By Michelle Kovacevic
Forests were largely ignored or ambiguously mentioned in the Rio+20 outcome document, yet again postponing progress on integrating forests into sustainable development objectives, scientists of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) said at the conclusion of the Rio+20 summit.
“If you look at this document as providing some sort of guidepost for making decisions or taking actions in the future, the positions that are taken do not actually provide any specificity,” said Peter Cronkleton, a senior scientist at CIFOR’s Peru office.
Louis Verchot, the principal scientist at CIFOR agreed. “When you look who attended Rio+20, it is ministers of environment and foreign affairs, not ministers of finance, and these are the people who you need to make the national commitments.”
The outcome document’s section on forests specifically calls for urgent implementation of the Non-Legally Binding Instrument on All Types of Forests (NLBI) adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007. The purpose of the instrument is to strengthen political commitment and action to implement sustainable forest management to achieve internationally agreed development goals.
“The plan to move forward with NLBI was something that was decided on many years ago and it still has not given the expected results,” Verchot said.
“There was some progress in the early stages of the agreement, but because of lack of long-term commitment by countries, the progress has slowed,” he said.
While frustration and cynicism about the Rio+20 process abound, this frustration may actually lead to civil society efforts to take action at the regional and national level, Cronkleton said.
“I see hope in local and national processes. I think that is where there is clarity in the decisions that need to be made because the debates are more grounded in reality,” he said.
CIVIL SOCIETY LEADS ACTION
Verchot agrees: “I think that future action is going to be led by civil society. Civil society has a great power to influence the national and subnational level whereas the international coordination is where the multilateral process should be important. Unfortunately it is just not living up to what people need and many have lost confidence in the processes.”
One area where there could be clear commitments is in the clarification of commercial and community rights over forest, Cronkleton suggested. In many countries around the world, deforestation and forest degradation occur in open-access forests that are often under state control.
However state agencies usually lack sufficient resources and personnel for effective governance of these areas, says Cronkleton, creating a ‘free-for-all’ situation. At the same time there are people who live in and depend on those forests who don’t have rights over the basic resources that support their livelihoods.
“There is a need for forest industries to have clear rules that allow them to access resources in a sustainable way and have access to resources in a way that is equitable within a country so that all forest resources are not simply allocated to certain industries that do not provide local benefits,” he said.
“Without mandating what people do, you could easily establish clear guidelines in terms of steps that could be taken to clarify forest property rights.”
In the case of Africa, countries with the same programs and the same type of governance structure are already working together to influence national and regional decision-making on forest management through south-south exchange, explained Richard Eba’a-Atyi, CIFOR’s regional coordinator for Central Africa.
“African countries usually, at least for natural resources, agree on doing things together. You have efforts to ensure trans-border protection areas. For example the Commission for the Forests of Central Africa (COMIFAC) endeavours to harmonise forest management policies in 10 African countries,” he said.
However, more needs to be done to help people learn from what has worked in other countries, Cronkleton said.
“People can learn from experiences where forest governance has improved, where more equitable access to forest resources has taken place, where more efficient and effective technologies have been developed,” he said.
Right now, “I see this taking place in a piecemeal fashion without any coordination.”