Value of Forests Must Be Better Communicated, Chair Underlines, as Forum Concludes Fourteenth Session
Body Also Sets Date for 2020 Meeting, Approves Provisional Agenda
The Forum on Forests closed its fourteenth session today, approving a draft decision that its fifteenth session will be held at Headquarters from 4 to 8 May 2020, as well as a document containing that session’s provisional agenda — all to be sent to the Economic and Social Council for adoption.
In closing remarks, Chair Boris Greguška (Slovakia) said discussions over the last week laid bare how and why forests matter for sustainable development. There is an urgent need to better communicate the value of forests both in and beyond the United Nations system, he said, underlining his own commitment to rendering those issues more visible. Rather than being just part of the solution, “forests are at the head of solutions for the transformational change we wish to deliver”, he stressed.
During the half-day meeting, the Forum concluded several discussions — among them, one on monitoring, assessment and reporting — during which Australia’s delegate described revisions to a proposal by Canada, New Zealand and his own country for a flagship publication to communicate why forests matter for sustainable development. The World Forestry Congress, to be held in the Republic of Korea, would be a high-profile opportunity to launch it, he suggested.
During a discussion on means of implementation, delegates offered further views on China’s offer to host a secretariat office for the Global Forest Financing Facilitation Network in Beijing. Most — including delegates from Algeria, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Suriname and Uruguay — called for a more efficient Forum Secretariat and welcomed China’s offer. If the regular budget is tapped for such purposes, Japan’s delegate stressed, standard procedure must be followed, including a cost-benefit analysis.
India’s representative, meanwhile, said the secretariat was to have provided details — notably on the justification for a Beijing office — so that delegates could have offered more informed comments. “All these issues should be discussed”, so as to avoid further complication, confusion and lack of focus on the core activities of the Network, he said. To that point, China’s delegate countered that the secretariat had completely answered such concerns. China would cover all expenses, he reiterated, and communicate any information to Member States through the secretariat.
In a final discussion on emerging issues, Afsa Kemitale-Rothschild of the Forum Secretariat gave an overview of spending from and contributions to the Forum trust fund. In 2018, five countries — China, Finland, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation and the United States — contributed $685,133 to support mandates, sessions and intersessional activities, as well as the secretariat’s work.
Switzerland’s delegate, pointing to the large budget for consultants, cautioned against engaging them for tasks that should be done by secretariat staff, including the Chair’s summary. Consultants can instead help prepare reports and organize seminars. The Russian Federation’s delegate reserved the possibility to discontinue his country’s non-earmarked contributions should any reforms to the Department of Economic and Social Affairs limit the Forum’s independence or authority.
In other business, the Forum approved a draft report of the work conducted at its fourteenth session — covering attendance, proceedings, documentation and matters calling for action by the Economic and Social Council — which was introduced by Forum Rapporteur Khalid Cherki (Morocco).
The Forum then briefly opened the its fifteenth session, with Mr. Greguška recalling that the current Bureau — namely, Vice-Chairs Javad Momeni (Iran), Khalid Cherki (Morocco), Rob Busink (Netherlands) and Kitty Sweeb (Suriname), and himself as Chair — will serve a term of office including the Forum’s fifteenth session. The Bureau, being fully constituted, will now determine who will be designated rapporteur of the fifteenth session, he said.
Monitoring, Assessment and Reporting
Mr. MAHONEY (Australia) said a proposal by his country, Canada and New Zealand on the preparation of a flagship publication was shared on 7 May and that all Forum participants were encouraged to participate in a brainstorming meeting on 8 May. That meeting was attended by 10 Member States, European Union, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), major group for children and youth and the Forum secretariat, with the goal of further developing the proposal. The proposal was subsequently revised and this revision was shared with the Forum on 9 May. The proposal calls for the flagship publication to efficiently communicate why forests matter for sustainable development; global progress in achieving the forest goals; and the Forum’s unique role in implementing the United Nations strategic plan for forests 2017-2030.
He said it also encourages the use of social media to promote key messages and highlights the need for a road map outlining the key steps and timeline for developing the publication. The World Forestry Congress, to be hosted by the Republic of Korea in 2021, is a high-profile opportunity to launch the publication. The brainstorming meeting emphasized the interests of Member States in guiding the secretariat in developing the flagship publication. The secretariat’s proposed advisory committee could suit this purpose. Calling for it to be established and begin its work as soon as possible, he said it should be conducted in a streamlined and cost-effective manner, using online communications tools where possible. Member States should have the opportunity to periodically review progress on the publication. He requested that these points be included in the Chair’s summary.
