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Commitments on forestry

The emergence of forest issues in the international arena

Concern over the rapid loss of the world’s forests grew during the 1980s, and the management, conservation and sustainable development of forests was one of the key issues discussed at the United Nations (UN) Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

In Rio, many countries, including the UK, pressed for a legally binding international agreement to provide a framework for the sustainable management of the world’s forests. The objective was to have a Convention to parallel those on Biological Diversity, Climate Change and Desertification which were adopted at Rio to commit the international community to action on those pressing issues. Other countries opposed a Convention on forests, however, as they believed that it would conflict with their rights to use their natural resources to meet national policy objectives. Instead of a Convention, therefore, the Conference adopted the non-legally binding Statement of Forest Principles, which sets out a global framework for the management, conservation and sustainable development of forests.

International discussions and the UK’s role

The main debates on forestry are held in the United Nations Forum on Forests, the European Union, the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe, the ‘G8’ and meetings of the signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Framework Convention on Climate Change. The UK plays a positive and active role in all these international bodies and we have taken forward domestically many of the changes that were catalysed by Rio, for example:

  • setting standards of sustainable forest management;
  • adoption of multi-purpose forestry policies;
  • implementation of regulations for sustainable forestry policy;
  • publication of guidelines and best practice;
  • implementation of forestry certification schemes.

The UK remains committed to sustainable forest management and, although our forests cover only a small area in global terms, we are seen as an important player in international forestry discussions. We have a good story to tell, having taken the lead in implementing forest certification and developing standards for industry. We are equally proud of our long record of helping to shape international forestry policy and of co-operating with developing countries on forestry issues.