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International scenario

Tamal Pal
GIS Development

Many efforts, governmental and non-governmental, national and international, have been made to promote sustainable Forest Management.

In 1980, the world’s forest resources stood at 51 million sq. km. which in 1990 was reduced to 34 million sq. km. (FAO 1995, 1997). The latest FAO estimates reveals that only 27% of the total land area or 129 million sq. km. is under forest cover.

Recent information on the nature and causes of change in forest cover in the tropics suggests that expansion of subsistence agriculture in Africa and Asia, and large economic development programs involving resettlement, agriculture and infrastructure in Latin America and Asia, are the key factors behind forest cover change. In the coming decades, pressures for increased food production are expected to lead to continued conversion of forest land to agriculture in many developing countries. While the world’s forest area has been steadily decreasing, there has been a continued increase in the demand for wood products and the global consumption of wood increased by 36% between 1970 and 1994. Demand for fuelwood, which is the main or sole source of domestic energy for two-fifths of the world’s population in the developing countries, continues to grow by 1.2% per year. International trade in forests products, currently accounting for 6-8% of world roundwood production and an estimated value of US$ 114,000 million, continue to increase in economic importance.

Given the worldwide increase in the demand and decrease in forest area, concern has been raised over whether future demand for forest products can be met sustainably. Realising that at global level, deforestation is a serious issue, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992 provided impetus and commitment to international activity focused on the world’s forests. It lead to the establishment, in April 1995, of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development. The role of the IPF is to follow up UNCED recommendations on sustainable forest management and to encourage international consensus on key issues related to forests. The increased importance ascribed to the environmental functions of forest and their integral role in sustainable forest management was highlighted by Chapter 11 of Agenda 21(‘Combating Deforestation’) and ‘Forest Principles’ adopted at UNCED.

The main objectives of the Convention were the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. However, the Convention gives the sovereign right to a nation to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environment policies, and the responsibility to ensure that the activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of states or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction. But, it states that the nation should integrate conservation and sustainable use of biological resources into national decision-making to minimize the adverse impacts on biological diversity and to encourage the local population to help in conservation in accordance with their traditional cultural practices. It promotes the ideas for establishment of scientific and technical training programmes based on conservation and for encouraging research in the field, gives provision to facilitate the access for and transfer of technology between nations. For planning and implementation of national forest policies, a nation should involve variety including forest dwellers along with scientific persons. According to the convention a nation should introduce appropriate procedures for environmental impact assessment of its proposed projects and in case of imminent or grave danger to biological diversity of states other than its jurisdiction, it should not only notify the other state but also initiate action to prevent or minimize such danger. It also believes in providing international financial support to developing nations for helping them to protect their forests. The Convention acknowledged that the availability of GIS was critical for environment decision making.

Many efforts, governmental and non-governmental, national and international, have been made to promote sustainable Forest Management. However, continued progress towards more widespread sustainable forest management will depend on: improved information on the world’s forest resources; strengthened sector planning based on improved methods of forest valuation; better intersectoral linkages and continued constructive dialogue; strengthened forestry institutions; and improved coordination among the various entities involved in forest management and resource use. Most important, implementing sustainable forest management will depend on local, national and international commitment to achieving it.