5 May 2017
Twelfth Session, 10th Meeting (AM)

Forum on Forests Approves ‘Omnibus’ Text Outlining Reporting, Financing of Sustainable Woodlands Management 

As Twelfth Session Concludes, Some Delegates Welcome Text’s ‘Good Balance’ as Others Propose Amendments to Language

The United Nations Forum on Forests approved its “omnibus” resolution today, outlining the broad contours for countries to report on sustainable woodlands management, financing for those efforts, expanded engagement with partners, and influencing high-level political discussions in the Economic and Social Council.

In closing remarks, as the twelfth session concluded, Manoel Sobral Filho, Director of the Forum on Forests Secretariat, said 2017 had already been a momentous year, citing the General Assembly’s adoption of the United Nations Strategic Plan on Forests 2017-2030 in January.  “Together, you have built a stronger, better platform” for discussion of the world’s forests, he added.  During the session, a range of voices had been heard emphasizing the importance of sustainable forest management for the development of all peoples, he said, noting that they included the voices of people who depended on forests for food, water and livelihoods.

Forum Chair Peter Besseau (Canada) described the Assembly’s adoption of the Strategic Plan on Forests as an acknowledgement of the Forum as “visible, relevant and needed” at a time when forests had never been more critical.  He urged Member States to take full advantage of the Forum’s standing and rallied them to formulate substantive contributions to the 2018 high-level discussions in the Economic and Social Council.

The omnibus text, approved as orally revised for adoption by that Council, set out proposals for the Forum Secretariat, the 14-agency Collaborative Partnership on Forests, Governments, financing bodies and other stakeholders to improve forest management in four key areas:  monitoring, assessment and reporting; means of implementation; enhanced cooperation, coordination and engagement on forest-related issues; and contribution to the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.  Annexed to the text were guidelines for initiatives led by Governments, organizations, regions and major groups.

According to the text, the Economic and Social Council would request that the Forum Secretariat further revise the format for voluntary national reporting to the Forum on implementation of the United Nations Strategic Plan on Forests 2017-2030, based on consultations with Member States and others.  In turn, the Forum would consider, at its thirteenth session, the cycle and format of the first voluntary national reporting to the Forum, taking into account efforts on forest indicators, relevant reporting cycles and the need to reduce reporting burdens.

Concerning the means of implementation, the Council would invite the Global Environmental Facility Council to make further funds available for sustainable forest management during its 2018-2022 replenishment cycle, by other terms of the text.  It would decide that the Global Forest Financing Facilitation Network should carry out its priorities in a balanced, effective and transparent manner, as set out in the Strategic Plan.

In the area of cooperation, the Council would adopt the guidelines for country-led and similar initiatives in support of the Forum’s work, as contained in the resolution’s annex, by other terms.  Going forward, the Council would request that the Forum Secretariat prepare a report proposing actions to accelerate progress towards realizing Sustainable Development Goal 15.  It would also decide that the Forum finalize, at its thirteenth session, its substantive input to the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development 2018.

Prior to the adoption, the representatives of Ecuador and the United Republic of Tanzania welcomed the text as striking a “good balance” between the positons of various Member States.  Others, however, expressed concern and proposed changes to the resolution’s language.

In that regard, the European Union’s representative proposed altering operative paragraph 6 to read:  “Invites the Global Environment Facility to consider making further funds available for sustainable forest management”.  Expressing further concern that wording in operative paragraph 7 gave the inappropriate impression that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was among the instruments available for implementation of the Strategic Plan on Forests, she proposed the inclusion of a reference to partnerships.  In operative paragraph 8, she continued, the reference to the Global Forest Financing Facilitation Network should address its contribution to scaling up resources, also suggesting a number of changes to the text’s section on the High-level Political Forum.

Several speakers voiced agreement with, or suggested changes to, those proposals.  The representatives of Chile, Switzerland, Ukraine and the United States expressed general agreement, with the latter recommending a simplified amendment to the paragraph dealing with the 2030 Agenda.  She added that the words “in consultation with donors” should be added to the paragraph referring to the Global Environment Facility.

