening of “informal informal” consultations, led by Brazil and the US, to find consensus.
The first point of contention hinged on whether and how to refer to the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration, with some noting that not all members of the Forum endorsed the Declaration, that it is not an intergovernmentally negotiated text and that aspects of the Declaration, particularly on land use, go beyond the mandate of the UNFF. Others stressed that the Declaration has galvanized international attention to forests and as such warrants citing in the resolution to raise ambition. Delegates were able to come to an agreement on a broader reference that took “note with appreciation” of recent forest-related developments, declarations and pledges, including but not limited to the “forest-related contributions” of the Declaration.
Several delegates pushed for references to “national circumstances” in the context of implementation of the GFGs, on the basis that the specific challenges faced by developing countries, particularly due to the pandemic, require acknowledgement. Others expressed concern that such references are not in line with GFG 1. Compromise language was eventually agreed based on ECOSOC resolution 2017/4, through which the UNSPF was originally adopted.
On the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, the diverging views revolved around which qualifiers to attach to the framework in the resolution and whether to highlight the contributions of forest-based activities that generate social, economic and environmental benefits. Following a lengthy discussion, delegates agreed to focus on highlighting the contributions of forests and SFM and their economic, social and environmental benefits, for the protection, conservation, and sustainable use of biodiversity in working towards a framework.
As with references to “national circumstances,” delegates were able to reach a consensus on the means of implementation by recalling language in ECOSOC resolution 2017/4 that acknowledges the challenges faced by developing countries and the importance of all sources of financing, including private and philanthropic sources.
Several other proposals did not win inclusion in the resolution. These included the condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and references to sustainable commodity production and consumption, a One Health approach, and the Seoul Forest Declaration.
Negotiations concluded on Thursday evening. Chair MacIntosh introduced the finalized draft when the plenary reconvened Friday morning and noted that the Bureau had determined that the resolution posed no programme budget implications. Delegates adopted the resolution as presented.
Noting the importance of finding consensus on important messages to convey about forests at the first policy session of the Forum since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU saluted the adoption of the omnibus resolution as a great achievement. She reiterated the EU’s condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, noting the destructive impact armed conflict has on forests.
INDIA and the US also congratulated the Forum on adopting the omnibus resolution. The US explained its position that the trade-related language in one resolution provision has no bearing on US trade policy and deals with matters that should be handled at the WTO, not UNFF.
Final Resolution: The UNFF17 omnibus resolution (E/CN.18/2022/L.4) contains four sections and one annex.
On implementation of the UNSPF, UNFF17:
- invites members to accelerate efforts towards achieving the GFGs and encourages them to implement the GFGs, taking into account national circumstances;
- invites the CPF and member organizations to strengthen collaboration and support for the work of the Forum and its Members;
- invites the HLPF, the parties to the relevant multilateral environmental agreements, and other international forest-related processes to consider the relevant elements of the UNSPF as a reference framework for their forest-related work;
- takes note with appreciation recent forest-related declarations, pledges, and developments, including but not limited to the forest-relevant contributions of the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration;
- encourages countries and organizations that have made pledges in support of forest-related instruments, processes, commitments, and goals, to provide information on those pledges, including through the GFFFN;
- encourages members of the Forum to highlight the contributions of forests and SFM, and their social, economic and environmental benefits in the work towards the post-2020 global biodiversity framework;
- encourages the Forum to enhance multilingual communication in its work;
- emphasizes effective implementation of SFM depends on the contributions of all relevant stakeholders; and
- encourages integration of forests and their sustainable management in the post-COVID recovery measures.
