David B. Sandalow
Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
U.S. Department of State
Opening Address to the 28th Council Session of the International Tropical Timber Organization
Lima, Peru, May 24, 2000
(As Prepared for Delivery)
"Tropical Forests for the Future"
Thank you, Dr. Sobral and Members of the ITTO, for the invitation to speak with you. Thank you, Minister de las Casas Piedra, Dr. Takahashi and other representatives of the Government of Peru for hosting this meeting. I am honored and delighted to be here.
It seems fitting that we meet today in Lima, only a short journey from the western edge of the world's largest rainforest. We all know the magic of that realm. The Amazon's verdant canopy shelters one of every six known bird species, one of every 11 mammals, and one of every 15 reptiles. It is home and a source of livelihood to more than 16 million people. Over half the world's remaining tropical rainforest lies within this vast basin.
When the Amazon breathes, it cleans the planet's air. When the Amazon burns, the Earth runs a fever. No matter where we live, no matter what we do, we are all bound to this remarkable forest.
Forests have a way of humbling us, sometimes at great cost. When I left home Monday, more than a thousand firefighters were battling a forest fire that has charred more than 20,000 hectares in the state of New Mexico. As some of you may have read, the U.S. National Park Service set this fire intentionally. It was supposed to be a "prescribed burn," to remove dead and dried underbrush. Instead, due to mistakes and misfortune, it raged out of control. Thousands of people have been forced from their homes, and the damage may well exceed one billion dollars.
So as I stand before you today, I certainly claim no monopoly on wisdom, for myself or my country. I do however share a passion for forests felt by many in this hall. I share the belief of ITTO Members that forests can provide sustenance -- both physical and spiritual -- to people around the globe. And I share the view that the International Tropical Timber Organization can help make a difference for forests in the years ahead.
Today I will address three topics. First, I will discuss the state of the world's tropical forests. Second, I will examine the role the ITTO has played to date in promoting the conservation and sustainable use of tropical forests. Third, I will outline an agenda for the ITTO for the future.
Let us begin by asking: What is the state of the world's tropical forests?
In short, they are in crisis.
Tropical forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Saws and bulldozers are leveling roughly 200 hectares per minute. A soccer field is close to two hectares, so we are losing about 120 soccer fields of tropical forest per minute, more than 7,000 soccer fields per hour, more than 170,000 soccer fields per day.
Humans have already cut down more than half the forests that once blanketed the earth. In the past few decades, some countries have lost more than 90% of their forest cover. According to a 1999 FAO report, the vast majority of this forest loss is in the tropics. Tropical deforestation is occurring so rapidly that -- if logging continues at this rate -- the world's rainforests could disappear entirely before the end of this century.
Such rampant deforestation makes little economic or environmental sense. If current trends continue, in years to come there will be less and less tropical timber to sell, fewer and fewer acres of tropical forest that might yield a life-saving drug, and an ever-shrinking home for millions of species that have shared this earth with human beings for countless generations.
Forests provide the raw materials for lumber, plywood, paper and other staples of modern life. Around the world, more than 500 million people depend on forests for their livelihood, including communities based in and around the forest and important, indigenous cultures. Tropical forests yield some of the most beautiful and valuable woods in the world, such as teak, mahogany, rosewood, balsa, and sandalwood. Over the past decade, the value of tropical forest products traded has remained almost constant, despite the economic turmoil that affected many countries in 1997-1999.
The United States is the world's #1 importer and #2 exporter of forest products, importing $29 billion worth of lumber, plywood, pulp, furniture and other forest products last year, from almost every producer nation on earth. The United States is also one of the largest importers from ITTO producer countries. As such, the United States has a long-term economic interest in promoting the conservation and sustainable use of tropical forests around the world.
Of course, forests hold vast economic potential that cannot be measured in board-feet or metric tons of pulp. Tropical forests yield remarkable medicines found nowhere else on earth. Surely, our forests hold still more valuable secrets -- valuable to local and international economies, and valuable to the human race.
