Finnish Forest Research Institute  Metla

Press release 11.11.2005

Global forests in the societal and environmental balance - changing paradigms

In recent years our attitudes towards forests have changed: forests are increasingly being seen as part of the human and natural landscape. This has led to a more holistic approach to their use and management which recognises the complex links that they have with the environment and society.

The interface between forests, society and environment was studied by nearly 200 international researchers in the IUFRO's Special Project on World Forests, Society and Environment (IUFRO-WFSE), coordinated by Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla). The first phase (2002-2005) of the project is now ending.

Population growth, migration, urbanisation, changes in technology and advances in science are among the many factors which have transformed the ways in which we perceive, manage, conserve and use forests. The same factors have meant that we expect far more from our forests than previous generations. Increasingly policy decisions outside forestry, e.g. agricultural, industrial, trade and even social policies - both national and international - impact forests through the dynamic forests-society-environment interface.

Major on-going changes in paradigms are apparent especially regarding forest-based livelihoods and environmental services provided by forests, in the strive for better forest governance and in the roles of planted forests.

Over 1.2 billion people in the world, nearly every fifth person, depend on forests for at least part of their livelihood. Forests and trees provide industrial wood and fuelwood, a diversity of non-wood forest products for exports, sale and for household consumption, employment and income. In many developing countries, forest-based enterprises provide at least a third of all rural non-farm employment. The number of jobs in large-scale forestry and forest-related industries - in the formal sector - is declining in the North and in many countries of the South. However, the small-scale and informal sector has become increasingly important, both in terms of providing jobs and contributing to the economy in rural areas. Improving market information and market access, investments in infrastructure, increasing the bargaining power, and training in production and entrepreneurial skills will support small-scale entrepreneurship. Clear and secure rights to land and trees are required, if forestry is to contribute to development.

So far, environmental and welfare benefits of the forests have been regarded as free services. In some developed countries the welfare services of forests, like recreation, are - in some regions - economically more important than logging. While the demand for environmental services is growing, more emphasis is directed to the fair sharing of the accruing costs and benefits.

Important environmental services include, among others, clean water, biodiversity maintenance, soil protection and, lately, carbon sequestration. The traditional approaches to secure the environmental services of forests have been enforced through command and control: prohibitions, laws, governmental subsidies and restricted or protected areas. The Payments for Environmental Services (PES), now being developed, focuses on building a market-based mechanism to encourage management of forests for the value they provide to society rather than on the problems that result from inappropriate management. Systems approach in the design of effective PES enables integrating the biophysical factors, demand, supply and institutional components. Well designed and implemented PES broadens options and opportunities for synergies with other land uses, such as agricultural activities. There are increasing examples of promising initiatives in different parts of the world.

Securing environmental services and sustainable forestry requires good governance. It has been widely accepted that hierarchical "top-down" governance does not support maintenance of forested ecosystems nor an equitable sharing of costs and benefits. The new governance models emphasize devolution of public rights, empowerment of local governments, and participatory decision making. Local solutions should be found to local conflicts in a transparent manner. Decentralization should be pursued where the conditions are appropriate. Common problems are the unwillingness of the central government to give up their powers, and poor resources and capabilities at the local level.

In 1995 plantations covered 3,5 % of the global forest area and produced 22 % of global industrial wood. In 2050, plantations are estimated to cover up to 64 % of the world's industrial wood demand. Yet, only about one half of the plantations are established for industrial purposes. Tree plantations are forests, but they do not substitute natural forests. Small-scale tree plantations and trees on farms are an essential source of timber supply in many low forest cover countries. They are also essential for many individual farmers in providing income and a multitude of diverse goods and services like construction material, livestock fodder and foodstuffs, and in maintaining the productivity of land and agriculture.

A shift from normative rules towards considering the local conditions and the changing values and demands of society is a clear paradigm change in natural resources management. This change brings new challenges upon forestry, training and research. An important challenge is to balance the use of forests with the needs of people and the goal of sustaining the environment. Landscape is usually very fragmented. It is necessary to consider larger temporal and spatial scales and approach the landscape in a holistic manner. All different components, land uses and stakeholders in the landscape system must be considered. Sectoral cooperation and integration is necessary for economically, socially and environmentally sustainable use of the natural resources, including forests.

These issues - with regional analysis by continents - are discussed much more in depth in the publications produced by IUFRO-WFSE. International Union of Forest Research Organisations (IUFRO) is an international scientific, non-governmental, non-profit organisation supporting collaboration of forest researchers. The Special Project is a joint venture of nine research organisations from different parts of the world: Bundesforschungsanstalt für Forst- und Holzwirtschaft (BFH) in Germany, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Indonesia, Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD Fôret) in France, Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE) in Costa Rica, European Forest Institute (EFI) in Finland, Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla) in Finland, International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) in China, United Nations University (UNU) in Japan and Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) in Canada.

Publications of the project:

Additional information:

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