Sustainability Issues In Forestry: The National And International Challenges

  • John Luxton
Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade

It is my great pleasure to be here today.

It is of particular significance for me coming from New Zealand, for it was my predecessor John Falloon, who chaired the first FAO Forestry Ministerial meeting held in 1995.

It was the agenda put forward by that meeting that formed the basis of the work undertaken by the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests and its successor body the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests. Work is proceeding on furthering forestry sustainable management objectives. This is perhaps a good opportunity to revisit the issues to assess progress.

National challenges

Each country has to determine the way it implements sustainable forest management. We in New Zealand have taken innovative and practical approaches with notable success. We have privatised all state-owned planted forests. Since privatising we have achieved unprecedented high levels of new planting. And all this without any subsidies.

To ensure sustainable management, we have passed a Resource Management Act which sets out the parameters for use of natural resources in New Zealand, including forestry.

Out of our 6 million hectares of forest, plantations comprise only 4% and this has allowed us to bring almost all state-owned natural forests under protection. Even our privately-owned natural forests are subject to legislation which requires that they be managed in a more environmentally-sustainable manner.

International challenges

Our agenda item on 'challenges relating to sustainability issues in forestry' illustrates that we collectively have a long way to go. There are problems of centuries of neglect and degradation of forests. These are compounded by increased human intervention resulting from population growth, unemployment, and the need for food and fuel, all of which impact on the sustainability of forests.

As a result, the scale of the problem remains massive.

But there have also been some major steps taken in the four years since we last met here:

the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) and the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF);
the efforts of this Organisation and the International Tropical Timber Organisation;
the many voluntary, multilateral actions. The Montreal and Pan European Process developed practical measures for implementing sustainable forest management (SFM).
To complete the picture, two major mechanisms for certifying sustainably managed forests have emerged:

the Forestry Stewardship Council and the ISO 14000 Standard.
The tools to implement sustainable forest management continue to evolve. But these are some of the key elements. In a dynamic system, such as forestry, it will take some time before the results of such initiatives become clear.

So far, the issue of a legal instrument, such as a global convention, has been controversial. New Zealand is keeping an open mind on the matter, but at this stage we are not convinced that a legally binding instrument on forestry would be necessary or effective.

The underlying causes of deforestation - poverty, energy needs, food production and population issues - must be targeted by a wide range of specific policy instruments, rather than a broad ranging forestry convention. A convention might be in conflict with existing international trade agreements.

A legally binding global forestry arrangement, if it is too rigid and prescriptive, would fail to recognise the regional and local nature of many forests. For New Zealand, sustainable forestry management initiatives must be:

market-driven; and
compatible with the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
We should give sufficient time for the wide range of voluntary measures, such as criteria or indicators, that have been introduced by individual countries to take effect. Also, a convention alone would most probably fail to address the underlying causes of deforestation, especially given that only a small proportion of global wood production is traded internationally.

The forthcoming third meeting of the IFF is to have a substantive discussion on the issue of international instruments to support sustainable forest management. My expectation is that it will help us in giving greater clarity to the issues involved.

Forest fires

Forest fires are of global concern because of the trans-boundary devastation they inflict. We support international efforts aimed at preventing forest fires and addressing their many and complex causes and consequences.

Mr Chairman, I should like to say finally a few words about the FAO's Strategic Framework exercise.

We support and welcome this planning process - it is one which we ourselves have been through in our public sector. It is an important undertaking for FAO as an organisation.

It is about identifying FAO's comparative advantage - particularly in its normative work and setting and reordering priorities accordingly. This must be done within existing budget and other resource allocations. Building partnerships with others and pursuing an interdisciplinary approach - identified as important aspects of FAO's Strategic Framework - are critical elements.

We welcome the Secretariat's efforts to have meaningful consultation with Members in this exercise. At the end of the day, we will be looking for a more coherent, transparent, results-based and accountable planning cycle within the Organisation.


It is clear from this meeting that achieving global Sustainable Forest Management poses a major challenge for us all. It won't be easy. Let's work

together towards this goal in the new millennium.

Thank you.