Thorny issue resurfaces

At its recently concluded third session in Geneva, Switzerland, the United Nations Forum on Forests (unff) took a step towards the creation of a legally binding instrument. An ad hoc expert group was established to consider the parameters of a mandate for developing the legal framework on all types of forests. The group will make its recommendations to the forum at its ministerial-level session in 2005

 
Published: Tuesday 15 July 2003

-- (Credit: EMKAY)At its recently concluded third session in Geneva, Switzerland, the United Nations Forum on Forests (unff) took a step towards the creation of a legally binding instrument. An ad hoc expert group was established to consider the parameters of a mandate for developing the legal framework on all types of forests. The group will make its recommendations to the forum at its ministerial-level session in 2005.

The issue of putting in place such an arrangement has been plaguing global forest negotiations since the 1992 Earth Summit (see box: Story so far ). Developing countries have opposed proposals pushed by the developed world, fearing that they are aimed at serving the trade interests of wood producers in the North at the cost of the environment.

unff-3 also set the terms of reference for the expert group. The composition of the group was a contentious issue, with the European Union (eu) favouring a small number of experts for efficiency and the Group of 77 developing countries -- along with China (G-77/China) -- insisting on universal membership. Differences also persisted over the timing of the meeting. Some developed countries preferred beginning work in 2003, but the G-77/China bloc wanted it to begin only after unff-4 in May 2004.

The final decision calls for all members to nominate a country expert for the group by March 31, 2004. Informal and formal meetings will be held before and after unff-4. The group is expected to complete its work three months prior to unff-5.

Other noteworthy outcomes of unff-3 include the adoption of three resolutions on the need for preventive measures to reduce the negative impacts on forest health and productivity, the integration of the economic aspects of forests and sustainable forest management, and maintaining forest cover for present and future needs. However, these resolutions were criticised for repeating the earlier forest bodies' decisions and for the lack of concrete steps to implement them.

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