Feelings of inequality and tensions between the global North and South—which have plagued international negotiations leading up to the December United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark—were also present at the XIII World Forestry Congress last week (October 18- 23, 2009). Over 7000 participants representing 160 countries convened in Buenos Aires for this event, hosted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the government of Argentina. Founded in 1926, the Forestry Congress serves as a forum for governments, civil society, academia, and the private sector to discuss forest-related issues and formulate recommendations at multiple levels of governance. 

 The Conference’s theme was “Forests in Development: A Vital Balance.” Discussion topics included biodiversity, forests and energy, forest management, tourism and recreation, and development opportunities. A forum focused on “forests and climate change” was held Wednesday afternoon, with a keynote address by Roberto Acosta, Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The forum included panels on land use and land use change as well as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), and discussed the impacts of climate change on forests and people.

Forests are not just important carbon sinks, they provide economic, cultural and spiritual livelihoods for billions of people

Forests are not just carbon sinks, they provide economic, cultural and spiritual livelihoods for billions of people

 The forum also produced a message to the UNFCCC’s 15th Conference of Parties (COP 15) which will convene in Copenhagen this December. It outlines the important role of sustainable forest management in climate change mitigation and adaptation, and calls for increased “inter-sectoral collaboration” to improve forest governance and the livelihoods of people dependent on forests for income, as poverty and lack of human rights are linked to deforestation and forest degradation. The message to the COP 15 also called for increased recognition that forests are “more than just carbon,” as they provide valuable ecosystem goods and services, promote biodiversity, and provide the economic livelihood, “cultural and spiritual identity of billions of people.”

 An ongoing theme of the Congress was that climate change has pinholed forests as tools of storing greenhouse gases, rather than also focusing on the opportunities for “rural development, foods security and livelihood improvement” that forests offer to developing nations, as expressed by Sudanese representative Balgis Osman Elasha (who incidentally authored one of the climate connections for State of the World 2009, “Building Resilience to Drought and Climate Change in Sudan.”

 This theme echoes the North-South divide that has also characterized recent climate negotiations. Developing countries do not appreciate being viewed exclusively as mitigation tools (or in this case, as carbon sinks) for industrialized countries. Accordingly, the World Forestry Congress emphasized that forests should be appreciated in a broader sense including their vital role for the daily lives of hundreds of million people depending on them in the developing world, rather than valued for their usefulness to industrialized countries.

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carbon sinks, deforestation, north-south divide, poverty, REDD, world forestry congress