5 May 2015
Eleventh Session, 4th Meeting (PM)

Major Civil Society Groups Share Perspectives on Ways to ‘Champion Forests’ amid Contemporary Challenges to Durable Restoration, as Forum Continues

The nine major groups participating in the United Nations Forum on Forests had an essential role to play in translating international policy decisions into local activities for sustainably managing the world’s woodlands, speakers stressed today, with some advocating the creation of a body that elevated the many different voices of civil society.

In day two of its eleventh session, the Forum held an afternoon multi-stakeholder dialogue, in which representatives of major groups, Government and United Nations agencies proposed ways to better engage civil society in sustainable forest management.  Moderated by Lambert Okrah, Major Groups Partnership on Forests, the panel included presentations by:  Joseph Cobbinah, Forestry Research Network for Sub-Saharan Africa; Cécile Ndjebet, African Women’s Network for Community Management of Forests; Olivia Sanchez Badini, International Forestry Students’ Association; and Peter deMarsh, International Family Forestry Alliance.

Opening the panel, Mr. Cobbinah said there were nine major groups accredited by the Economic and Social Council:  women, children and youth; indigenous peoples/local people; workers and trade unions; farmers and small forest landowners; non-governmental organizations; scientific and technological community; local authorities; and business and industry.  The Major Groups Partnership on Forests was created in 2012 to coordinate inputs to the Forum and build collaboration among those stakeholders.

More broadly, he said, the International Arrangement on Forests had made two types of contributions to sustainable forest management.  In the areas of policy setting, it provided the institutional structure to rally around groups’ interests for policy dialogue.  It also had improved tools by streamlining reporting protocols and devising guidelines for national forest programmes.

Ms. Ndjebet highlighted the need for a strengthened system to elevate the profile of forests, one that offered a platform for ensuring Governments were “active, accountable and transparent” in their national commitments to sustainable forest management, and included a reporting mechanism on the implementation of the Global Forest Objectives.  The Forum was solely a dialogue-based process, without an ability to advance implementation.  There was a lack of political will on sustainable forest management and no specific forest indicators.  Resources to ensure major groups’ robust participation were lagging, despite the “Agenda 21” commitment.

As such, she advocated a new United Nations multi-stakeholder forest body to spur legally binding recommendations, in order to push Governments to act upon those made by the Forum.  Such a body would address both policy and implementation, and forestry issues overall in a holistic and coordinated manner at the global, regional and national levels.  It should be responsible for the high-level political dialogue on forest issues, including review of policies and establishment of funds to implement work on the ground.  Finally, it should be responsible for coordinating all United Nations institutions and mechanisms, meet more often than biannually and have working groups to advance momentum.

Picking up that thread, Mr. deMarsh said a new fund was needed because others, such as the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation fund, were not specifically designed for sustainable forest management.  “Lots of money, many funds, but not a very good fit,” he said, stressing that sustainable forest management had to be an objective in its own right.  The new fund should play a catalytic and strategic role, which must be carefully coordinated with other funds.  Using limited resources, the new fund must be able to help countries, civil society and the private sector to access the big funds.  It had to support the development of national financing and emphasize building capacity for governance.  A more complete valuation of forest goods and services was also needed, in order to show what was being produced, consumed and invested.

Ms. Sanchez Badini said most States agreed on the importance of a multi-stakeholder presence in global decision-making.  Major groups ensured that all voices were heard in the Forest Forum process.  They also served as a feedback mechanism in both top-down and bottom-up processes.  For example, women brought ideas about gender equality and balance to the management of forest resources and in the policy arena, while indigenous peoples ensured respect for human rights and knowledge of sustainable practices.  In terms of local-level implementation, major groups could provide the link “between saying and doing” and filling gaps between global and local processes, including translating forest policies into results on the ground.  She recommended recognizing the Major Groups Partnership on Forests as a legitimate coordinating body for the groups’ involvement and grant it official permanent observer status in the “post-UNFF” process, thereby ensuring their representation at all levels in working groups, task forces and other bodies.  They should be involved policy development, planning and implementation.

In the ensuing dialogue, speakers agreed that sustainably managing the world’s forests was an enormous, cross-sectoral undertaking.  Forest policies required actors on the ground to see them through, and major groups, with their networks, had a strong ability to carry out international actions at the local level.  Many outlined their views on the panellists’ recommendations, describing options they would be willing to support and ideas for how major groups could work more effectively with Governments.  Several encouraged major groups to better coordinate their statements during Forum deliberations, while others stressed that more efforts should be made to engage stakeholders in the new International Arrangement on Forests.

With that in mind, the representative of Nigeria, on behalf of the African Group, underlined the importance of an inclusive process that considered all stakeholders’ views.  He proposed that members of the Major Groups Partnership on Forests improve coordination at national, subregional and regional levels.

Likewise, the representative of the European Union Delegation welcomed recommendations to strengthen coordination among the groups in providing inputs to the Forum.  He said the Union was open to the idea of a legally binding instrument and other options for sustainable forest management.

Highlighting the role of business, the United States’ representative urged stronger participation from that sector.  She encouraged the Major Groups Partnership on Forests to make coordinated statements, noting that the Partnership did not need an institutionalized relationship with the Forum to be effective.  To enhance dialogue, she requested information on major groups’ participation in the Forum, as well as on the Partnership’s request for institutional funding from a strategic trust fund.  States should include major groups in their delegations to the Forum.

Addressing the merits of a new forest body, Switzerland’s representative said one that fell outside the auspices of the Economic and Social Council would be lost, as messages currently could be sent through the Council to the General Assembly.  “You should not disregard this,” she said.  “We need to reshuffle the International Arrangement to make it more effective.”  She asked panellists how to attract the business sector in that framework.

Mr. Cobbinah, on that point, said the Forum system must be sufficiently attractive for the business sector, expressing hope that a representative from the World Business Council would join deliberations.  As for a body outside of the Council, he said “we’re looking for a more effective body that will champion the cause of forests”, stressing that the Council’s rules of procedure currently limited major groups’ participation in that forum.

The representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) urged the Forum to strengthen bilateral avenues for discussion, including through the International Forestry Students’ Association.

Rounding out the discussion, Mr. Okrah clarified that the Major Groups Partnership on Forests was a registered legal entity set up to work with the Forum and its affiliated bodies.  The Collaborative Partnership on Forests was not officially registered and therefore had a different role.

The representatives of Nepal, Malaysia, Sweden, Japan, Cameroon, Senegal, Republic of Korea, Norway and Finland also spoke, as well as representatives of several non-governmental organizations.

The Forum on Forests will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 6 May, to continue its eleventh session.

For information media. Not an official record.