Means of Implementation
Mr. REMAOUN (Algeria), emphasizing the need to bolster means of implementation for carrying out the strategic plan, voiced hope the Department of Economic and Social Affairs reform would positively affect progress. Underscoring the importance of maintaining the Forum’s independence, he said the reform process should consider the secretariat’s increased importance, notably with the 2015 creation of the Global Forest Financing Facilitation Network. Calling for a more effective and efficient Forum Secretariat, he welcomed China’s offer to host an office in Beijing and called for considering the use of the regular budget for its operations. Efforts to establish a Beijing office should be considered in light of the host party agreement and the need for full transparency. Noting that Algeria faces various challenges, including deforestation, he said it signed agreements with technical bodies — including FAO — to combat forest fires.
Mr. MORALES (Argentina), voiced support for China’s offer to host an office, as the Network has carried out important work in assisting developing countries. Citing the high costs of forest policies, he said the Network will be important in building such capacity. He supported the prompt establishment of a Beijing office, as it would extend financing to countries most in need.
Mr. CHHETRI (Nepal), endorsing the statement by the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, and recalling that the Forum is in the third year of implementing the strategic plan, called for accelerated efforts to achieve all goals and targets, as well as monitoring and reporting. He advocated support for the special needs of developing countries through all means of implementation, including financial, technical and capacity-building. Countries in special situations — least developed nations, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States — require enhanced international support and partnership. While they have made progress in implementing the strategic plan, it falls far short of their ambition. Highlighting the role of the Forum Secretariat and the Department in capacity-building, he said they require the necessary resources.
Mr. CLAURE (Bolivia) underscored the need to strengthen the Forum Secretariat so it can guide all countries in attaining their ambitious forest and Sustainable Development Goals. He voiced support for opening an office in China, as it would help countries achieve their goals.
Ms. MELCHERT (Brazil), noting that the Network offers opportunities and is an “embryo” for promising future actions, voiced support for the establishment of a Beijing office.
CATHERINE K. COLQUE (United States) reiterated her country’s understanding that China’s offer could not receive a regular budget contribution. She reiterated that the Network’s role is to facilitate access and capacity-building for countries.
RENE SOMOPAWIRO, Director of Research and Development of the Foundation for Forest Management and Production Control of Suriname, called for the establishment of the China office as soon as possible, considering the importance of transparency, and underscoring the need for financial resources for high-forest cover and low-deforestation countries.
Mr. SOUST (Uruguay) voiced support for the office’s establishment, underscoring the need for low-income and developing countries to achieve the goals. Uruguay has increased its forest cover, yet international support has declined.
Ms. MOTOYAMA (Japan), in response to comments by Algeria’s delegate on the use of the regular budget for an office, said that, if that budget is used, actions must follow standard procedure including a cost-benefit analysis. It is Japan’s understanding that the office is to be fully supported by China.
Mr. DAS (India) underscored the importance of capacity-building, especially technical and financial resources for achieving the strategic plan. Many States, including his own, had asked about the shortcomings of the office within the secretariat and how the process would be taken forward. The secretariat was to provide details so delegates could take them to their respective ministries, but that opportunity was not given. “This has been highlighted by Member States,” including Switzerland, the United States and India, he said. Had those details been provided, delegates could have provided informed comments on the process. He asked about the mandate and justification for the Beijing office, stressing that “all these issues should be discussed” so as to avoid further complication, confusion and lack of focus on the core activities of the Network. All details of a proposal should be furnished to Member States.
Mr. REMAOUN (Algeria), replying to comments by Japan’s delegate, argued in favour of a Beijing office. If assessed contributions were used, its establishment would not be certain, he said, noting that China would cover all costs.
GUO YUFU (China) said the secretariat had completely answered concerns over the potential creation of a Beijing office, reiterating support for such an office to increase the secretariat’s capacity and provide the best support to developing countries and those in transition. Stressing that his country would cover all expenses, and the office’s operations would not impact the secretariat’s budget, he said China would also provide information to Member States through the secretariat. Many other important factors are contained in the secretariat notes that have been distributed to the Forum. He expressed hope the office would be established and operational as soon as possible.
Mr. SAHAKYAN (Armenia) welcomed the proposal to open an office in Beijing which would provide new opportunities to developing countries.
Emerging Issues and Challenges
Mr. ANDERSON (Switzerland) called attention to 2018 as a year of some of the most extreme events in Europe in recent history, including a spike in forest fire damage and storms, events it shares with many developing countries. Europe is reacting by discussing in the pan-European region, a forest risk facility, an idea supported by an expert‑level meeting. “We’re moving ahead on this”, he said, and looked forward to sharing experiences with developing countries. He suggested that room could be made on the agenda of the Forum’s fifteenth session for this topic.
AFSA KEMITALE-ROTHSCHILD, Forum on Forests Secretariat, introduced the its note on “Trust fund for the United Nations Forum on Forests” (document E/CN.18/2019/7) which covers contributions and expenditures of the trust fund for 2018. Without such contributions, implementation of many mandated activities would not have been possible. In 2018, five countries — China, Finland, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation and the United States — contributed in support of mandates, sessions and intersessional activities, as well as the secretariat’s work, totalling $685,133. In addition, the Forum received in-kind contributions from China to fund a junior officer post.
