Published: Friday 31 March 2000

Delegates representing more than a hundred governments have agreed to set-up a permanent United Nations ( un ) body to protect forests. This was decided at the Fourth Session of the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF). The world's forests are in grave danger with only 20 per cent of the original cover still in existence. The group, while moving closer to talks on a new preservation treaty, fell short of promising full-fledged talks as desired by Canada.

At a two-week conference the group decided to meet at least once a year and attempt to implement existing treaties and accords affecting forests and associated issues like overlogging.

Among the major issues discussed were the implementation and monitoring of an IFF programme for action; questions relating to financial resources; trade and environment; science and technology; the establishment of a global legally binding instrument such as a convention, to guide and regulate forest management; and the establishment of a permanent intergovernmental forum to deal with policy issues.

Canada has campaigned for a binding treaty and refused to agree to the new un Forestry Forum until progress had been made towards one. The European Union and Russia agreed with Canada. They were opposed by the United States, Switzerland, New Zealand and India.

Co-chairperson of the session Bagher Asadi of Iran said: "We're hopeful that we'll arrive at a consensus text that will bring all the elements under the umbrella structure of a United Nations Forum of Forests."

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