Forests fare poorly in outcomes of Rio+20, say CIFOR scientists

What has Rio+20 really achieved? Photo courtesy of Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (26 June, 2012)_Forests have been largely ignored or ambiguously mentioned in the Rio+20 outcome document, yet again postponing progress on integrating forests into sustainable development objectives, said CIFOR scientists at the conclusion of the Rio+20 summit last week.

“If you look at this document as providing some sort of guidepost for making decisions or taking actions in the future, the positions that are taken do not actually provide any specificity,” said Peter Cronkleton, Senior Scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research’s Peru office.

Louis Verchot, Principal Scientist at CIFOR agrees but added: “When you look who attended Rio+20, it is ministers of environment and  foreign affairs, not ministers of finance, and these  are are the people who you need to make the national commitments.”

The outcome document’s section on Forests specifically calls for urgent implementation of the Non-Legally Binding Instrument on All Types of Forests (NLBI) adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007. The purpose of the instrument to strengthen political commitment and action to implement sustainable forest management to achieve internationally agreed development goals.

“The plan to move forward with NLBI was something that was decided on many years ago and it still has not given the expected results,” Verchot said.

“There was some progress in the early stages of the agreement, but because of lack of long term commitment by countries, the progress has slowed.”

While the level of frustration and cynicism about the Rio+20 process is abound, this frustration may actually lead to civil society efforts to define actions at the regional and national level, Cronkleton said.

“I see hope in local and national processes. I think that is where there is clarity in the decisions that need to be made because the debates are more grounded in reality,” he said.

Verchot agrees: “I think that future action is going to be led by civil society. Civil society has a great power to influence the national and subnational level whereas the international coordination is where the multilateral process should be important. Unfortunately it is just not living up to what people need and many have lost confidence in the processes.”

One area where there could be clear commitments is in the clarification of commercial and community rights over forest, Cronkleton suggested. In many countries around the world, deforestation and forest degradation occurs in open-access forests that are often under state control. However state agencies usually lack sufficient resources and personnel for effective governance of these areas, says Cronkleton, creating a ‘free-for-all’ situation. At the same time there are people who live in and depend on those forests who don’t have rights over the basic resources that support their livelihoods.

“There is a need for forest industries to have clear rules that allow them to access resources in a sustainable way and have access to resources in a way that is equitable within a country so that all forest resources are not simply allocated to certain industries that do not provide local benefits,” he said.

“Without mandating what people do, you could easily establish clear guidelines in terms of steps that could be taken to clarify forest property rights.”

In the case of Africa, countries with the same programs and the same type of governance structure are already working together to influence national and regional decision-making on forest management through south-south exchange, explained Richard Eba’a-Atyi, CIFOR’s Regional Coordinator for Central Africa.

“African countries usually, at least for natural resources, agree on doing things together.  You have efforts to ensure transborder protection areas, for example the Commission for the Forests of Central Africa (COMIFAC) endeavours to harmonise forest management policies in ten African countries with the involvement of all stakeholder groups.”

However we need to promote greater efforts to really allow people to learn from what has worked in other countries, Cronkleton said.

“People can learn from experiences where forest governance has improved, where more equitable access to forest resources has taken place, where more efficient and effective technologies have been developed. I see this taking place in a piecemeal fashion without any coordination.”

Find CIFOR’s paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of the Rio+20 outcome document text on forests below.

Rio outcome document: Section on Forests

 

193. We highlight the social, economic and environmental benefits of forests to people and the contributions of sustainable forest management to the themes and objectives of the Conference. We support cross-sectoral and cross-institutional policies promoting sustainable forest management. We reaffirm that the wide range of products and services that forests provide creates opportunities to address many of the most pressing sustainable development challenges.

Cronkleton: I think many of these issues require difficult decisions on trade-offs. For example, when they say “supporting cross-sectoral and cross-institutional policies promoting sustainable forest management”, it is difficult to disagree with that statement but then when you get down to the question of how do you make that hard decision between agricultural development policies and forest policies for example, you come across a number of vested interests. There is a reason why cross-sectoral policies don’t exist in many countries and unless we start to make those differing priorities and interests more explicit and promote a discussion at both the policy and societal levels, it is difficult to imagine that a decision will be made on this.

We call for enhanced efforts to achieve the sustainable management of forests, reforestation, restoration and afforestation, and we support all efforts that effectively slow, halt and reverse deforestation and forest degradation…

Cronkleton: This statement doesn’t really mean anything because there are a number of ways that you could decrease deforestation or degradation that wouldn’t be acceptable. For example, you could militarise forests and you’d stop deforestation and degradation possibly. But who would support that when it undercuts questions of equity and who should have access rights to the forests? It doesn’t address corruption for example which is one of the main problems with forest law enforcement as it exists today.

You could easily tighten up this language to make it more meaningful without generating a lot of controversy but it is easier to stay at this very nebulous level where people often tune out. We need to define acceptable ways to decrease deforestation and forest degradation that don’t disenfranchise people or condemn certain countries with high forest cover to low levels of development. Simply establishing what we want and what we don’t want in the instance would be useful.

…including inter alia promoting trade in legally-harvested forest products.

