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Commission on Sustainable Development

Fifth Session
International Action on Forests

Statement by:
Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Minister for the Environment

New York
10 April 1997

One of the world's most eminent scientists, Harvard's Professor Edward O. Wilson, has stated that the loss of biodiversity as a result of the destruction of natural habitats is "folly our descendants are least likely to forgive us". He was referring in particular to loss of biodiversity caused by the degradation of the planet's forests.

Australia recognises that urgent action is required to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of the world's forests.

In Australia our approach is to manage our forests for sustainable multiple use including timber and water production, recreation and nature conservation. We are concerned to achieve a balance between conservation, social and economic objectives.

We are establishing a comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system aimed at protecting 15 per cent of the pre-European distribution of forest types. This figure is well in excess of the World Wide Fund for Nature's call to establish an ecologically representative network of protected areas, covering at least 10 per cent of the world's forest. In addition we are seeking to protect 60 per cent or more of old growth forest, 60 per cent of existing vulnerable forest ecosystems and 90 per cent or more of high quality wilderness forests.

Just as we are committed to excellence in forest management within Australia, we support international efforts designed to protect and sustainably manage the world's forests. In particular, we believe a key objective should be the maintenance of forest biological diversity worldwide both through national networks of forest reserves and sustainable off-reserve management.

The loss and degradation of the world's forests has been recognised for a number of years as one of the major environment and sustainable development issues. Since the early 1990s when preparations commenced for UNCED the issue of a holistic or integrated approach to forest management has been under discussion through a number of inter-governmental processes.

This activity resulted in the adoption at Rio of the statement of forest principles and earlier this year in the finalisation of the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests.

But the question before us now is - where to from here?

Australia supports the proposals for action of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests. We believe they provide a very good framework for future global action. However, a number of the IPF proposals require further development before they are actionable, for example, proposals relating to countries with limited forest cover. As well, there needs to be some type of mechanism to promote and coordinate the implementation of the proposals.

Australia supports the establishment on an Intergovernmental Forum on Forests under the auspices of the CSD to provide for on going dialogue on global forest issues. To do this effectively it will need to be supported by the existing UN Inter-agency Task Force on Forests.

Australia believes the Forum should provide high level policy guidance. It should identify priorities and emerging issues and provide a forum for the exchange of experience.

As well it should provide a forum for dialogue and partnership with major groups.

The Forum would provide a means of displaying the achievement of nations in responding to the challenges of sustainable forest management and for monitoring progress towards this goal. In this respect, Australia believes that nations should be transparent in reporting their progress towards achievement of the IPF recommendations and other agreed objectives.

Australia believes that an important task for the Forum should be to promote the establishment by nations of comprehensive, adequate and representative networks of forest reserves. It should also promote the other vital element which is the adoption of sustainable off-reserve forest management practices.

The Forum should be established on the following basis. There should be provision for meetings of the Forum at ministerial level; the costs of the Forum should be supported by a small secretariat attached to the CSD Secretariat and by the Inter-agency Task Force; the Forum should probably meet annually with its first meeting later this year; and, the need for continued existence of the Forum should be reviewed in five years.

Some nations argue that a separate forest convention is required to support the conservation and sustainable management of forests globally.

We are not yet convinced of the need for such a measure. We do support examination of the need for a convention by the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests, and consideration by the CSD of its report in 1999. We would not, however, want to see consideration of this long standing proposal diverting attention from the implementation now of concrete progress in implementing the program of action that has been developed by the IPF.

Mr Chairman, I acknowledge that this is an issue on which there are significantly different views. Australia's proposal has the benefit of leaving all options open, but provides a sensible means of advancing the issue of sustainable global forest use and protection based on the excellent work of the IPF.

Finally Mr Chairman, there is a need to work through these views at this CSD with the intent of achieving a text for transmission to the Special Session. I therefore propose that a contact group be established to work in the second week and report back in the third week of CSD5.

Commonwealth of Australia