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By Mr Thang Hooi Chiew, former Assistant Director-General of Forestry (Macro & Micro Planning), Forestry Department Headquarters Peninsular Malaysia
Introduction The world's environment has been degraded by decades of industrial and other forms of pollution, including unsafe disposal of toxic and hazardous wastes, nuclear testing and unsustainable practices in agriculture, fishery and forestry. The excessive consumption, especially of fossil fuels, has resulted in the emission of substantive amount of greenhouse gases which has become a daily affair.
In fact, the relationship between economic development and environmental degradation was first placed on the international agenda in 1972 with the convening of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm, Sweden. However, little was done in the intervening years to integrate environmental imperatives into national economic planning and decision-making.
By 1983, awareness about worldwide environmental stress has mounted resulting in the Brundtland Commission's report to conclude in 1987 that sustainable development should be looked upon as an alternative approach to economic growth. The report also noted that there was a "serious lack of funding for conservation projects and strategies that improve the resource base for development". In this context, environmental concerns are pervasive within and between countries, and are of a local, national, and global nature. A broad-based and integrated environmental strategy linked with sound economic and social policies for sustainable development is necessary to address them. It is evident that sound environmental management is an intrinsic part of the sustainability of the development process.
In response to these environment and development concerns, the United Nations at its Forty-fourth Session of the General Assembly held in March 1990 adopted Resolution 44/228 which called for the convening of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) which was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from 3 - 14 June, 1992. The major concern of developed countries at the Conference also known as the Earth Summit on forest is on account that forest is important, among others, for carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestration, preservation of biological diversity and the maintenance of an equable climate.
Since UNCED, global concern on the future of forest resources has grown in earnest. In this context, global forest degradation and deforestation, the need for sustainable forest management and related issues such as the loss of biological diversity, mitigation of climate change and environmental degradation have been seen as a widespread problem requiring international remedial actions. A major consequence has been various unilateral actions advocated to halt tropical forest degradation and deforestation, including among others, bans and boycotts, and ecolabelling and certification of tropical timber.
This paper will attempt to highlight some of the major international issues that are pertinent to the forest sector and which are currently being debated at the global level, notably by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development.