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Natural sustainable ecosystems provide the biological basis of forest biodiversity, its functions, and growth cycles. When forest biodiversity is based on man's intervention, it is called sustainable forest management. EU forests are subject to national laws and international commitments to ensure their sustainability. Sustainable forest management is monitored and can be confirmed by certification processes.

What the Commission does

Unsustainable management in many tropical countries has led to forest degradation and deforestation, and has contributed 17.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions. The EU and its countries seek to address these impacts through the EU FLEGT Action Plan and the United Nations' Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD).

See more on wood and other forest products in the EU.

Sustainable Forest Management (SFM)

Where human intervention is necessary to the maintenance of a functioning forest ecosystem, this is known as sustainable forest management (SFM).In Europe, the concept of SFM was defined in 1993 at the pan-European Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe (MCPFE) as:

"The stewardship and use of forest lands in a way and at a rate that maintains their productivity, biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfil now and in the future relevant ecological, economic and social functions at local, national and global levels and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems."

In other parts of the world, similar definitions have been derived through processes similar to the MCPFE:

  • North America: the Montreal Process;
  • Central and South America: the Tarapoto Process.

Monitoring and measurement of sustainable forest management

In 2009, these schemes covered some 74.7 Mha or 42% of EU forests. Globally, they cover only 15% of forests. More than 90 % of certified forests are in OECD countries.

Unsustainable Forests in 3-D

Where sustainable forest management is not practised or where natural forests are damaged by human intervention, unsustainable forestry occurs in three stages:

  • Degradation is the initial phase in which natural forests become damaged, either by unsustainable logging (tree removal in an unselective or concentrated way so that the original forest canopy cannot recover) or by competing land uses such as mining, infrastructure, agriculture, and the resettlement of populations. Often these occur in combination.
  • Deforestation occurs if degradation goes unchecked. Most or all forest cover is lost. If left undisturbed and not eroded by the elements, many deforested areas can partially or fully recover to their former state. More often however, the pressures from other land use prevents this and result in permanent deforestation.
  • Desertification happens in areas where the forest cover (continuous canopy) is largely or totally lost and climatic conditions (rain, wind, snow, etc.) intervene destructively so as to impoverish, deplete, or remove soil.

Remedial action

  • International level - at international level, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is the primary body responsible for combatting forest degradation and loss. Specifically, under the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) structure, the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) is responsible for trying to help reduce these processes in tropical wood-producing and exporting countries. Together, and with the support of bilateral donors, these organisations were responsible for the Tropical Forestry Action Plan (TFAP).
  • Action plan - more recently, the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) has addressed the "3-Ds" in a broader context. For its part, the European Commission proposed the EU FLEGT Action Plan in 2003 (COM(2003) 257) and has developed voluntary partnership agreements with wood producing and exporting countries, as well as draft legislation on the placing on the EU market of timber and timber products.
  • Voluntary agreements - voluntary partnership agreements have been signed with Ghana and Cameroun and are expected with Congo-Brazzaville, Malaysia, Indonesia and others. Elsewhere, FLEG processes encourage the regional groupings of countries and relevant bodies to address illegal logging. These exist for Europe & Northern Asia (ENA-FLEG), ASEA-FLEG (ASEAN and Southeast Asia) as well as Southern America. For more information, see Chatham House.
  • The REDD programme - the United Nations' Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) programme addresses forest loss in the context of climate change. Globally, forest degradation and loss account for 17.5% of all anthropogenic CO2 emission (see the 4th IPCC Report). REDD seeks to reduce these processes by evaluating the carbon-storage potential of forests and providing income based on that value for avoided deforestation or damage. However, the precise working of the mechanism needs to be designed and will be dependent on the general provisions for dealing with forests and harvested wood products which emerge from the forthcoming COP 15 meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009 under the Kyoto Protocol. In any case, it should be ensured that REDD and FLEGT are mutually supportive rather than conflictive (please consult IPCC and Chatham House).


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