But the value of tropical forests goes far beyond what is traded in the marketplace. Tropical forests are home to tens of millions of people. Brazil, for example, has set aside 900,000 square kilometers for indigenous reservations representing 200 ethnic groups and about 300,000 people. Tropical forests are an ecological treasure chest: more than half of the world's plant and animal species live in tropical forests. Tropical forests are home to an estimated 10-30 million species, including plants, insects, birds and primates found nowhere else on earth. The door to this chest has only been opened a crack -- we don't know what bounties of food, medicine, and other ecological services lie within. Tropical forests are not just one ecosystem, but home to millions of unique ecosystems.
Healthy, sustainable forests also have a vital role to play on the grandest of global scales. They are often called the "lungs of the world" because they absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. This cleans the air we breathe and moderates the global climate. Forests play a critical role in helping to control the dangers of global warming -- including the spread of infectious disease, rising sea levels, advancing deserts, and more frequent, violent storms. Healthy, sustainable forests play an indispensable role in slowing, or even reversing, such broad, alarming trends.
In short, tropical forests are a dwindling resource -- both economic and ecological.
We must learn to manage them in a coordinated, responsible and sustainable manner.
What has the International Tropical Timber Organization contributed to these efforts to date? In the 17 years since this organization was established, and the six years since the International Tropical Timber Agreement was renegotiated, what have we accomplished in this forum?
I believe that the ITTO has done some useful work -- work that deserves international recognition. Let me offer a few examples.
First, the ITTO has played an important role in the development of criteria and indicators for the sustainable management of tropical forests. The Montreal Process, the Pan-European Process, the ATO, and Tarapoto were all based in part on your efforts.
Second, the ITTO has helped develop and fund good projects -- projects that help promote the conservation and sustainable use of tropical forests. In Gabon, the organization funded a project that published, tested and implemented ITTO's criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. In Sarawak, the organization supported a project that reduced the impact of logging and road building on sensitive forests, protecting biodiversity while preserving income for local communities.
Third, the ITTO has made valuable contributions to parks along international borders, including Indonesia-Malaysia, and Thailand-Cambodia. I also see that the ITTO is helping to facilitate an important new park on the Peru-Ecuador border. This project, covering 10 million hectares in the Condor Cordillera area, enjoys the support of both governments, the Fundacion Natura in Ecuador, and Conservation International in Peru. The park, rich in natural beauty and biodiversity, is transforming what was once a war zone into a living symbol of peace.
These are all genuine successes. The next question is: what lies ahead for the ITTO?
In answering that question, we must confront a larger truth. Simply put, we in the ITTO have failed to achieve a defining goal of this organization. We have failed to achieve the Year 2000 Objective -- that all tropical timber in global trade come from sustainably managed sources.
We should also face another truth: This is a pivotal time in the life of this organization. I believe -- my government believes -- that we should extend the International Tropical Timber Agreement for three years. However, we do not enter this period with a presumption that the ITTO, with its current mandate, will continue past 2004. Now is the time for the ITTO to take stock, consider its mandate, evaluate its role among the constellation of international forest organizations and chart a wise course for the years ahead.
In preparation for this meeting, I read the thorough and informative Year 2000 Objective report prepared by doctors Poore and Thang. I have also reviewed other, harsher assessments concerning the source of tropical timber sold on the international market. Whichever set of numbers you look at -- and despite the hard work of many talented people in the trade -- we have a long way to go.
Why have we failed to meet the Year 2000 Objective? In large measure, I believe it is because the objective was disproportionate to the resources and scope of this organization. The ITTO is a unique forum, bringing together producer and consumer nations to discuss and address the tropical timber trade. But it does not have the means or mandate to control tropical forests worldwide. With careful and strategic planning, this organization can make a difference -- for forests and people around the globe. But unless the ITTO targets its efforts, it will fail.
