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NZ plays part in crossroads for global forestry

New Zealand plays part in crossroads for global forestry

In opening a United Nations forum on planted forests in Wellington yesterday, Prime Minister Helen Clark highlighted New Zealand’s active participation in global efforts for sustainability.

“We believe that the current unsustainable use of resources cries out for urgent action on a global scale. While no one nation can resolve the problems, all nations, no matter how small, must be part of their resolution,” said Helen Clark. The Prime Minister’s speech emphasised New Zealand’s shift in forestry production “almost entirely away from our native forest to sustainable planted forests”, the conservation of New Zealand’s indigenous forests, and the economic, environmental and social contributions made by planted forests.

The three day forest experts meeting is being attended by more than 100 participants. It is being hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) as part of a UN process for building consensus about sustainable forest management and the gathering is also being sponsored by the governments of Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America as well as the International Tropical Timber Organisation.

Leading forestry expert Professor Julian Evans, of the United Kingdom, chaired the first intersessional meeting to focus on planted forests in Chile in 1999 and has the same role this year. He said the timetable for development of a new international policy agenda meant this week’s meeting in Wellington is “probably the last major opportunity to ensure planted forests have a strong place on that agenda”.

An announcement of the Planted Forests experts meeting’s recommendations to the UN Forum on Forests (UNFF) will be made through MAF on Friday. The UNFF meets next in Switzerland in May.

Background

Keynote papers delivered by Dr Wink Sutton (New Zealand) and David Victor (USA) at this week’s meeting underline the view that planted forests as suppliers of the world’s wood requirements are destined to become much more important globally. Despite sitting at just 5 percent of the world’s forests they already supply 20-35% of industrial wood.

Dr Sutton states that the area of planted forests is “too small” to meet the growing demand for wood that will otherwise put an overwhelming pressure on untouched natural forests. He estimates there could be a shortfall by 2050 in the order of 2 billion cubic metres of wood, over and above the existing resource, and that it would take a fast-growing planted forest the area of Nigeria or the Canadian province of British Columbia to meet demand.

The world currently consumes about 1.6 billion cubic metres of wood every year – a little less than half as industrial wood and more than half as fuelwood. Dr Sutton advocates a greater use of solid wood derived from sustainably managed planted forests as a key way to reduce global energy use and pollution, and that substitution of solid wood products with concrete, metals and plastics should be reversed in recognition of the renewable and environmentally friendly values of wood.

David Victor is optimistic that “the twentieth century witnessed the start of a Great Restoration of the world’s forests” in a potential move away from deforestation and what he calls a “Skinhead Earth”. He is less optimistic about the prospects for codifying changes in forestry management into a single international law or treaty.


“A better approach would begin by adopting a non-binding but clear, quantitative, measurable goal: namely, a forest estate expanded by 200 million hectares in 2050 and in which a smart, sustainable forest industry concentrates on little more than 10 percent of the forest area,” he says. “This ’90-10’ vision would serve to anchor and focus a bottom-up process through which governments and stakeholders – individually and collectively – would explore the actions they must take to achieve their goal by 2050”.

Mr Victor suggests some countries, such as Brazil and Indonesia, could conclude that the best way they can contribute trees to the world balance sheet is by improving the regulation of their public lands. “Others, such as New Zealand and Chile, could do their part by striving to become industrial wood baskets. Still others, such as Russia, could focus on improving forest institutions”. He adds that New Zealand’s experience “could be the most important in setting a proper story for forest plantations”.

Jose Antonio Prado and Carlos Weber are delivering a paper titled The Case Of Chile tomorrow (Thursday 27 March), which draws attention to elements that will facilitate progress towards greater uptake of sustainable forest management in the future, such as increased use of certification, stakeholder frameworks and technology transfer.

Chile’s forestry sector growth has definite parallels to New Zealand, including extensive planting of pinus radiata. Almost 15% of Chile’s exports are forest products, while in New Zealand the percentage of export revenue generated by forestry is 12% and the sector aims to be the largest export earner by 2025. Factors of success cited for Chile are a stable forest policy, private and state investment, professional capability, availability of lands with no alternative use, adequate transportation infrastructure and open markets.

The broad relationship between planted forests and biodiversity in the environment, including direct and indirect impacts, is an important sub-theme at this week’s experts meeting.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) director Dr Chris Elliott says WWF has been engaged in discussions about planted forests for more than a decade and seeks to influence tree planting through its Forest Landscape Restoration activities. His paper argues that debate about plantations has “tended to generate more heat than light”. For WWF the key elements of sustainability within the planted forest industry begin with maintenance of high conservation value forests and the provision of corridors between and buffer zones around natural forest areas.

A paper titled Planted Forests And Biodiversity suggests planted forest managers can enhance biodiversity by using a greater variety of planted species (exotic and native) and alternative forest management regimes and practices, such as the extension of rotation lengths in some stands, and adoption of a variety of harvesting approaches.

In conjunction with this week’s meeting the Forest Industries Council (NZFOA) and Forest Owners Association (NZFOA) have published a booklet titled From Principles To Practice: The New Zealand Sustainable Forest Management Story. This covers economic benefits, Maori and forestry, Green partnerships, carbon and bioenergy, biosecurity, water and soil, afforestation and the social contribution made possible by plantations.

MAF co-publishes Facts & Figures on New Zealand’s forest industry with the NZFIC and NZFOA and has recently published a significant Country Report on internationally agreed criteria and indicators for conservation and sustainable management of forests as part of a commitment to the Montreal Process, This is available on request to MAF.

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