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dec10 1b

COP 16, Cancun, Mexico 2010: Focusing on Forests

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The world’s forests are in trouble. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 130,000 km² of the world's forests are lost due to deforestation each year. Conversion to agricultural land, unsustainable harvesting of timber, unsound land management practices, and creation of human settlements account the most for loss of forested areas. The World Bank estimates that forests provide habitats to about two-thirds of all species on earth, and that deforestation of closed tropical rainforests could account for biodiversity loss of as many as 100 species a day. Millions of hectares of forests around the world are destroyed for profit annually, and this in turn is having a catastrophic effect on the world’s climate.

Forests are a vital part of global sustainable development. More than 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods, according to the World Bank, and the forest product industry is a source of economic growth and employment. Global forest products are traded internationally in the order of $270 billion.


Deforestation accounts for up to 20 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. FAO data estimates that the world's forests and forest soil store more than one trillion tons of carbon – twice the amount found in the atmosphere. Comparisons of satellite images of the planet from 1990 and 2010 show a shocking decrease in forest-covered land globally.

But there is hope. The 16th edition of Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 16) will be held in Cancun, Mexico, from 19 November to 10 December 2010 – and considering that 2011 has been dubbed the International Year of Forests (or Forests 2011) by the United Nations, talks on deforestation and the preservation of rainforests may prove to be successful. Additionally, the fourth annual Forest Day is on December the 5th, and therefore runs concurrently with the COP 16 conference.

Forests 2011 provides an excellent platform to increase awareness of the connections between healthy forests, ecosytems, people and economies. Governments, regional and international organizations and civil society organizations are expected to create national committees and designate focal points in their respective countries to facilitate organization of activities in support of the International Year of Forests. Likewise, Forest Day 4 will essentially serve as a bridge between the 2010 Year of Biodiversity and 2011 Year of Forests.


Following the disappointing COP15 summit in Copenhagen last year, governments and corporations from around the world will be no doubt be treating the upcoming COP16 Summit in Cancun with kid gloves in anticipation of another frustrating outcome. However, the less-publicised forest talks at COP 15 were the most successful of the entire event, and these talks proved to be a solid foundation for the Oslo Climate and Forest Conference held in Norway in May 2010.

Given the location of the COP 16 conference, key issues for Amazonian and Central American foresters and forest-dwellers, such as land rights and tenure, as well as forest ownership, will feature prominently in discussions.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is composed of two general categories of participants: the State Parties and the observers. The observers are divided into Intergovernmental Organizations and Nongovernmental Organizations, who must register and accredit themselves before the Convention's Secretariat in order to participate in the Conferences. Only the representatives of the registered organizations will be allowed to attend the sessions of the different bodies of the Convention, as observers. The conference will be held at the Palace Hotel and the Cancunmesse, a new international conference and exhibition center in Cancun.