On means of implementation, including operations and resources of the GFFFN, UNFF17:
- recalls the importance of the mobilization of and effective use of financial resources, including new and additional resources from all sources and at all levels;
- recalls that the effective implementation of SFM is critically dependent upon adequate resources;
- welcomes the support provided by the GFFFN to countries for strengthening capacity to mobilize resources by all stakeholders and from all sources to promote SFM and achievement of the GFGs, including through the development of national forest financing strategies;
- invites CPF members to consider seconding staff to the Secretariat to enhance the capacity of the GFFFN;
- requests the Secretariat to continue to develop and make operational phase II of the clearing house, including its new database on forest financial flows, within existing resources;
- requests the Secretariat, within existing resources, to regularly update the GFFFN clearing house databases and communicate information to familiarize Forum members with the database, and invites the CPF to contribute, as appropriate;
- emphasizes the importance for the GFFFN to provide its support to relevant Forum members and encourages the Secretariat, in accordance with the respective UN rules and regulations, to identify ways to facilitate contributions from the private sector and philanthropic organizations; and
- invites Forum members and others in a position to do so to provide voluntary contributions to the Forum Trust Fund.
On monitoring, assessment, and reporting, UNFF17:
- requests the Secretariat to amend the format for voluntary national reporting;
- invites the Forum to consider establishing an advisory group on reporting, within existing resources;
- requests the Secretariat to prepare a road map and timeline for the next reporting cycle, in conjunction with the FRA cycle, and explore an online reporting platform;
- requests the Secretariat to organize a joint global workshop with the FAO and other relevant CPF member organizations on national voluntary reporting;
- invites members to enhance international technical and financial cooperation on forest-related data and reporting; and
- invites Forum members and CPF governing bodies to make use of the global core set of forest-related indicators, and invites the Secretariat to arrange further work on tier 3 indicators.
On preparations for the MTR, UNFF17:
- decides to carry out actions in preparation for the MTR of the IAF;
- defers consideration of a legally binding instrument on forests and a voluntary global forest fund to the final review in 2030;
- establishes an open open-ended intergovernmental ad hoc expert group (AHEG) to be convened by the Secretariat toward the end of 2023, and to be open to all members of the Forum, the member organizations of the CPF, and other relevant organizations and stakeholders;
- decides that the review should be carried out in a transparent and independent manner; and
- invites those Forum members that are in a position to do so to provide voluntary contributions to the Trust Fund to enable the Secretariat to organize the AHEG.
The annex details actions in preparation for the MTR. The proposed actions include assessing the progress and impact of the Forum and its members, the Secretariat, the CPF, the GFFFN, and the Trust Fund. There are further actions proposed related to:
- implementation and the UNSPF communications and outreach strategy;
- contributions of the Forum to the 2030 Agenda; and
- involvement of regional and subregional partners, Major Groups, and other relevant stakeholders.
On Friday morning, UNFF17 Rapporteur Momeni presented the draft report of the session (E/CN.18/2022/L.1) to be submitted to ECOSOC, noting that he would complete the report with the assistance of the Secretariat. The report was adopted.
In her closing remarks, UNFF Director Koudenoukpo expressed admiration for members’ commitment and active and constructive participation in UNFF17. She congratulated members for the successful conclusion of the session and the adoption of the omnibus resolution, which she said provides a clear roadmap for action over the next two years. She assured participants that the Secretariat listened closely to the views and concerns expressed during the week and are committed to working with all Member States and stakeholders to closely implement the resolution.
Chair MacIntosh acknowledged the support of the Bureau, Secretariat, and UN conference management services, and expressed appreciation for the flexibility of members and the constructive atmosphere they brought to the session.
She gaveled UNFF17 to a close at 10:32 am EDT.
UNFF17 Chair MacIntosh opened UNFF18 on Friday morning, noting a past decision that the first session of every Forum should be opened briefly after concluding the prior one in order to elect the Bureau. The Chair recalled UNFF resolution 12/2 of 5 May 2017 where the Forum agreed to elect its officers for a two-year term of office starting at UNFF14, in order to ensure continuity between the policy and technical sessions of the Forum.
Delegates elected by acclamation Zéphyrin Maniratanga (Burundi), nominated by the African Group, as Chair of UNFF18 and UNFF19, and Javad Momeni (Iran), nominated by the Asia-Pacific, and Ismael Belen (Turkey), nominated by Western European and Other States, as Vice-Chairs. UNFF17 Chair MacIntosh urged the Latin American and Caribbean Group and Eastern Europe to put forward their candidates as soon as possible, with the understanding that the nominated candidates would be allowed to provisionally participate in Bureau meetings until they are formally elected at the resumption of UNFF18.
