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After nearly 50 years of deadlock, an international agreement on managing the world’s forests was close to being reached, experts involved in the week-long meeting of an ad hoc expert group drafting the instrument told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference today.

“This is indeed a giant leap forward,” said Hans Hoogeveen, Chair of the United Nations Forum on Forests.  “There is a clear need for a global mechanism.”  He noted that forests covered 30 per cent of the world’s land area and that more than 1.6 billion people worldwide depended on forests for their livelihood, especially in developing countries.

“The non-legally-binding instrument is intended to create awareness of the need to conserve, protect, and sustainably manage the worldwide forest,” said Mr. Hoogeveen.  “It’s also intended to provide a well-articulated and coherent framework for sustainable forest management.”

“The loss of forest cover largely occurs as a result of human activities,” added Pekka Patosaari, Director of the United Nations Forum on Forests Secretariat.  “The drivers of deforestation are both within and outside of the forest sector, such as conversion of agricultural land, unsustainable harvesting of timber, unsound land management practices, and the creation of human settlements.”

He noted that the most recent session of the United Nations Forum on Forests had agreed on four shared global objectives for advancing sustainable forest management.  Those were reversing the loss of forest cover worldwide; enhancing forest-based economic, social and environmental benefits; increasing significantly the area of sustainably managed forests, while increasing the production derived from them; and reversing the decline of official development assistance for sustainable forest management.

He added that $10 billion was lost every year due to illegal logging and the associated trade was more than five times the official development assistance to the forest sector alone.  For that reason, it was important to make sure that such assistance did not indirectly support harmful practices.  It should be targeted to not only forest management, but also good Government and curbing corruption.

The non-legally-binding instrument to manage the world’s forests would be adopted at the Forum on Forests’ seventh session in April.

“The key word is non-legally-binding,” stressed Hamidon Ali, Vice-Chair of the United Nations Forum on Forests.  “When developing countries talk about forest management, they still abide by the principle that the Government has sovereign right over the utilization of and the management of their forests.”  It was critical to the whole bargain between developed and developing countries for that principle to remain intact, he said.

Asked about criticisms from indigenous groups over the fact that the instrument would be non-binding and would actually “enshrine” the sovereignty of nations over forests, Mr. Hoogeveen said even legally-binding instruments were not always implemented in the ways that had been intended.  For that reason, all such agreements depended on political commitment to implement them.  As for enforcement, there had been several recommendations for doing that at the national level, he said.

A question was posed about whether the agreement currently being negotiated addressed “issues of yesterday not of tomorrow”.  For example, the illegal logging of hardwood forests had been a central concern back when negotiations first got underway years ago, but forests were now used for sustainable energy systems, which created huge demands, from developed countries, for products that could be used in such fuel as biodiesel.  Mr. Patosaari responded that, since most developments concerning forests were driven by factors not under the control of those governing forest policy issues, the international community as a whole needed to be involved in creating a globally agreed instrument.

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For information media. Not an official record.