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Photo: Lisa Westholm

Forest Day

Sabine Henders reports from Forest Day 5 in Durban.

After a late arrival to Durban on Saturday evening, my first event was the Forest Day on Sunday 4th December. Still exhausted from the trip and not overseeing the extensive (and well organized!) transportation system organized for COP delegates, I arrived to the Olive Convention Center, the venue for this year’s Forest Day, at about 9:30. I was surprised to see long queues at registration and a full plenary inside at this early hour on a Sunday, and it turned out that more than 1000 participants had signed up for the event! You could see people from everywhere in all colours and shapes; NGOs, activitists, business representatives, researchers, politicians, indigenous peoples organizations and many more came together to learn and discuss about forests.

The main focus of this Forest Day 5 was on forests and forest management in Africa, with several speakers and events addressing the role of dry forests alongside tropical rainforests that usually get most of the international attention, as well as topics of food security and bioenergy. This year’s motto was “From Policy to Practice”, and the day was structured into joint plenary sessions in the beginning, middle and end, as well as discussion for a on different topics in between. A really interesting and diverse programme made it difficult to decide which discussions to attend, so I tried to see as much as possible of a more general discussion forum on “How is REDD+ unfolding on the ground? An Exploration of the social, political and biophysical issues” and a technical one on MRV and reference levels going on at the same time. While the MRV discussions were excellent, I found it quite hard to concentrate on several of the other presentations, as I felt that this year’s presentations contained a lot of rhetoric. The importance of forests for climate change, for biodiversity and livelihoods was acknowledged and stressed over and over again, while I felt that actual details, developments and concrete findings were somewhat underrepresented. Many presentations focused on the global interlinkages between the interrelated goals of food and energy security, biodiversity protection and economic development, and stressed the importance of inclusiveness; e,g. focusing equally on tropical forests and dryland forests; paying attention to the full range of land uses; and involving women in sustainable forest management. An example was the speech of Rachel Kyte of the UK government, who underscored that forests, climate change and agriculture cannot be discussed in isolation, because unless access to land and extreme poverty are addressed as well as ensuring higher crop yields and water security, the world will not achieve its “carbon plans and goals.”

Very interesting was an update on the status of REDD negotiations given by Tony La Viña. He reported that a first guidance decision had been adopted the previous day, which addressed enforcing and monitoring the implementation of safeguards but allowed future modifications should it be needed. He lamented that while this is not a perfect solution, negotiators are “flying blind” and thus it may be a good way to approach the situation. Several speakers honored the late Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Wangari Maathai, and the Green Belt Movement introduced a short film paying tribute to her memory. And finally Frances Seymor of CIFOR, one of the main organisers behind Forest Day, announced that she will be stepping down as CIFOR Director-General in 2012.

In summary, my first day in Durban was filled with forest issues as I had hoped for, and while I was slightly disappointed by the lack of detail for the sake of lots of talking and rhetoric on the general role of forests, this actually shows that forests have finally made it up to the policy agenda and they have arrived at the “policy talk-level” that might not be so concerned with the technical details in the first place. After all, I would say that can be seen as a success!

Authors: Sabine Henders
Tags: Blog

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