“Many countries lack capacity for sustainable (forest) management”

Emmanuel Ze Meka

Established under the auspices of the United Nations in 1986, the ITTO’s work is governed by the International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA), which was renegotiated in 2006. Among other things, the ITTO seeks to promote sustainable forest management (SFM) and assists developing tropical countries to adapt polices to local circumstances through specific projects and action plans. Headquartered in Yokohama, Japan, it has regional offices in Latin America and Africa.

Emmanuel Ze Meka, talks to Global about the organisation’s priorities, its programmes to reduce forest degradation and deforestation and their implementation, and the challenges of monitoring and controlling the trade in sustainable tropical timber.

Global: Does the International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA) give as much weight to conservation as it does to trade?

Emmanuel Ze Meka: The ITTA is one of the earliest attempts on the multilateral front at integrating trade and environment and making them mutually supportive, preceding, inter alia, even the Brundtland Report of 1987 [by the World Commission on Environment and Development] and the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992. The ITTA can be regarded as developmental in terms of contributing to the promotion and diversification of the international trade in tropical timber from legal and sustainable sources, the sustainable development of the tropical forest sector, and the socio-economic and national development of developing tropical countries. At the same time, the ITTA can be considered environmental in terms of promoting the conservation and sustainable management of tropical forests as the resource base, as well as in maintaining the protective functions of these forests and the overall protection of the environment.

In practice, ITTO undertakes operational activities in the form of policy work and project activities in pursuit of its stated objectives. It provides a forum for policy discussions, consultations and development among its members. [These] include the ITTO pioneering work on the comprehensive development of ITTO Criteria and Indicators for the Sustainable Management of Tropical Forests, and a series of ITTO guidelines on natural tropical forests, planted tropical forests, conservation and sustainable use of forest biodiversity, fire management, and degraded and secondary tropical forests. Taken together, these constitute an internationally agreed reference point and standard for the management, auditing and certification of tropical forests.

In supplementing and reinforcing its policy work, ITTO has thus far mobilised some $380 million for the financing of some 1,000 projects, pre-projects and activities predominantly implemented in member countries in the tropics – where most of the pressing challenges and problems are prevalent – and focusing on implementation of SFM on the ground and in the field where the needs and impacts are greatest. ITTO’s range of projects and activities are relevant to each of the elements essential for the achievement of SFM. This is a clear indication that ITTA and ITTO have all along accorded equal, if not more, weight to the conservation and sustainable management of tropical forests than to the expansion and diversification of international trade in tropical timber.

What are the main challenges in reconciling the interests of those who hope to conserve the world’s tropical forests and those who are directly involved in the global tropical timber trade?

The proponents for conservation are driven by their concern for the fate of tropical forests, which have persistently been vulnerable to destruction, degradation and decline, and their desire to save and conserve what is left of the world’s tropical forests, the rich biodiversity contained therein, as well as the protective functions, services and benefits of this invaluable natural resource. They contend that one of the greatest threats to the world’s tropical forests is the growing production and trade in tropical timber fuelled by rising and unsustainable consumption, particularly in developed countries. The more radical proponents have even pitched for an outright ban and boycott of tropical timber and timber products.

On the other hand, the proponents for trade insist that trade in tropical timber is essential to SFM and, indeed, sustainable development. Trade bestows value to tropical forests, which will otherwise be rendered as of little value and vulnerable to conversion to competing land-uses that could yield higher returns. For developing tropical countries, trade can be a powerful form of self-help and effort, and is a far more honourable option to development than assistance and aid provided by donors. Although expanding, the international trade in tropical timber is still a relatively small portion of production.

It is imperative that tropical timber products and services are produced and traded in a manner that is supportive of SFM and will not adversely affect the inherent values, functions and productivity of tropical forests as well as the physical and social conditions of the environment.

Fully implementing this agenda is fraught with a host of problems, constraints and challenges. There are formidable gaps in commitment, prioritisation, human and institutional capacity, knowledge, skills, technology and financing that have to be bridged. Addressing these problems and challenges has been – and continues to be – an integral part of the mission of ITTO.

What is ITTO doing to help developing countries improve their sustainable forest management?

Many developing countries with substantial tropical timber resources still lack effective capacity for sustainable forest ecosystem management. In ITTO’s latest survey, conducted in 2010, some progress was noted, with the area of tropical permanent forest estates (PFE) sustainably managed expanding to 53 million hectares, which was less than 10 percent of the total area of PFE. The total area of tropical PFE certified also increased to 17 million hectares, also less than 10 percent of the global certified forest area. Albeit at a marginal rate, the continuing improving trend can still be regarded as a commendable achievement considering that virtually all tropical forests are in developing countries facing pressing challenges and constraints to development. Requirements for the sustainable management of natural tropical forests are far more complex and demanding than non-tropical forests, and sustainable management of natural tropical forest management is far less attractive in terms of financial returns vis-à-vis other land uses. ITTO is determined and fully committed to redoubling its effort in assisting its tropical member countries to further enhance their capability and capacity in managing tropical forests on a sustainable basis in the years ahead.

Does ITTO have the mandate and resources to monitor cases of forest degradation or poor ecosystem management? What can it do to address these issues?

Reducing forest degradation has been included in the ITTO’s Strategic Priorities and Actions under the ITTO Strategic Action Plan 2013-2018, adopted by the International Tropical Timber Council (ITTC) in November 2012. Efforts to reduce deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries and enhance the provision of environmental services of forests will be taken to address the main concerns raised in international climate change negotiations and during the process of national policy development in many tropical countries. The importance of tropical forests in helping to mitigate the consequences of global climate change is now well established.

Examples of specific actions to accomplish this strategic priority through the latest ITTO Biennial Work Programme and project work include: assisting ITTO members to gain access to sources of financing for REDD+ [Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation]; assisting members in developing capacity for monitoring, reporting and verification of REDD+ in the context of SFM, including social and environmental safeguards; [and] assisting member countries to implement mechanisms for payment of environmental services in support of SFM.

Continued implementation of the ITTO Thematic Programme on Reducing Deforestation and Forest Degradation and Enhancing Environmental Services in Tropical Forests (REDDES) will contribute to accomplishing this strategic priority. The objectives of REDDES are to strengthen capacity to reduce forest degradation and unplanned deforestation, maintain and enhance environmental services of forests, contribute to social and economic sustainability through forest restoration, rehabilitation and payments for environmental services, and enhance the adaptation and resilience of tropical forests to climate change.

The recently updated ITTO/IUCN [International Union for Conservation of Nature] Guidelines for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity in Tropical Timber Production Forests represent another specific tool to help secure valuable environmental services. Close cooperation between ITTO and IUCN in developing manuals for restoring forest landscapes and in training stakeholders has proved to be highly useful and can be continued through a programmatic approach under REDDES. The recent expost evaluation of five ITTO projects in the field of rehabilitation and management of degraded and secondary forests has shown that valuable lessons have already been gained through ITTO-funded projects, and that there is an opportunity to scale up the organisation’s activities in this area.

About the author:

Emmanuel Ze Meka is Executive Director at the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO)


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