Business-as-usual is not enough: not for tropical forests, and not for the ITTO.
I also believe this organization has lost touch with a critical part of its constituency. To meet its objectives, the ITTO must welcome and engage representatives of civil society -- but their voices have been quiet here in recent years. Environmental NGOs, business associations and representatives of indigenous peoples all have vital roles to play in informing the dialogue on tropical forests, and the ITTO will be enriched by their presence.
What is the path ahead? I believe the ITTO needs a new objective for a new millennium. This not just because the calendar tells us that the "Year 2000 Objective" will -- in a few short months -- be out of date. It is for the more fundamental reason that now is the time for the ITTO to take stock, plan carefully and determine how it can best proceed to implement the mission for which it exists in the years ahead.
I believe that the ITTO should commit itself to a New Millennium Objective: to make constant progress in the conservation and sustainable use of tropical forests.
This New Millennium Objective sets a goal that can make a difference for the planet. It appropriately balances the production missions of this organization with the objective of sourcing all tropical timber in the trade from forests that are also effectively conserved. And it is appropriately tailored to the resources and abilities of the ITTO.
How can the ITTO make constant progress toward the conservation and sustainable use of tropical forests? Below I have six suggestions:
1) Gather the World's Best Data on the Timber Trade
No organization is better situated to gather information on the timber trade than the ITTO. The 53 producer and consumer countries that meet in this forum already exchange data on this topic, but an expanded and more substantive program could pay rich dividends. By providing more complete and transparent information on imports and exports by species, value-added products, employment levels, raw materials, end-use, domestic consumption and other significant topics, the ITTO can help promote both conservation and sustainable use of our tropical forests.
I believe that the Economic Information and Market Intelligence Committee should take up this work as a matter of priority. With the data collected, ITTO should pursue a program of analytic work and assess the meaning of the data on the state of tropical forests.
2) Reform the Project Development Process
Some ITTO projects have contributed to the conservation and sustainable use of tropical forests. But the overall process of project development needs reform. Project approvals should have broad-based input and be more systematically linked to the organization's policy goals. Project monitoring must be improved; systematic evaluation of projects is essential. While the inclusion of ex-post project evaluation in this year's Work Program is a step in the right direction -- and I am glad to see it on the Council Agenda here in Lima -- more work needs to be done in this critical area, possibly with independent monitoring of ITTO projects. Relevant environmental and trade representatives should serve on project steering committees, and contribute to thinking about how to improve the development of new and effective projects.
3) Focus on Forest Law Enforcement
Illegal logging may be the single greatest threat to tropical forests. According to credible sources, more than 70 countries suffer from widespread fraud and abuse in the logging sector. A recent audit of one country's performance in forest management found that the government had lost billions of dollars to illegal forestry activities in just the past few years. How can we accept such massive losses -- not only to our pocketbooks, but to our natural heritage?
The ITTO should help countries around the world meet this challenge. We must work together to help root out illegal logging, illegal trade and corruption in the forest sector. Through the data we gather and through our project work, the ITTO should make work on forest law enforcement a priority. The Bali Partnership Fund could also make contributions in this area.
Later this year, the World Bank and the United States will cosponsor a conference in Southeast Asia on Forest Law Enforcement. Countries in the region will contribute to this work; some have already made major commitments to address the problems. I hope the ITTO and ITTO Member Countries will be active participants in the conference. We also hope to cosponsor other regional work on this challenge.
4) Help Improve Concession Management
Concession mis-management is another significant threat to tropical forests. The ITTO should contribute to better concession management around the world. We need to focus on building capacity to manage forest concessions in ways that both protect the environment and strengthen local communities.
FAO has been working on developing guidelines for concession management, which will be published soon. ITTO could develop and implement projects to assess the effectiveness of these guidelines. This would be an excellent area for future ITTO project work and even, perhaps, for regional workshops.