Eba’a Atyi: In the past, emphasis was on the trade of forest products from sustainably managed forests which led to the emergence of forest certification. But now they are stopping at legally harvested which is going backwards. Does it mean that achieving sustainable forest management should not be the goal anymore? Sustainable forest management, which forest certification promotes, means more because it is not only about respecting the laws, but it recognises social and environmental aspects, especially if the national law does not include these. There is widely recognized scientific evidence in support of certification. Furthermore stopping at legally harvested forest products gives more focus on government-led initiatives at the expense of the involvement of civil society organizations and the private sector.

We note the importance of ongoing initiatives such as reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries; and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries.

Verchot:  None of the multilateral environmental agreements have actually delivered—the climate change agreement gets a lot of international attention but there has been no concrete action to actually deflect the world from the trajectory of the past. All of the environmental problems are marching on at accelerating rates despite years of multilateral inaction.

We call for increased efforts to strengthen forest governance frameworks and means of implementation, in accordance with Non-Legally Binding Instrument on All Types of Forests (NLBI) to achieve sustainable forest management.

Verchot:  This is a call to action on an 20 year old agreement without any goals, timelines or commitment of resources.  How will this be accomplished?   What are countries ready to do differently to increase the efforts to strengthen forest governance?

To this end, we commit to improving the livelihoods of people and communities by creating the conditions needed for them to sustainably manage forests including through strengthening cooperation arrangements in the areas of finance, trade, transfer of environmentally sound technologies, capacity-building and governance, as well as by promoting secure land tenure, particularly decision-making and benefit sharing, in accordance with national legislation and priorities.

Eba’a Atyi: This paragraph is too general to have a real impact on management of Africa’s forests however the call for integrating forest policy with economic policies will be important for Africa. There are many debates about land use policies and economic development policies in Africa as many countries have developed (or are in the process of developing) nationwide economic policies that intend to pull African countries out of generalized poverty. The policies being developed in the case of Central Africa give more emphasis to some specific land use types such as agriculture and mining and do not sufficiently integrate forests as one of the priority land use type. These new policies are encouraged/made worse by new international investors interested in commodities such as oil palm or rubber at the expense of natural forested areas. There is a need for a more balanced land use planning system that integrates all land use types including forests for the production of forest goods and the provision of environmental services.

194. We call for urgent implementation of the Non-legally Binding Instrument on all Types of Forests and the Ministerial Declaration of the high-level segment of the ninth session of the United Nations Forum on Forests on the occasion of the launch of the International Year of Forests.

Verchot: Originally the plan at Rio 1992 was to come up with an international treaty on forests. That never materialised but what did come out of Agenda 21 was the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) and that Forum is a place where countries come together and they make pledges but what they do there is all voluntary – they don’t have a treaty that requires them to reach certain objectives over time. And for many reasons this is unlikely to happen — we have treaties on biodiversity, climate change and desertification and none of these have been particularly effective. Until we can make these treaties effective, why put in place a forth one without any certainty of success? But at the same time, what they have put forward in this document is simply a statement of “let’s actually operationalize the plan that we came up with 20 years ago,” with no outline of how to do it, or an indication of the time frame, what are the steps involved, what are the milestones on this pathway to get there? Who is going to commit to resources, who is going to commit to supporting implementation of the NLBI? It just calls for doing it but there needs to be a statement of ambition, a specified timeframe, and a commitment of resources. 

195. We recognize that the United Nations Forum on Forests, with its universal membership and comprehensive mandate, plays a vital role in addressing forest-related issues in a holistic and integrated manner, and promoting international policy coordination and cooperation to achieve sustainable forest management. We invite the Collaborative Partnership on Forests to continue its support to the Forum and encourage stakeholders to remain actively engaged in the work of the Forum.

Verchot: The CPF supports the UNFF, and this statement simply asks for continuation of the status quo.  There is no sense of urgency and the need to do things differently is not communicated.

196. We stress the importance of integrating sustainable forest management objectives and practices into the mainstream of economic policy and decision-making, and to that end we commit to working through the governing bodies of member organizations of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests to integrate, as appropriate, the sustainable management of all types of forests into their strategies and programmes.

Verchot: We’ve had people flying around the world, dialogues with civil society, and to come up with a document like this, is almost an insult to the effort. There’s a need for government commitment to significantly tackle these issues. They need to commit to plans of action and put in place resources to achieve it. As the old saying goes, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. That’s what we have now…we don’t know where we’re going so there’s no coordination.


4 Responses to “Forests fare poorly in outcomes of Rio+20, say CIFOR scientists”

  1. In my opinion, it has to be noticed, that in general the outcomes of Rio+20 are very poor, so, the supposed poor outcomes on forests in the final document of Rio+20 are outcomes of a conference without binding results for everyone. For forests and agriculture productive landscapes we have to struggle on the ground and in other circumstances and either with the financial sector than with the ministers of environment or foreign affairs….

  2. Cathy Watson says:

    Thank you for going through the outcome document and getting a comment for each one. Very useful.

  3. Osang Joseph says:

    No real commitments and engagements towards the sustainable management of forest resources might literally mean no commitment towards sustainability. Undermining the role of the forests in sustainability simply undermines the raison d’etre of the Rio summit, especially when we realize that the forests are the lungs of our planet.

  4. Very useful indeed.
    Thanks so much. – l

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