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UN adopts new International Agreement to protect world’s forests

UN adopts new International Agreement to protect world’s forests

After 15 years of discussions and negotiations on a global approach to protect the world’s forests, countries meeting at United Nations Headquarters in New York have adopted a landmark agreement on international forest policy and cooperation following two weeks of intense negotiations.

The final agreement was reached after delegates to the UN Forum on Forests worked through the night, concluding just after dawn this morning. Exhausted delegates nevertheless called the agreement a milestone, noting it was the first time States have agreed to an international instrument for sustainable forest management.”

Forum on Forest Chair Hans Hoogeveen, hailed the agreement as an “outstanding achievement” and said it ushered in “a new chapter” in forest management. Mr. Hoogeveen earlier told the delegates that the livelihoods of over a billion of the world’s poor are at stake. “We have only one planet to share, and we must ensure its health and sustainability.”

The new agreement, although not legally binding, sets a standard in forest management that is expected to have a major impact on international cooperation and national action to reduce deforestation, prevent forest degradation, promote sustainable livelihoods and reduce poverty for all forest-dependent peoples.

More than 1.6 billion people, according to World Bank estimates, depend on forests for their livelihoods. The forest product industry is a source of economic growth and employment, with global forest products traded internationally in the order of $270 billion.

At the same time, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 13 million hectares of the world's forests are lost due to deforestation every year, which, in turn accounts for up to 20 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. The world's forests and forest soils store more than one trillion tons of carbon – twice the amount found in the atmosphere.

Pekka Patosaari, Director of the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat, told delegates that the agreement was a major step toward the creation of a new “people-centred” forest policy. “You have sent a clear message to the global community on the critical role of forests in internationally development.”

For years countries debated whether to negotiate a formal treaty or a non-legally binding instrument on forest management. But many developing countries with significant forest cover objected to any action that would compromise their sovereignty or control over their natural resources.

The resulting agreement, however, is considered a reflection of a strong international commitment to promote on the ground implementation of sustainable forest management through a new, more holistic approach that brings all stakeholders together. In addition, the agreement is expected to reinforce practical measures at the country-level to integrate forests more closely with other government policies.

Another area of disagreement that has long plagued forest negotiations concerned a financing mechanism to mobilize funding for sustainable forest management. The agreement calls on countries to adopt, by 2009, a voluntary global financing mechanism for forest management.