Nigeria’s representative, however, voiced concern that the discussion was devolving into yet another negotiation session, which had not been the intention.

That intervention led the Chair to suspend the meeting briefly while participants considered the proposed amendments.  Upon resumption, the European Union’s representative said the two paragraphs on the Global Environment Facility, and the role of the 2030 Agenda, respectively, remained problematic, pointing out that no common language had yet been identified.

The Chair reminded the Forum that several of its discussions in recent years had also centred on “how prescriptive we can be” about a body like the Global Environment Facility, which had its own mandate and terms of reference.  The Facility would ultimately “do as it wishes”, he said, emphasizing that the point of the paragraph was simply to send a signal that more forest-related funds should be made available.  Noting that the Facility had recently demonstrated a strong appetite for investing in forest restoration, he cautioned against further polarization on the relevant paragraph.  Indeed, the European Union’s proposed language was only a more nuanced way of urging increased forest-related financing, he said, stressing that semantics were ultimately beside the point.  “This is simply a signal that more is better.”

Further discussions on the paragraph nevertheless continued, involving the representatives of the United States, China, Ecuador and Nigeria.  The latter stressed, on behalf of the African Group, that all oral amendments reflected consensus.  The European Union’s representative joined those delegations in supporting the Chair’s compromise.  Her counterpart from Brazil voiced concern that the proposed solution remained ambiguous, recommending “softer” language that would avoid “inviting” any action on the part of the Global Environment Facility.

On the paragraph referring to the 2030 Agenda, Mr. Besseau (Canada) Forum Chair, said the core of the matter was “how all the pieces fit together”.  The proposed amendments aimed simply to send a more logical, coherent message about the various instruments of implementation available, he said, proposing a “slight” wording change to that effect.  The European Union’s representative, however, reiterated “we do not ‘use’ the 2030 Agenda” or the Paris Agreement on climate change, emphasizing that the Strategic Plan on Forests could not be placed on the same level as those major international agreements.

In accordance with those concerns, the Chair proposed simply removing the paragraph listing various international agreements.  The representatives of the European Union and the United States agreed with that recommendation, which the Forum then took on board, alongside an amendment proposed by the Secretariat in response to a point raised by the Russian Federation’s representative about transmission of the Chair’s summary of technical discussions.

In other business, Mr. Filho presented a secretariat note on the Forum Trust Fund (document E/CN.18/2017/6), recalling that eight donor countries — China, Finland, Japan, Republic of Korea, Netherlands, Russian Federation, Switzerland and the United States — had made contributions amounting to $2.1 million, including programme support costs, during the 2015-2016 period.  Outlining a number of in-kind contributions received during the period, he cited the Forum’s costs in terms of staffing, programme support, consultants, staff travel and contractual as well as operating expenses.  He noted, however, that staffing costs were expected to be reduced from more than $1 million in 2015-2016 to $400,000 in the next reporting period.

Also today, the Forum approved a draft resolution titled “the term of office of the officers of the Forum”, submitted by the Chair on the basis of informal consultations, deciding that — starting at its fourteenth regular session — the Forum would elect its officers for a two-year term with a view to ensuring continuity between policy and technical sessions.

The Forum also approved the date and venue for its thirteenth session (document E/CN.18/2017/L.2), deciding that it would be held at Headquarters from 7 to 11 May 2018.  The Forum likewise approved the provisional agenda for its thirteenth session (document E/CN.18/2017/L.1) and the draft report from its twelfth session (document E/CN.18/2017/L.3), for eventual submission to the Economic and Social Council.

It took note of the following documents:  the Chair’s summary of the panel discussions under agenda item 3 (a); the Secretary-General’s report “monitoring, assessment and reporting on progress towards implementing the United Nations Strategic Plan for Forests 2017-2030, including the United Nations Forest Instrument and voluntary national contributions” (document E/CN.18/2017/3); and the Secretary-General’s report “enhanced cooperation, coordination and engagement on forest-related issues” (document E/CN.18/2017/5).

For information media. Not an official record.