10 May 2019: The 14th session of the UN Forum on Forests (UNFF14) held technical discussions on implementation of the UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2017-2030 (UNSPF), taking into account the review cycle of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), and the theme of the 2019 International Day of Forests, ‘Forests and Education.’

The meeting discussed the links between the Global Forest Goals (GFGs) and the SDGs under review by the 2019 HLPF: climate change (SDG 13); sustainable economic growth (SDG 8); peaceful and inclusive societies (SDG 16); and education (SDG 4), as well on potential changes to the UNFF Secretariat, and a China office. Beyond the links between the GFGs and the SDGs, delegates and stakeholders addressed monitoring, assessment and reporting, means of implementation, and communication and outreach for the UNSPF.

UNFF14 took place from 6-10 May 2019, at UN Headquarters in New York, US. It brought together more than 300 participants from Member States, international organizations, the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), and Major Groups.

The Forum included three thematic technical panels on links between the GFGs and the SDGs under review by the 2019 HLPF: Forests and Climate Change, which focused on forests in the context of SDG 13 (climate action) and 17 (partnerships for the Goals) and the objectives of the Paris Agreement on climate change; Forests, Inclusive and Sustainable Economic Growth, and Employment, which focused on links between forests and SDGs 8 (decent work and economic growth) and 17; and Forests, Peaceful and Inclusive Societies, Reduced Inequality, Education, and Inclusive Institutions at all Levels, which considered links between forests and SDGs 4 (quality education), 10 (reduced inequalities), 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions) and 17.

In her opening statement, ECOSOC President Inga Rhonda King noted that forests are critical to achieving the SDGs in areas such as climate, biodiversity, water and land degradation, and urged UNFF14 to send a “strong signal” to HLPF 2019 on the importance of forests for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and empowering people through forest services and benefits.

During a discussion on the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) reform pertaining to UNFF, Juwang Zhu, Officer-in-Charge, UNFF Secretariat, assured delegates that the operation and functions of UNFF will not be affected by the DESA reforms, noting that the UNFF’s Secretariat’s capacity to deliver on the Forum’s mandates will be strengthened. He clarified that the Director of the UNFF Secretariat will continue to report to the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, and the forests sub-programme will continue to be independent and implemented by DESA through the UNFF Secretariat. The Director will continue to be accountable to the Under-Secretary-General for the management of the Forum’s resources, he explained, and the forests’ sub-programme budget will continue to be featured separately in DESA’s budget.

Many participants reiterated that the Forum’s ability to deliver its mandate should not be affected by the DESA reforms. One stressed the need for continuous transparency on how the reform is undertaken. Several called for the UNFF Director position to be filled “as a matter of urgency.” Participants called for DESA to recognize UNFF as an independent global body, and urged for strengthening the capacity of the UNFF Secretariat as a separate division in DESA.

On the Global Forest Financing Facilitation Network (GFFFN) office in Beijing, China, the UNFF Secretariat announced that a draft host agreement and a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) were prepared by DESA in coordination with the UN Office of Legal Affairs. The UNFF Secretariat, he reported, will continue to perform the core functions in New York, and the office in Beijing will be complementary and will not have any normative role, responding to the authority of the UNFF Director. He noted that the costs for the Beijing office will be covered in entirety by extrabudgetary resources provided by China.

In the ensuring discussion, participants called for, inter alia, ensuring that the office staffing preserves the international and multicultural requirements of the UN and that leadership of the office be maintained at UN Headquarters in New York, and urged clarity on the division of work between Beijing and UN Headquarters. There was some disagreement on whether to use the UNFF regular funds for the Beijing Office, with China confirming that their offer is for a fully funded GFFFN project office. China further clarified that ongoing negotiations with the UNFF Secretariat, including contents of the MoU, “are open and transparent.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, UNFF14 Chair Boris Greguška (Slovakia) presented a Chair’s Summary, which contains: a summary of technical discussions, for transmission to UNFF15; UNFF14 inputs to the 2019 HLPF, for transmission to the HLPF; information on DESA reforms pertaining to the Forum, for transmission by DESA to appropriate UN bodies that are considering the reforms; and an indicative list of intersessional activities suggested during UNFF14 to facilitate policy deliberations at UNFF15.

UNFF15 will take place from 4-8 May 2020, at UN Headquarters in New York. [IISD RS Coverage of UNFF14] [UNFF14 Website]