The forest convention is ecologically unsound, anti poor and politically dangerous...

  • 14/07/1992
  • FAO

The forest convention is ecologically unsound, anti poor and politically dangerous... SEVERAL northern governments and large northern NGOs have proposed the idea of a global forest convention or agreement. We wish to place on record our strong and total opposition to this idea. We believe this step will be anti-poor, lead to highly bureaucratic and ecologically unsound forest practices, and ultimately be counterproductive for sustainable forest management.

We are outraged by the White House Forest for the Future Initiative which sees forests more as carbon sinks and reservoirs and not as the habitat and components of food systems of the South"s poor and indigenous people. The statement that "halting the loss of the earth"s forests by 2000 would reduce over twice as much carbon dioxide emissions as stabilising carbon dioxide emissions at 1990 levels by 2000, at a fraction of the cost" is preposterous. Even worse, the US government expressly sees this agreement leading up to a forest convention. This is, therefore, just another effort to push an idea that has been rejected several times before.

Let us be clear that the South"s forests cannot be managed with the primary concern that these are carbon sinks. These forests must first serve the needs of the world"s poor for their survival and food needs. It is only incidental that they are carbon reservoirs and thus provide a global service. The North has already deforested large tracts of forests and now consumes inordinate amounts of fossil fuels. We understand that several OECD countries want to join this US initiative and we would like to state categorically that innumerable southern NGOs will see this as a betrayal of basic global human rights and values. The European Community"s proposal for a set of principles to precede a desertification convention is also seen in the same light.

We are appalled at the US efforts, aided and abetted by other northern governments, to globalise what is basically their inability to address domestic energy policies. They have forced upon the world a weak climate treaty whose consequences can be extremely adverse for millions of poor people in the world. But they now want to thrust upon the South a forest convention as a substitute for their domestic weakness.

We appeal to southern governments not to join this initiative and sell out the interests of their people. Opportunities for sustainable forest management must be built upon and created through community control and participation.

Can universal rules be set for sustainable forest management? There is an extraordinary diversity of forest ecosystems. Even more extraordinary is the diversity of the uses of forests around the world. Forest science has not even fully documented this diversity of human-forest relationships and peoples" traditional practices, let alone understood it. For the vast majority of the Third World communities, forests and trees constitute an integral part of their food system.

We have, therefore, concluded, through years of work on forest-related issues, that forests are national and local resources and not global resources. They are best managed through local community control and participatory management systems in which communities benefit. People"s movements in the Third World have strongly asserted that decision-making and control over forests must move from national capitals to village communities. On the contrary, the forest convention is an exercise in supercentralisation -- moving decision-making to the northern capitals of Washington and Rome. We firmly believe that without community control there can be no sustainability in forest use, management and conservation. We, therefore, strongly oppose this effort at UNCED to globalise the management of forests.

We are very intrigued by this faith in global forest management. Forests are very different from the atmosphere, where issues of specific community interests or national sovereignty are not in question. If forest management is of global consequence, so is the management of the world"s oil resources. Are we going to have a global oil convention for sustainable global production, management and conservation of the world"s oil resources?

Northern leaders often talk about public opinion in their countries which they have to take into account. And using this argument, they shy away from taking hard political decisions. But let the North not forget that there is a public opinion also in the South. Forests are a part of people"s national heritage and cannot be gifted away to supranational governance.

Poor women and rural indigenous communities who deal with trees and forests on a daily basis, understand what community and local management of forests means. But is anybody going to ask them whether they want global management? We are "touched" by the northern governments" extreme faith in international bureaucracies. The proposed forest convention will only increase their intervention, reduce community control, erode local management practices, and introduce highly technocratic and anti-people regulations.

We also denounce the idea of a global forest commission which is simply an effort to keep the forest convention idea alive for an appropriate political signal to push it in.

Logging can be solved as a problem if the North is prepared to pay for the forest conservation benefit that will accrue to it, reduce Third World indebtedness and improve overall international economic relations and simultaneously if there is community control over and benefits from these forests. The North cannot protect its own economy while harming that of the South, especially that of the poor.

We also wish to put on record that there have been inadequate consultations with southern NGOs and indigenous groups on the forest convention idea. Large northern NGOs are mostly speaking for themselves while giving the impression that this is what the world"s NGOs want.

None of this means that there is no scope for international cooperation in the area of forests. We are fully supportive of international cooperation in research on forest ecosystems and human-forest relationships, and in forest conservation and regeneration programmes.