UNFF18 was suspended at 10:38 am EDT.
A Brief Analysis of UNFF17
Delegates welcomed the first in-person meeting of the UN Forum on Forests (UNFF) since 2019 and the first policy session since 2018. Everyone was mindful of the need to take stock of UNFF’s role and impact as they prepare for the 2024 mid-term review (MTR) of the effectiveness of the International Arrangement on Forests (IAF), which includes the UNFF and its Member States, the UNFF Secretariat, the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), the UNFF Global Forest Financing Facilitation Network, and the UNFF Trust Fund. It is appropriate that this reflection process is beginning almost exactly at the 30th anniversary of the June 1992 Rio Earth Summit, which achieved the first global consensus on forest sustainability and sowed the seeds for the eventual establishment of the UNFF in 2000.
It is also timely to reflect on the UNFF’s progress in light of recent and current global forest-related policy developments, including the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use adopted by the 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 26) in November 2021, the Seoul Declaration adopted at the XV World Forestry Congress in May 2022, the upcoming meeting of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) that will review of progress on Sustainable Development Goal 15 (SDG 15) on life on land in July 2022, and the ongoing Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) negotiations on a post-2020 global biodiversity framework. Despite the attention forests have received and continue to receive, the 30 years since 1992 have also seen global forest cover decrease by around 10%.
This brief analysis will consider the policy discussions of UNFF17 with particular attention to the UNFF’s progress and potential future efforts in the continually evolving context of global forest policy.
Should We Stay in the Forest? Or Keep Emphasizing that Forests are Part of the World?
Throughout the week, UNFF17 tackled its own raison d’etre. Should the UNFF “stay in the forest” or engage more meaningfully with other forest-related multilateral developments. Indeed, UNFF17 began with a High Level Round Table on UNFF’s role in forest-related multilateral developments, where leaders from several multilateral environmental agreements and organizations emphasized the increasing recognition of forests’ essential global role as “one of the best tools” for achieving commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change, combatting biodiversity loss under the CBD, and achieving the SDGs by 2030, including sustainable food systems, and, of course, UNFF’s role in helping turn the tide on deforestation.
However, recognizing these interlinkages was the subject of much debate during the ensuing negotiations on the UNFF17’s omnibus resolution. For instance, proposed language encouraging UNFF members to “implement” the Glasgow Declaration and other relevant outcomes of multilateral environmental agreements was watered down to say “takes note with appreciation” of recent forest-related declarations, pledges, and developments, including the Glasgow Declaration. One delegate expressed astonishment that the UNFF could not even “welcome Glasgow” and acknowledge its “forest-positive contributions.” Moreover, while compromises were sought to acknowledge the Seoul Declaration produced at the XV World Forestry Congress, UNFF17 was ultimately unable even to note that the Congress had taken place, only one week before UNFF17.
Regarding the Glasgow Declaration, numerous delegates reasoned that since over 50 UN Member States did not endorse it, it is not universal and therefore should not receive strong endorsement from a UN body such as the UNFF. However, the real question is why some members of the UNFF have chosen not to endorse this Declaration, which many have described as a transformative forest-related development. Those intervening on this issue during the week did not explain their reasoning, apart from claiming that the Declaration contained “non-forest issues.”
Other issues with clear linkages to forests also arose during the discussions and were ultimately not included in the resolution, such as proposals to add references to sustainable commodity production and to deforestation-free value chains, which some members argued were trade issues and thus beyond UNFF’s remit and better discussed by the World Trade Organization.
While the final resolution was weaker with regard to acknowledging the interlinkages of the UNFF with other forest-related multilateral developments than many had hoped, it would be unfair to call the outcome a failure. There are gaps, lack of coordination and harmonization, and concomitant overlaps and duplication of efforts in all multilateral bodies, not just those dealing with forests. While shortage of synergies or even coherence is nothing new, the fact that it is still hindering the effectiveness of multilateralism in addressing problems—in this case halting deforestation and restoring forests—is more distressing to many in this era of pandemic recovery with so many calls for “building back better” through “transformational actions” heard across multiple fora.
