(Vienna, 29 April 2003)
Statement by Mrs. Brigita Schmögnerová,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honour and a pleasure for me to address the 4th Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests. I believe that you will take the opportunity to further make significant policy commitments to achieve sustainable management of forests in Europe. I represent the organisation that since 1948 has been committed to addressing forest and timber issues. In 1948, not far from here, at Marianske Lazne in the former Czechoslovakia, the European Timber Conference founded both the ECE Timber Committee and its sister body the FAO European Forestry Commission. Since then we have provided reliable information, independent analysis and a policy forum for the sector as whole, adapting our activity to the needs of the time.
While forestry was one of the main subjects of disappointment at the 1992 Rio Conference on Environment and Development, since then, I believe the forest sector has taken the lead in the debate by accepting the necessity of a balanced approach to the three pillars of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental, and the unavoidable necessity of an in-depth dialogue, involving all stakeholders, about concepts, strategies and monitoring. Given the huge differences in conditions, a regional approach has proved highly effective. The Johannesburg Summit, which has a major paragraph on forests, stressed the importance of a regional contribution to achieve these global goals. Indeed the third session of the United Nations Forum on Forests, in Geneva next month, will hear a presentation from UNECE and the MCPFE on regional cooperation in Europe on achieving the United Nations global goals.
Allow me to draw your attention to the role the UNECE is playing in promoting sustainable forest management in the region, in close cooperation with the Ministerial Conference. Not to waste your time, I would like to mention just two areas:
- In cooperation with FAO and other partners, in improving the quality and relevance of the information available to decision makers, through forest resource assessment work and the criteria and indicators of sustainable forest management. You see the results in the document on the State of Europe's Forests, produced jointly by us and the Vienna Liaison Unit, and in the revised set of indicators which you will approve. We could consider to extend this cooperation to the Montreal Process.
- In preventing environmental degradation: the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution is one of UNECE's major achievements. Under this convention, the Intergovernmental Cooperative Programme on Forests has set up an ambitious monitoring and analysis system, providing annual data on forest conditions in the region, and more recently it is carrying out a more in-depth and analytical programme.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Ministerial Conference process on the creativity, dynamism and openness with which it has led the regional forest dialogue, from the rather technical approach at Strasbourg, to the path breaking commitments made in Helsinki, to the social dimension in Lisbon and the balanced and rounded approach apparent in the Vienna general declaration and the four resolutions, which you will approve here.
What are the main challenges facing the forest sector in Europe, and what can be done about them? I would like to propose some ideas, based on our experience and analysis, notably the study of the long term outlook for the sector which we are working on and which will be available this autumn.
- One major challenge is to develop a cross sectoral approach: the days are gone when forest policy matters could be kept separate from trade policy, energy policy, or environment policy. The challenge for the forest sector is to understand the developments of the other sectors and how they will influence the forest sector, and to communicate proactively the forest sector's concerns to the other sectors. This requires a mind open to new problems as well as flexible structures for communication and dialogue, at the local, national and regional levels.
- Secondly, we feel there is too great a gap, of understanding and communication, between the upstream concerns directly linked to forest management and the downstream concerns of markets, trade and consumption. The intense debate about certification of forest products has brought the major actors together, but too often in a tense and antagonistic way, without a proper understanding of the interactions taking place and the potential for cooperation between all actors - that is governments, forest owners, industries, consumers and NGOs - to promote sustainable forest management. A seminar held one month ago, under the auspices of UNECE and FAO, with participation from all the groups I have just mentioned, considered strategies for the sound use of wood, and concluded that sustainable forest management is a prerequisite for sound use of wood, and that sound use of wood contributes to sustainable forest management. The seminar made a number of detailed recommendations and proposals, which are tabled at this Conference and which will, we hope, form the basis of a new set of joint activities.
- Last but not least, I feel the forest sector issues arising from the transition process need more consideration. Many of the most urgent forest sector issues in our region concern these countries: how to help the thousands or millions of new forest owners emerging from the restitution process, how to protect the forests from pressure arising from poverty and social change, especially when many forest sector institutions are still very weak? On the positive side, export led growth in the forest sector has been a significant positive factor in many transition economies. Rapid structural changes are taking place. There are some risks and many opportunities. We feel it is important that UNECE, with MCPFE, FAO and other partners, work together to understand and address these major issues.
Finally, I would like to reaffirm UNECE's commitment to promoting sustainable forest management in the region and to working together with MCPFE in the future as in the past to achieve this objective.