Forest Crisis Can Be Reversed Top Level Commission Reports

WASHINGTON, DC, April 20, 1999 - The forests of the world have been exploited to the point of crisis and major changes are needed in global forest management strategies if the devastation is to be halted. This is the conclusion of the World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development, a group made up of top world leaders, which Monday released its report "Our Forests...Our Future."


(Photos courtesy World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development)
The report suggests that at this point a change in direction is still economically and politically possible. But the costs will become overwhelming, the longer we delay taking action. To facilitate this change, the Commission advocates radical reform of policies, calls for a new political agenda, greater civil society involvement and more science in policy-making.

truck After conducting public hearings on all five continents, the Commission found that from Siberia to Haiti, the world's forests are being destroyed far beyond their ability to reproduce. Nearly 75 percent of West Africa's tropical forests have been lost since 1950. Thailand lost a third of its forests in just 10 years, during the 1980s. Forests face an even shakier future with the global population expected to grow 50 percent in the next 50 years.

"Fixing the forest crisis is basically a matter of politics," said Ola Ullsten, former Swedish Prime Minister who co-chaired the Commission with Dr. Emil Salim, former Indonesian Minister of Population and Environment. "It is about governments assuming their mandate to protect their natural resources - including forests - for the long term benefit of their citizens."

The Commission's Report challenges the handful of countries with some 85 percent of the world's forests to exercise leadership through a Forest Security Council, modeled partly on the G8 summits but also involving the science, business and NGO communities.

The Commission sought out the opinions of those whose lives are directly connected with forests through five public hearings held in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and North America.

meeting The co-chairs described their work. "We met with forest dwelling and other local communities in developing countries who are directly dependent on forests for their economic, social, cultural and spiritual well-being. We listened to farmers from countries in the North and South who rely on forests for agricultural productivity and sustenance. We heard executives from forest industries in different parts of the world and their employees who supply wood products to society. We took careful note of what scientists, economists, foresters, government officials and other specialists involved in national and international forest policy had to say."

The Commission concluded that people can "satisfy the world's material needs from forests without jeopardizing their ecological services."

The key is "a set of global, national and local level arrangements to involve people in all decisions concerning their forests" called ForesTrust with four components:

  1. Forest Watch - A network connecting ordinary citizens with decision makers. Forest Watch would also gather, analyze and disseminate information on forests.

  2. Forest Management Council - An institution to standardize sustainable practices including eco-labeling of forest products and certification.

  3. Forest Ombudsman - A network of officials to identify and pass objective non advocacy judgements on corruption, inequity and abuse in forest operations.

  4. Forest Award - A way to recognize and reward good performance in sustainable forest management.
"There is clear link between degraded forests and poverty," said Dr. Salim. "We estimate that one billion of the world's poorest people in about 30 heavily deforested countries would be alleviated from poverty if given government support for managing neighboring public forest land and sharing the benefits within their communities."

forest Today, virtually the only economic value officially assigned to forests is in timber. The report suggests the introduction of a Forest Capital Index. This measure would take into account forests as the largest reservoir for plants and animals on land, their role in maintaining supplies of clean water, in creating and retaining soil, in contributing to the productivity of fisheries and agriculture, and helping to regulate climate.

To accommodate a growing population's need of more land for food production the report recommends making better use of the millions of hectares of degraded land left behind both by poor agriculture practices and mismanaged forests through an "Evergreen Revolution."

"Despite unintended environmental consequences of the Green Revolution, it not only saved millions of people from starvation but also millions of hectares of forests from encroachment by agriculture," said Dr. M.S Swaminathan, of India, a Commission member and one of the architects behind the agricultural Green Revolution of the sixties. "Now it is critically important for the world to take the best of that era's accomplishments and merge them with a new generation of ideas through an Evergreen Revolution."

axe "The Forests have a role in supplying the world with timber and fiber," said Commission member Dr. George Woodwell of the Woods Hole Research Center, USA. "But while those products can be partly substituted, the forests' ecological services for a functioning world cannot. That is what the forest crisis is all about."

Klaus Toepfer, World Commission member and executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme said through its public hearings the Commission has "given a voice to people who live in the forests, who make a living from the forests, and to every other group of people who have a stake in the future of the forests."

"The report is leaving nobody in any doubt that there is a forest crisis. The loss of millions of hectares of forest cover every year is serious because of the ecological services forests provide: for the hydrological cycle, for soil conservation, for biological diversity and for its control of weather patterns," said Toepfer.

"Most importantly, the report offers a way out of this crisis. It specifies reforms needed from abandoning subsidies and tax incentives that provoke forest destruction to more openness in timber allocation procedures and landscape planning," Toepfer said.


  1. Stop the destruction of the earth’s forests: their material products and ecological services are severely threatened.

  2. Use the world’s rich forest resources to improve life for poor people and for the benefit of forest-dependent communities.

  3. Put the public interest first and involve people in decisions about forest use.

  4. Get the price of forests right, to reflect their full ecological and social values, and to stop harmful subsidies.

  5. Apply sustainable forest management approaches so we may use forests without abusing them.

  6. Develop new measures of forest capital so we know whether the situation is improving or worsening.

  7. Plan for the use and protection of whole landscapes, not the forest in isolation.

  8. Make better use of knowledge about forests, and greatly expand this information base.

  9. Accelerate research and training so sustainable forest management can become a reality quickly.

  10. Take bold political decisions and develop new civil society institutions to improve governance and accountability regarding forest use.