At UNFF16 in 2021 such calls were heard from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), CBD, European Union, and other Forum members. In contrast, although the UNFF Secretariat continued to cite the need for transformation in the documentation for UNFF17, it merited nary a mention during the meeting itself.
Perhaps the problem is in attempting to define what is meant by “transformation,” especially given its use in so many different contexts such as climate change, biodiversity, energy and, yes, forests. While everyone can agree that transformation does not mean “business as usual,” they usually have difficulty in agreeing on its details and how to get there. Yet there was a decided air of getting back to business as usual at UNFF17 rather than seeking consensus on what transformative action to undertake. This was perhaps aided by the fact that many delegates were once again seated in the same plenary room, but also because many of the same pre-COVID positions are still being voiced, demonstrating once more that the primary interests that often hold sway are often national ones, not concern for the greater good. For example, while delegates can agree on the urgent need to turn the tide of deforestation, some members sought to exclude from the scope of any endorsement action on sustainably commodity production or deforestation-free supply chains, since this might harm their exports.
Yet collaboration is important. The annex to the omnibus resolution adopted by UNFF17, which outlines the many preparations for the 2024 MTR of the effectiveness of the IAF, calls for to identifying “additional measures to enhance collaboration and synergies and to reduce duplication with regard to forest-related issues at the global level.”
Potential Contributions of the MTR
The vision for the MTR is to strengthen the current arrangement and ensure a stronger role for the Forum, as the primary policy-body on forests in the UN system, particularly in light of all the recent international forest-based actions like the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration and Seoul Forest Declaration. The MTR aims to enhance collaboration and to explore measures to engage members in fostering the achievement of the Global Forest Goals.
There are reasons for optimism about the potential contribution of this review. For instance, numerous delegates sought to leverage the MTR to strengthen the interlinkages between the UNFF and other instruments such as the SDGs. They cited studies showing that forests contribute to nearly every SDG. While some objected to expanding the scope of the MTR beyond the UNFF’s mandate, in the end, proponents were able to secure language in the text that refers to the interlinkages between forests and the SDGs overall, not just the “forest-related” ones as some had sought to qualify. This opens the door for the MTR to push the Forum beyond the forest and harness the power of forests for the achievement of all SDGs.
Efforts were also made to address concerns about the transparency and inclusiveness of the MTR, given the importance of forests and the Forum to stakeholders, including the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), regional organizations, and Major Groups. Concerns were also raised about facilitating developing country participation in the MTR process, which the Secretariat assured members would be a priority.
The success of the MTR hinges on the confidence members and forest-related stakeholders have in the process. As some delegates noted, an inclusive, transparent, and independent review is essential to ensuring that the MTR is perceived as legitimate by both UNFF members and other stakeholders. In the final omnibus resolution, language was included that explicitly emphasized that the MTR should be implemented in a transparent and independent manner, although it remains to be seen whether the MTR preparatory process, and particularly the agreed intergovernmental ad hoc open-ended expert group will truly be independent, fully transparent, and broadly inclusive.
Seeing the Forest for the Trees?
UNFF17 provided a chance for the Forum to look in the mirror. The discussions during the High Level Round Table on UNFF’s response to, role in, and expectations from forest-related multilateral developments began this self-reflection. The policy discussions on the implementation of the UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2017-2030, along with discussions on the UN Forest Instrument, voluntary national contributions, and the launch of preparations for the MTR, enabled participants to also reflect on the future. Will this self-examination foster and accelerate the achievement of the Global Forest Goals (GFGs), as the first paragraph of the omnibus resolution adopted by UNFF17 calls for? Or in the end will it look like UNFF is “patting itself on the back”?
Ultimately, assessing the UNFF’s effectiveness may depend on how impact and effectiveness are measured, and who does the measuring. Targets and timetables already exist, including the first Global Forest Goal of increasing global forest cover by 3% by 2030. Since 2015, UNFF has been working with CPF to get measurement and reporting “on the same page” by trying to agree on and use a global core set of forest-related indicators in reporting, including work over the next two years given the green light by the UNFF17 omnibus resolution to work out harmonized socio-economic impact indicators. Whether the resulting picture will reveal the UNFF has helped “move the needle” on the GFGs and fostered true transformation remains to be seen.