Options for strengthening the international legal regime for forests: a report prepared for the European Commission under the study contract B7-8110/96/000221/D4 (proposal for a legally-binding instrument on forest)

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Proposals for a Legally Binding Global Convention on Forests, debated and rejected at the 1992 UNCED Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero, re-surface periodically at international fora. The case for concerted global action rests on the existence of ‘international problems', where this is the only effective remedy, as conventions are unnecessary and inappropriate for national problems. The global values of forests are biological diversity and as a sink of carbon. There is also widespread international concern about forest clearance and degradation harming the lives and cultures of forest peoples and the loss of traditional knowledge about flora and fauna. This report argues that many of the expressed concerns about forests have local or national origins and consequences. National and sectoral policies have encouraged conversion of forests to alternative uses, and some forestry policies have encouraged overharvesting. The tenure of forest lands is often still unclear, or contested, and forests have frequently been mined as a quick source of capital, subsequently abandoned, or turned over to agricultural colonisers or plantation estates. Most ‘global' aspects of the forests agenda are already covered in other UNCED Conventions. Improving the effectiveness of existing agreements and voluntary collaboration may be easier and more effective. Existing legal, economic and political instruments can address the issues. The report examines the feasibility, probability and costs of agreeing on a new instrument, and then of implementing that agreement; and the likely distributional impacts, both between and within countries. Even if not essential, a convention might consolidate existing fragments of international law bearing on forests and provide a forum for analysis and convergence of opinion. Or it could be an excuse for avoiding more effective actions.

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