• English

UNECE Timber Committee

Geneva, 3 October 2001

Speech by Mrs. Danuta HÜBNER
United Nations Under-Secretary-General,
Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe

Mr. Chairman, Mr. El-Lakany, Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a pleasure for me to address the fifty-ninth session of the Timber Committee. Your Committee is one of the oldest of all ECE Committees, but has nevertheless been able to adapt and renew itself over the 53 years of its existence. It is a particular pleasure for me to address you in the company of the leader of the FAO Forestry Department who have been our partners throughout the whole period.

This year’s session is special in many ways: in particular, it marks the culmination of a process of strategic review of the whole integrated programme of work of the Timber Committee and its sister body, the FAO European Forestry Commission. The programme was reviewed in the light of comments and suggestions, not only from governments but from a wide range of partners and stakeholders, to ensure that its strategic objectives truly reflect countries’ priorities and the needs of our constituents. The review also sought to ensure that its methods were effective and efficient, making the best possible use of the synergies with our partners. The work areas were prioritised. The "governance" of the programme, by which I mean the way in which the programme is formulated, reviewed and implemented was carefully reviewed and slightly modified. The roles of the respective levels such as PSB, bureau, working parties and teams, were clarified and streamlined. A major role of guiding and monitoring implementation of the programme has been given to your bureau and the bureau of the EFC. You discussed and endorsed these conclusions yesterday, and I believe they will lay a firm foundation for the work over the next four years.

The presence of Mr. El-Lakany here today is a symbol of a dimension of ECE’s work which is becoming ever more important: our role in providing regional input to global efforts, articulating the regional voice and ensuring the global events and actions satisfactorily incorporate the concerns of ECE countries. We are proud of the way in which the ECE/FAO team here in Geneva helped to develop definitions and methods for the global forest resource assessment, mobilised the professional community in our region and produced a rich and transparent data set which served the needs both of our direct clients in the region and of the global effort led by the FAO Forest Department, which has been formally launched here today. I take this opportunity to restate ECE’s long term commitment to continuing and deepening our productive partnership with FAO in the field of forests and forest products. Following the October 2000 Joint Timber Committee and European Forestry Commission Session, the contacts between the ECE and FAO have increased. For instance the Timber Section has recently started to consult regularly with the partners in Rome through video-conference, which should ensure even closer cooperation.

The picture of the ECE region’s forests which emerges from the forest resource assessment work is generally positive, with nearly half the world’s forests, including huge expanses of natural forest in Russia and Canada. The forest area is expanding, harvests are well below growth, and there are significant areas of protected and protective forests. Some of the largest and most successful forest products companies are based in our region, although these are by now truly global in their approach to issues, which contrasts with the inevitably local nature of forest management. However, this should not limit our understanding of the real problems facing our region:

  • Fires burn hundreds of thousands of hectares every year in southern Europe and millions of hectares in Russia and North America, endangering already fragile ecosystems, as well as the lives and property of rural communities and fire fighters;

  • There is still widespread evidence of defoliation in European forests, although the upward trend seems to have stopped: this damage may be in part due to air-borne pollution but is still not well enough understood;

  • Many countries are still struggling to adapt their forest sector institutions to social and economic circumstances which have changed radically during the transition process. This group includes many of the poorest countries in the region, whose forest administrations are seriously under-funded and in need of help for capacity building. Another challenge in several countries is how to help and guide the new private forest owners emerging from the restitution-privatisation process, without infringing their property rights. A recent workshop in my own country, Poland, reviewed the situation in the countries in transition and identified major issues for international concern.

Yesterday and today you are discussing the short-term situation and outlook for forest products markets, the traditional core of the Timber Committee sessions. This year, your deliberations and your final press release will be even more eagerly awaited than usual, because of the extreme uncertainty characterising current trends. Markets were already turning down in spring and summer of this year, although housing construction held up better than expected. The recent downturn in the stock markets and the advancing threat of recession, exacerbated by the effects of the atrocity of 11 September can only increase the apprehensions of market participants. I urge you to weigh the situation carefully, and agree on a balanced and authoritative statement of the outlook for the coming months.

Tomorrow, you will devote the morning to a topic which has been much discussed at the level of the Commission itself: intersectoral cooperation and how to draw all the benefit from the synergies to be found between ECE’s PSBs. You will discuss possible future activities between yourselves, and the sister committees responsible for Trade, Industry and Enterprise Development, Environmental Policies and on Sustainable Energy, as requested by the Commission in May. In fact this request from the Commission coincides very well with the thinking of policy specialists for the forest sector who now stress the importance of policies outside the sector, for instance, regarding trade, environment and energy as having a greater influence on the long term conditions of the sector than purely forest and timber policy decisions. It is thus of great importance for you to be involved in the policy formulation for many sectors, not only your own. I urge you to identify and propose activities where ECE has a comparative advantage and the likelihood of attracting sufficient resources to build on ECE’s unique multi-sectoral structure, and make a special contribution to the ever more complex questions shaping the trade and environment debate.

Last week the Regional Ministerial Meeting for the World Summit on Sustainable Development approved a Ministerial Declaration which included a reference to forest sector policy, and I know you contribute, through FAO, to the work of the UN Forum on Forests. I am glad that the ECE can in this intersectoral way help to articulate a regional viewpoint on global issues and thus contribute to achieving global UN objectives.

Another item given priority by the Commission was the mainstreaming of the gender issue, and I welcome the holding of the productive seminar on the role of women in forestry earlier in 2001, which identified the main issues in the sector.

Finally, you are also discussing your Committee’s role in the international forest dialogue, at the global and regional level. You are making a significant contribution to the UN Forum on Forests, mostly through the FAO which chairs the Collaborative Partnership on Forests. At the regional level, another productive partnership is being constructed, with the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe: synergies have been found in many areas including participation in forest decision making, indicators of sustainable forest management, protected and protective forest areas and so on. We hope also our analysis of the long term outlook for the sector will help in the preparation of the Ministers’ conference in Vienna in 2003. We are convinced that this is a partnership of great mutual benefit to the Ministerial conference and to ECE.

I now leave the floor to Mr. El-Lakany to present the results of the latest publication on the State of the World’s Forests 2001. I wish you success in your deliberations.