Interview of the month


Eduardo Rojas-Briales is Assistant-Director- General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and Chair of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests. Previously, he was Vice-Dean of the Agronomy and Forest Faculty of the Polytechnical University of Valencia. He has served previously as a university professor, researcher and director of a forest owners association, as well as a consultant in forest policy. He holds a MSc (Freiburg) and PhD (Madrid) in forestry and is a Spanish national.

The Food and Agriculture Organization recently published the Global Forest Resource Assessment. Could you briefly tell us what is the picture of forests at the global level emerging from this important study?
The main findings of the FAO Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010 show a signifi- cant reduction (37 percent) of net deforestation: from 8.3 million ha/year in the previous decade (1990–2000) to 5.2 million ha/year in the past one (2000-2010). Deforestation is mainly restricted to two regions – South America and Africa; the other three, Asia, Europe, North and Central America, have shown a net increase in forest area. The difference between net and total deforestation (13 M ha/year) is due to reforestation and natural forest expansion (7.8 million ha/year). Three countries count for 90 percent of the reduction of net deforestation: Indonesia, China and Sudan. In all regions, there are excellent examples of sound forest policies and management that should be expanded upon. At the country-level, Vietnam and Costa Rica have undergone significant forest reforms, including changes in the legal and institutional framework, forest tenure reform and implementation of payment of environmental services. Despite the improvement to deforestation rates, forest biomass is still reducing annually by an amount that is equivalent to 1.8 billion tonnes CO2; that’s the equivalent of 3.7 percent of global CO2 emissions. However, data on carbon sequestered in soils are not yet sufficiently available. 13 percent of forests are located in protected areas with an increase of 94 million ha since 1990. The annual value of wood used was nearly US$100 billion and non woodbased forest products nearly US$19 billion. Direct forest employment (excluding industrial employment) is estimated at 10 million people. Three-fourths of the countries are reported to have a national forest program.

What are the challenges that forests worldwide have to face? How is FAO working to address them?
The challenges are very different in every region of the World, given the varying socioeconomic and natural conditions, population density and threats to forests. The most intensive changes are observed in emerging countries because of urbanization and industrialization, which is reducing pressure on land and forests, allowing recovery, especially if adequate policy strengthens the process. In developed countries, forest area and stock is growing and problems due to underuse of forests are accumulating (overpopulation of certain wildlife species, the increasing risk of strong winds destroying forests, greater instances of forest fires, etc.). Land use planning is a key instrument in countries that place high pressure on land, particularly where previously deforested land is ineffectively used, but suitable for afforestation or energy crops. In emerging countries, supportive policies can help advance opportunities for forest landscape restoration, as seen in countries such as China. In less developed countries, agricultural intensification and improvement in living conditions will help to reduce pressure on forests. In developed countries, the challenge is finding ways to make forestry a major asset in the development of green economies, for example by adjusting the timber harvest level to match the growth of forest resources.

Let’s now come to Geneva, which hosts the UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section (see UN Special No. 697 – July-August 2010), focusing on forests in the pan-European region and North America. Does the situation in this region differ from the global one? What are the main challenges faced by forests in this region and addressed by the Section?
Demographic trends have largely determined the use of forests, although high populations and consumer demand have not necessarily worked to the detriment of forests. Forests in the developed world have been expanding strongly since the start of the industrial revolution. Emerging countries are repeating this same pattern. A first challenge is to adequately inform society about the importance of maintaining and renewing forest resources. They should understand where and why forests are shrinking, particularly in the tropics and where, on the contrary, they are growing. The second challenge is to mobilize existing forest resources, as a key contribution to green economies and to minimize the effects of climate change. In the past, forest management has faced several problems related to the lack of political priority as well as unnecessary bureaucratic restrictions on its implementation. Biodiversity and other environmental functions of forests can be integrated with harvest through the application of sustainable forest management. Payment of environmental services has been applied increasingly in developing countries,with great success, and could be applied as well in the developed world, particularly in forests that are not primarily production oriented (e.g. mountain areas, Mediterranean). Technological changes could improve the use of wood and cork in the construction sector as well as residues from the forest-based sector for energy. Finally, forests should be greater integrated and valued as part of the watershed management along with recognizing their present carbon sequestration.

In your role as Assistant Director General on Forestry at FAO, what are the priorities high on your agenda for your mandate?
The priorities of FAO for forests and forestry are determined by our statutory bodies, the Regional Forest Commissions (like the European Forest Commissions) and the Committee on Forestry (COFO). The management challenge is to take advantage of all opportunities to match countries’ requests with our limited work resources. Fortunately, the amount of high quality activities and projects from FAO in forests and forestry is quite high, as a result of our exceptional staff (see: Responding to countries’ needs should be balanced between normative (statistics, publications, best practices, etc.) and project work. The engagement of FAO as Chair of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests in global forest-related issues is a key part in achieving this balance. Moreover, a stronger focus on dry-land forests and options for forest and landscape restoration in these countries has been identified as a departmental priority, as well as strengthening the linkages with the forest research and education community.

And what are your priorities for the International Year of Forests?
The International Year of Forests in 2011 (Forests 2011) is an important occasion to highlight the value and role of forests for society in all countries. Through the focal agency for the Forests 2011, the UN Forum on Forests, and through the Collaborative Partnership on Forests; FAO is preparing a supportive toolkit to guide member countries. We will also take advantage of all opportunities during the Year to place forests at the center of attention and focus on the needs of people, which is in accordance with the Forests 2011 slogan: ‘Forests for people’. Only if people, especially those living near the forests, are aware of the wealth of services and products from the forests, can forests have a long lasting future.

In general, how do you think the International Year of Forests will contribute tackling the challenges mentioned above?
Forests 2011 is a key opportunity to bring forest issues to the forefront of the public’s attention. However, to be successful at all levels; a concerted and efficient effort is required from all members of the forest community. Awareness of demographic change is a first, but decisive step for addressing forest challenges.

Through this magazine you have the possibility to reach out to a very high number of UN staff, working in many different fields of competence. What is your message to them for the IYF?
The work of the joint FAO/UNECE Forestry and Timber Section in Geneva is an example avant la lettre of delivering as One UN. The forest sector contributes much more than a modest share of the GDP and its effects are vital for climate change, sustaining clean plentiful water, maintaining landscape quality and biodiversity. Scattered valuation of the different sectors is an old fashioned approach that overlooks the absolute interconnectivity that exists between sectors, especially for forests, which lies at the roots of so much of what provides for our wellbeing.

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