United Nations Forum on Forests

Note:  A complete summary of today’s United Nations Forum on Forests meetings will be made available after their conclusion.

Department of Economic and Social Affairs Reform

The Forum took up its agenda item on information on the reform of Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

HAITIAN LU, Chief of the Office of the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, briefed on progress in the Department’s reforms pertaining to the Forum on Forests.  He cited the Secretary-General’s broader reform plan, which included ways to strengthen the development pillar and improve its effectiveness and efficiency.  The Department would continue to take guidance from Member States on how best to proceed.

Following his statement, delegates raised questions about how the reform would affect various parts of existing functions and activities.  The representatives of Switzerland and Malaysia asked what would happen to staff working in related departments and the budget allocated to it, while South Africa’s delegate wondered about the effect on the work currently under way.

The representatives of Mexico, Jamaica, Brazil and Canada asked for more details about the reform.  Elaborating, Nigeria’s delegate, on behalf of the African Group, wondered about the implications of the reform on donor contributions and on the work and relations already built by the Forum’s Secretariat.  Echoing a common concern, Kenya’s representative said efforts must be made to strengthen and better fund the Forum with a view to making real progress on the related Sustainable Development Goals.

Mr. HAITIAN recalled that the General Assembly had in 2001 adopted a resolution creating six posts for the Forum, and had subsequently expanded allocations, with more posts to support its work to be added under provisions in the most recent biennial budget.  The mandate and Secretariat’s support for it would not change, he said.  The reform would focus on the synergy among the Forum, Secretariat, Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  He said the Secretary-General had a strong intention to strengthen the Secretariat to do that, was currently considering various options and would consult with Member States.  Reiterating that the reform was driven and guided by Member States, he suggested that representatives conveyed suggestions on how best to move forward to their delegations ahead of related General Assembly meetings.

Monitoring, Assessment and Reporting

Taking up its agenda item on monitoring, assessment and reporting, the Forum discussed progress on two sub-items:  the implementation of the United Nations strategic plan for forests 2017‑2030, including the United Nations forest instrument and voluntary national contributions; and the development of global forest indicators.

AFSA KEMITALE of the United Nations Forum on Forests Secretariat introduced a note on “Monitoring, assessment and reporting on progress towards implementing the United Nations strategic plan for forests 2017–2030, including the United Nations forest instrument and voluntary national contributions” (document E/CN.18.2018/4).  It contained, among other things, proposals for the development of indicators, a revised format and reporting cycle for voluntary national reporting on the implementation of the United Nations strategic plan for forests 2017–2030 and for a “flagship study” to be produced in 2021 by the Forum Secretariat with partners.  It also contained details on the Secretariat’s June 2017 invitation to 16 Member States to take part in a pilot testing exercise on monitoring, assessment and reporting.  Those States included:  Botswana, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, China, Finland, Gabon, Ghana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Nepal, Philippines, Saint Lucia and Switzerland.

Panel I

The Forum then held a related discussion on the theme “Monitoring, assessment and reporting”, featuring the following panellists:  Davia Carty, Manager for Strategic Corporate Planning in the Forestry Department of Jamaica; Patrick Kariuki, Deputy Chief Conservator for Forests, Forest Service of Kenya; and Peter Csoka, Secretary of the Committee on Forestry and Team Leader of the Statutory Bodies of the Collaborative Partnerships on Forests and the Forestry Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Ms. CARTY said Jamaica’s Forestry Department had led, since 2016, efforts to test the draft format for reporting in terms of information collection and progress monitoring.  Between June and September 2017, the Department met with stakeholders, including ministries and governmental and non-governmental agencies, conducted data collection and submitted its final report to the Forum.  While the template was useful to collect information to provide national planning, time constraints had limited the reach of discussions with a broader range of stakeholders and the time period and definitions were unclear.  Going forward, she suggested clearer guidelines, more details on the reporting period and more time, perhaps six months, for countries to finalize their reports.

Mr. KARIUKI provided Kenya’s experience with the pilot testing, saying certain goals were difficult to report on, including forest-related household incomes and the contribution of forests to biodiversity.  Such information required extensive consultations with stakeholders.  During the test, stakeholders were contacted, including Government, private sector, professionals and non‑governmental organizations.  However, the information gathered would be useful in updating policies, compiling a national forest status report and completing other reporting and monitoring mechanisms.  Moreover, the exercise demonstrated that more information and awareness-raising activities were needed about forests, he said, adding that more time should be allotted to completing the pilot test’s final report.

Mr. CSOKA presented results of a three-year process initiated at the World Forestry Conference in 2015.  By 2016, a global core set of forest-related indicators had been drafted, with subsequent discussions fine-tuning methodology.  Today, the global core set of 21 indicators aimed at clarifying reporting processes, with a common subset that could lead to reducing the reporting burden.  For instance, the Forum could use the indicators for the global forest goals.  The indicators also aimed at measuring progress towards sustainable forest management and the goals set out in the 2030 Agenda, and included thematic elements and linkages between goals and targets.  However, only some of the indicators were ready for use, and from an implementation perspective, more work was needed.  An online platform for reporting facilitated the process, including procedures, tools and access to information.

Following the presentations, delegates suggested ways to fine-tune the indictors and reporting process.  The representative of India said the format and indicators represented a step forward for forests.  However, the format focused on qualitative terms.  Out of the 21 indicators, some were mere statements, as everyone knew the role of forests in various sectors.  Getting the correct numbers would be difficult.  Instead, countries should be free to select relevant indicators that reflected local conditions.

Meanwhile, some delegates recommended ways to reduce the reporting burden.  In that vein, Romania’s delegate said the indicators must be based on ongoing reporting processes.  For instance, using the Global Forest Resources Assessment made by FAO could prevent reporting duplication and additional administrative burden.  The representative of Nigeria said the reporting system must be a flexible, evolving and amenable tool to allow for timely, accurate feedback.  The representative of Ghana said indicators should include forest health and conditions, allowing for a measurement of improvements or deterioration, and Malaysia’s delegate proposed a five-year reporting cycle and the creation of a manual to help Member States prepare their reports.

Sharing the perspective of a “pilot tested” country, the representative of the Philippines said the Forum should assist Member States in filling gaps in information and providing guidance on how to do so.  Likewise, the representative of China, whose country had participated in the pilot test, said methodology should be refined and reporting processes should be streamlined to reduce the reporting burden.  On national assessments, workshops could be held for Member States to facilitate their compilation of national reports.

Presenting a different viewpoint, a representative of the major group for non‑governmental organizations said reports should reflect the commitments States made to global indicators.  Concerned about the exclusion of information, such as the role of forests in food security, she said such human-rights-related issues must be reported in a transparent manner that shared information with stakeholders.

Also participating in the discussion were representatives of Indonesia, Congo, Colombia, United States, Nepal, New Zealand, Japan, Bangladesh, Mexico, Australia, Turkey, Algeria, Brazil, South Africa, Switzerland, Senegal and Argentina, as well as the European Union.  Representatives of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) and the non‑profit organization Interconnecting Forests, Science and People also participated.

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