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The Planet

    The Planet
    July/August 1998, Volume 5, Number 6

    Charting the Course of Global Forest Policy

    by Jenny Coyle

    A few years ago, Bill Mankin stood alone on a boundless tract of newly clearcut, scorched Indonesian rain-forest. Two days later and just a few hundred miles away, he sat in a bare conference room with bureaucrats from timber-producing countries, debating ways to manage the world's forests.

    As director of the Global Forest Policy Project, Mankin tries to prevent the kind of damage to the earth's remaining forests he had witnessed in Indonesia.

    The Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and the National Wildlife Federation formed the GFPP in 1992 to influence policy decisions in arenas where governments and powerful institutions negotiate the fate of the world's woodlands, from the rainforests of the Amazon to the eucalyptus-covered "bush" of Australia.

    Sometimes the GFPP has to fight just to get through the door for such talks, which mainly include government representatives and industry officials, Mankin says. Once there, the GFPP's primary focus is to get critical issues -- protecting more forests, preventing tropical forest fires, promoting biodiversity protection and curtailing the illegal timber trade -- on the international agenda and codified in policy agreements.

    "Governments and the timber industry frequently use these negotiations to push their narrow economic interests or undermine conservation efforts," says Mankin. Working against that agenda at the global level is often frustrating.

    "Swaying global forest policy is like helping to steer an ocean liner -- a giant, cumbersome ship that's difficult and painfully slow to turn," he says. "Yet, just a few degrees of change in one direction can dramatically alter the course of global policy and, ultimately, have a devastating effect on the forest. That's why we need to apply the combined clout of three of the world's most widely recognized environmental groups."

    When it isn't invited to the negotiating table, the GFPP targets -- by petition, in meetings or in hallway conversations -- the government delegates who will be there, including officials from the U.S. State Department or Forest Service, or trade representatives.

    But the GFPP was invited to provide its input directly, for example, in the development of the Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators. A dozen countries that together contain 90 percent of the world's temperate and boreal forests (United States, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Chile, China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, the Russian Federation and Uruguay) met several times in the early '90s to develop a set of criteria to describe, assess and evaluate a country's progress toward sustainable forest management. The criteria measure such things as biological diversity, ecosystem health and water quality.

    Although the Montreal Process is not legally binding, it's a "high level commitment" agreed to by government representatives who often debate the placement of a single word. Sierra Club activists can use the resulting pact as a tool and, as Mankin suggests, can approach regional foresters and say, "I understand the United States has agreed to these criteria, and I think that's great. Now, how are you implementing them?"

    "We need to create demand for the use of these tools, and grassroots activists can do that," Mankin says. "Like any other policy, law or advocacy tool, international agreements will be effective only if they are implemented and enforced. Activists can provide that push -- the indispensable step in bridging the gap between words on paper and living forests on the ground."

    For more information: Contact the
    Global Forest Policy Project
    1400 16th St. N.W., Ste. 210
    Washington, DC 20036
    (202) 797-6560.

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