The forest area of the countries with economies in transition (CITs) comprises about one fourth of the world’s total forests. The high share of virgin and old-growth forests makes the region extremely important, not only as a source of forest goods and services, but also as a source of biological diversity.
Over the last 15 years the CITs went through substantial changes, completely reorganizing their economical and political system. The transition process in many countries included a change of ownership structure, and was accompanied sometime by unfavourable environmental changes. Nevertheless, a considerable deterioration of the forest resources was avoided by most of the countries except those with the most severe social and economic difficulties. Many countries were able to expand their forest area but symptoms such as temporal and local overexploitation, calamities, increase of unmanaged areas, economical disturbances in the private and State sector were reported by many of them.
The transition countries started to reform their legal and institutional framework and developed an impressive number of new policies, strategies and legal documents aiming at sustainable management of their forests. However, it should be noted that transformation and development of the economic environment of sustainable forest management is very resource demanding, and the CITs were able to produce less development in this field, partly due to the general level of performance of their economies as a whole.
The issue of transition got a very high recognition in the international dialogue on forests. Not only specialized agencies, such as FAO and UNECE, but also high-level political fora including UNCED, IPF, IFF and later UNFF, all took note of the transition countries’ specific problems. In the regional context the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe (MCPFE) devoted considerable political attention to these countries, resulting in concrete actions and intensified cooperation with and among the CITs.
The UNECE Timber Committee considered establishing a special cooperation in the field of forestry with the former socialist countries for the first time in 1990, as a response to the relevant decisions by the plenary session of the UN Economic Commission for Europe. The first ad hoc meeting was held in Austria in 1992 to identify the needs of the countries with economies in transition and the possibilities for carrying out assistance programmes.
The Second Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe held in 1993 in Helsinki resulted in, among others, Resolution H3 on “Forestry Cooperation with Countries with Economies in Transition “. This resolution gave a new impetus to the work in this field. The UNECE Timber Committee together with the FAO European Forestry Commission decided in 1994 to set up a team of specialists (ToS) with a mandate to periodically review the UNECE/FAO programme of assistance to CITs and make recommendations for the future.
The UNECE/FAO Timber Branch was invited to act as international coordinator for the follow-up of Resolution H3 and monitoring its implementation. Since then, the assistance to CITs in the whole UNECE region has been monitored through the MCPFE process. The key tool for assisting monitoring and coordination of activities in this area is an Access database, which was developed by the UNECE/FAO Timber Branch with the direct input of the national H3 correspondents.
The first round of monitoring of activities aiming the implementation of Resolution H3 was completed in 1994 and presented to the 52nd session of the Timber Committee in the same year, and then to the 2nd Expert Level Follow-up Meeting of the Helsinki Ministerial Conference and the 28th session of the European Forestry Commission, both in January 1995. Based on the decisions by these fora, a second round of monitoring was completed in 1996 and the results were presented to the 3rd Expert Level Follow-up Meeting and the joint session of the European Forestry Commission and the Timber Committee in 1996.
The MCPFE work programme developed on the basis of the decision by the Lisbon Conference recognized the role of the Team of Specialists and the Timber Branch in the implementation of Resolution H3. The mandate of the ToS was reviewed and updated in accordance with this recognition. The last meeting of the ToS was jointly organised with the MCPFE workshop on countries in transition in September 2001 in Debe (Poland).
The European Forestry Ministers at the last MCPFE Conference “Living Forest Summit” agreed in April 2003 in Vienna that the UNECE/FAO Timber Branch continues to coordinate the implementation and monitoring of the Resolution H3.