United Nations declare 2011 as the International Year of Forests

12 May 2011 | News story

The United Nations have declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests (Forests 2011). ‘Forests 2011’ with its theme ‘Forests for People’ aims to raise awareness of the key role forests play in building a greener, fairer and more sustainable future - and the need to strengthen the conservation and sustainable management and development of all types of forests for the benefit of current and future generations. With 35% of the world’s certified forests in Europe, action is required to protect our forests against biodiversity loss and threats such as increased harvesting for bioenergy, intensive forestry management, loss of land to urban sprawl and roads, and climate change.

The upcoming FOREST EUROPE Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe, which will take place from 14-16 June in Oslo, represents a major European contribution to Forests 2011. The 46 member countries and the EU will take decisions that are extremely important for forests and society in Europe and throughout the world. The focus of the FOREST EUROPE 2011 conference will be on preserving forests and safeguarding their economic, environmental and social benefits. High on the agenda will be the elaboration of a strengthened policy framework for sustainable forest management throughout Europe. To this end, it is expected that the ministers will decide whether to enter into negotiations on a legally binding agreement on forests in the pan-European region. It is also anticipated that ministers will adopt a vision, goals and targets for forests in Europe as part of the future FOREST EUROPE strategy. Regulation (EU) No 995/2010 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 October 2010 laying down the obligations of operators who place timber and timber products on the market, known as the (Illegal) Timber Regulation counters the trade in illegally harvested timber and timber products through three key obligations:  (1) It prohibits the placing on the EU market for the first time of illegally harvested timber and products derived from such timber; (2) It requires EU traders who place timber products on the EU market for the first time to exercise “due diligence” (operators undertake a risk management exercise so as to minimize the risk of placing illegally harvested timber), or timber products containing illegally harvested timber, on the EU market; (3) Keep records of their suppliers and customers. The application of the Regulation will start from 3rd March 2013 to allow sufficient time for EU operators, timber producers and Member States, as well as trading partners, to adapt to the new legal framework.

The EU’s most important achievement in this field is the Report of the Standing Forestry Committee Ad Hoc Working Group IV on Public Procurement of Wood and Wood-based Products, a report that emerged from the need to modernize the EU procurement policy, in the context of evaluation of the effectiveness of the current EU procurement legislation. The report was drafted in November 2010 and launched with the aim to exchange experience between the Member States, the Commission services and stakeholders, in order to achieve a better compatibility between different approaches applied in the Member States. Its objective is to address recommendations to the European Commission and Member States in the field of further policy development and guidance in order to base their sustainability on a commonly accepted definition of, and criteria for, sustainable forest management and also legality requirements. The report also underlines the necessity of continuing the exchange of experiences between the Member States and undertaking measures to encourage the up-take of legally and sustainably produced wood and the use of the identified good practices in its public procurement, including the provision of information, training and support material for procuring agents at regional and local levels.

A legally binding proposal for conservation of forests in Europe has been developing within FOREST EUROPE Ministerial Conferences. The 2007 conference, which took place in Warsaw, on the Protection of Forests in Europe proposed to examine the potential of a legally binding agreement on forests in the pan-European region. During 2008 and 2009 the MCPFE Working Group on Exploring the Potential Added Value of and Possible Options for a Legally Binding Agreement on Forests in the Pan-European Region prepared the technical background for future considerations and decisions on this issue at the political level. Other meetings of the working group were conducted in the following years. The upcoming FOREST EUROPE Ministerial Conference to be held in Oslo, Norway in June 2011, when ministers of the 46 Forest Europe signatory States are expected to adopt the decision European Forests 2020, which presents vision, goals and targets for Europe’s forests.

At the international level, the UN-REDD Programme has released its "2010 Year in Review" report, on the 22nd March 2011, highlighting progress and achievements of the Programme in its national and global activities on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD) and efforts in building international consensus on REDD. The document reviews 2010 activities in partner countries in the inception and putting into practice phases, as well as in countries finalizing their National Programmes. It highlights that 15 new countries were given observer status in 2010. It also outlines achievements from the Programme's global activities, including in measuring and monitoring, governance and stakeholder engagement, and ecosystem-based multiple benefits. The document lists several REDD-related publications released in 2010, and reviews the finances received from donors and allocated to national programmes.