5) Embrace the Information Age
The Internet is revolutionizing communications around the world. The ITTO should be bold and creative in using this invaluable tool. As a matter of priority, the ITTO should post its data, analysis, and information concerning its project work on the World Wide Web in an interactive format.
The ITTO can and must step up to this challenge. Information is power, and in the information age, both the quality and accessibility of ITTO data may prove to be decisive factors in its effectiveness, and ultimately its very existence. The relevance of this information and its validity to the sustainable use and conservation of forests are fundamental to the credibility of the work of the ITTO in this area. Responsibility is firmly on the shoulders of Member Countries, both producers and consumers, to accurately report in areas that may be sensitive but that the citizens of the world demand.
6) Bring NGOs and Industry Back Into ITTO
As the clock ticks down, we have no choice but to draw upon the knowledge, energy, skills and urgency of NGOs and industry. Working in a more collaborative manner, the ITTO must become more nimble and responsive to change.
Around the world, civil society is doing work closely related to the mission of this organization. The World Resources Institute, for example, has created the Global Forest Watch, an international data and mapping network that combines on-the-ground knowledge with digital mapping technology to provide accurate information about the world's forests. Furthermore, the legitimacy of international organizations depends in many eyes on the willingness to engage civil society. The ITTO simply cannot succeed in the years ahead unless it opens its doors.
To summarize: I believe that ITTO's effectiveness in the near future depends on our ability to gather the world's best data on the tropical timber trade, reform the project development process, focus on forest law enforcement, help improve concession management, embrace the information age and bring NGOs and industry back into the ITTO. None of these will be easy, but we really have no choice, other than to accept an unacceptable status quo.
This is an enormous challenge. We all recognize that the challenge of protecting our forests is beyond any single person, organization or country. But if we even hope to succeed... if we hope to turn the tide of destruction and pass on healthy forests to our children and grandchildren, we all must do our part.
That includes my country, the United States. I'm proud of our commitment to a better future. In closing, I'd like to outline, briefly, just a few of the steps we've taken in this direction.
Recently, the United States began to implement its Tropical Forest Conservation Act, or TFCA. The TFCA is a public-private partnership that swaps debt for the conservation of tropical forests. President Clinton announced the first debt-for-nature swap under this statute in Bangladesh during his visit there in March. Totaling $6 million, it will help protect one of the largest mangrove forests in the world, home to an estimated 400 Bengal tigers.
A number of countries, including several at this meeting, have expressed interest in concluding TFCA Agreements. We are eager to work together. The U.S. Congress appropriated $13 million for TFCA in this year, and the Clinton administration has requested another $37 million for 2001, all part of an initiative launched by President Clinton and Vice President Gore called "Greening the Globe."
Setting an example at home last month, President Clinton created the Giant Sequoia National Monument, in California. That executive order protects 262,400 hectares from future logging or development, including 34 groves of ancient sequoias. Some of these trees are 3,000 years old, and tower almost 100 meters above the forest floor.
And I'm pleased to say that protecting this natural cathedral is just one small piece of the President's America's Lands Legacy, a $1.4 billion effort to protect our forests, wetlands and open space for generations to come.
U.S. companies are also taking action. Home Depot, the world's largest home improvement retailer, announced last year that it would stop selling wood products from environmentally sensitive areas by the end of 2002, and give preference to wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. The American Forest and Paper Association, which represents most U.S. timber producers, has also developed sustainable forest management as an objective for all its members. Consumer-driven change will likely become more common in years to come, and ITTO can help facilitate it by providing the public with accurate, comprehensive information on tropical timber. The lesson here is that sustainable forest management is not just good for forests, it's good for business.
In the years ahead, we must make wise choices. The ITTO can help shape sensible forest policies for the new millennium. There is no time to waste, and we must tackle this challenge together.
A Native American leader once said: "We do not inherit the world from our parents. We only borrow it from our children." Let us work together wisely, for ourselves and future generations.
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