Giving an overview of expenditures, she said travel by representatives and experts totalled $390,530, accounting for 46 per cent of the budget. Staffing costs were $178,176, or about 21 per cent of the budget. Other costs were for programme support and consultant fees. For estimated 2019 expenditures, sustained, adequate human and financial resources are essential for scaling up all activities in the Forum’s substantive work, including for monitoring, enhancing cooperation, promoting regional cooperation, communications and outreach, and strengthening stakeholder outreach, especially with the private sector. Extrabudgetary funds must continue to be allocated so the secretariat can continue to perform its functions. She acknowledged the $403,000 contribution from Switzerland which fell outside the reporting period, earmarked for Network activities; a $20,000 commitment from the Republic of Korea earmarked for travel for representatives of developing States and countries in transition; A$54,000 pledge from Australia for the flagship publication and other expenses; and others from China and Germany, with the lion’s share of the latter’s earmarked for the Network, and the rest for the Collaborative Partnership on Forests.
Mr. ANDERSON (Switzerland) said the secretariat note covered expenditures for 2018, however funds were received also in 2019 and it would have been good to have presented the latest 2019 contributions. Pointing to a large budget for consultants, she encouraged the secretariat to avoid engaging consultants for tasks that should be accomplished by itself, and to improve its own capacity. For example, the Chair’s summary should be done by the secretariat, not consultants, who instead can help prepare reports and help organize seminars. She hoped to see the original budget for the flagship publication, which must be amended in light of discussions held on 9 May.
The representative of the Russian Federation advocated for a strong Forum and secretariat to ensure delivery on its mandates, noting that his country has consistently contributed to the trust fund for such reasons. Its voluntary contributions have been non-earmarked, so the secretariat can use them where needed most. Unfortunately, it is not obvious what the implications of reforms in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs would entail for the secretariat and its staff. Should the reform lead to limited authority or independence for the Forum, the Russian Federation reserved the possibility of discontinuing its contributions to the trust fund, he said, stressing that the secretariat should be able to continue its work to achieve its bold mandates.
SIXIAN ZHENG (China), underscoring the importance of the trust fund, said his country has provided voluntary contributions for years to support the secretariat’s work. In 2019, it will provide $350,000 in voluntary contributions. While many States have provided donations, the secretariat still faces difficulties and he encouraged others to provide contributions.
The representative of Australia, responding to Ms. Kemitale-Rothschild’s comments about the need for significant extrabudgetary funds for the flagship publication, emphasized her country’s A$50,000 pledge in that context. Noting that the publication is a new approach to communications on forests, she said the Forum’s approach to developing it should employ mechanisms that streamline processes and limit the need for extra-budgetary resources. She voiced support for Switzerland’s appeal to take a prudent approach to the use of consultants.
Ms. COLQUE (United States) said her country has been a consistent contributor of non-earmarked contributions to the trust fund. Among the staffing costs are some related to monitoring and reporting, and she supported the continued use of funds in that regard, stressing that any Department reforms should not affect the focus of the trust fund.
OH KYUNGMI (Republic of Korea) said her country has contributed annually to the trust fund. The secretariat should encourage Member States to make contributions by emphasizing its efforts to expand implementation of the strategic plan and publication of its achievements, noting that contributions declined 28 per cent year-on-year in 2018.
Ms. KEMITALE-ROTHSCHILD, responding to those comments and questions, said most of the contributions committed for 2019 — with the exception of Switzerland’s — are still pledges, “not yet money in our pockets”. While the Forum’s work is assisted by consultants, members of the secretariat are, in fact, the ones who prepare most of its summaries.
THOMAS BALDAUF (Germany), recalling that his Government has pledged funds for both 2019 and 2020, described the Global Forest Financing Facilitation Network’s potential as “enormous”. Germany, through its contributions, seeks to promote the design of national forest financing strategies and assist countries in mobilizing and effectively using existing resources. It also seeks to support the Collaborative Partnership for Forests and provide support to help major groups and other stakeholders participate in the Forum’s fifteenth session, he added.
Ms. POLIAKOVA (Ukraine) welcomed the initiative proposed by the delegations of Australia, Canada and New Zealand regarding the flagship publication and expressed support for the establishment of the clearing‑house mechanism.
Ms. COLQUE (United States) requested that the report include a more explicit reference to the fact that the Chair’s summary is not a negotiated document. Under monitoring, assessment and reporting, she said the timeframe proposed in the report for developing a new voluntary reporting template is too short and asked that the matter instead be considered in future sessions.
The representative of Australia asked that her delegation’s proposal on the scope and presentation of the flagship publication be annexed to the report on the Forum’s fourteenth session.
The representatives of the United States, European Union, Algeria, Canada (also on behalf of Japan, United States, Australia and New Zealand), India, Norway, Nigeria and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) outlined a number of additional edits they wished to see made to the report and voiced their intention to submit them in writing to the Forum Secretariat.