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White House Fact Sheet on the President's Proposal for a Global Forest Convention

July 11, 1990

President Bush today proposed to the leaders of the summit of industrialized nations that negotiations begin on an international convention on forests.


The U.S. Forest Service estimates that the world is losing about 27 million acres of tropical forest each year. A recent study estimated even higher losses -- in the range of 40 - 50 million acres per year. Severe and widespread forest declines have occurred in eastern and western Europe, and a body of evidence is accumulating that forests in North America and elsewhere are being damaged by stresses caused by air pollution.

The world's forests are the lungs of the Earth, absorbing carbon dioxide from mankind's activities and releasing oxygen critical to human existence. Forests serve as air-conditioners and filters to protect us against heat, dust, and pollutants. They are essential in the protection of water supplies on which agriculture, industry, and cities depend. Not only are they a vital source of wood for fuel and shelter but we are increasingly learning of other resources which can be extracted in a way that provides economic benefits. And forests provide vital habitat for all manner of animal species. The Amazon Basin alone contains over 50,000 species of higher plants and a fifth of all the species of birds on Earth.

The U.S. Proposal

President Bush today proposed at the summit of industrialized nations to begin negotiations as expeditiously as possible on a global convention on forests. This would be a freestanding convention, similar to the highly successful Vienna convention on chlorofluorocarbons. The President proposed that negotiations be completed and the convention be ready for signing by 1992. The President expressed the hope that the convention would, to the maximum extent possible, emphasize market-based mechanisms and flexibility for achieving its goals.

The President outlined several areas in which international cooperation could help to address threats to the world's forests and could lead to positive action:

Research and Monitoring. The convention could accelerate cooperative research in programs to protect natural forests and to improve forest management practices, the development of more cost effective reforestation techniques, and the development of sustainable yield strategies consistent with each country's economic, environmental, and forest management objectives. The President suggested, as a first step, that the Tropical Forestry Institute in Puerto Rico be expanded into a full-fledged International Tropical Forests Institute.

The President proposed the launching of a worldwide network to monitor the world's forests to improve understanding of their health and vigor, the effects of pollution, and the rate at which they are being converted to other uses. The President called for cooperation in developing an inventory of the resources of the world's forests, as a tool for analyzing their potential for new products and uses.

Education, Training, and Technical Assistance. The convention could help establish vehicles for formal and technical training in forest conservation and forest practices, reforestation, and related subjects; for the provision of technical assistance, extension services, and project expertise.

Reforestation and Rehabilitation. The convention could be used to develop national and international strategies for reforestation, timber stand improvement, and restoration of the health of the world's forests. The President highlighted the commitment of the United States to reforestation through his proposal to plant a billion trees a year in America. That proposal is now awaiting funding by the U.S. Congress.

Noting the importance of economics and trade, the President reaffirmed U.S. support for the International Tropical Timber Organization.

Tropical Forestry Action Plan Reform. The President also reiterated U.S. support for the goals of the Tropical Forestry Action Plan and called for strengthening and reform of the programs contained therein, with an emphasis on wise stewardship and sustainable management.

Reduction of Air Pollution. International action is needed to curb acid rain and tropospheric ozone, which are believed to cause damage to forests. This is essential to relieving stress on forests in Europe and to ensure that the restoration and replanting of forests in eastern Europe will be successful. The President has proposed in his Clean Air Act legislation dramatic reductions in emissions which contribute to acid rain (sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides) and ozone formation (volatile organic compounds). The Clean Air Act proposal has passed both Houses of Congress and is awaiting final action by a House-Senate conference committee. The convention could lay the groundwork for bilateral and multilateral agreements with respect to air pollution.

Bilateral and Multilateral Assistance Program. The convention might also address the need for a review of bilateral and multilateral assistance programs to put greater emphasis on conservation of forest areas and sustainable use of forest resources. In addition, it could explore possible ways to promote sound forestry practices and reforestation and to ensure that such programs are not designed in ways which adversely affect forests.

Debt-for-Nature Swaps. The convention could promote sound use and protection for forests through debt-for-nature swaps, particularly with the support of the multilateral developments banks. In addition, it could encourage local currency environmental trust fund programs and similar devices to help finance environmental programs. The United States recently proposed to pursue such arrangements in Latin America as part of its Enterprise for the Americas Initiative.

Removal of Harmful Subsidies. The convention could address itself to identifying and, where appropriate, changing subsidies and other market distortions which inadvertently encourage deforestation or discourage afforestation of lands which could be best used as forest. One possibility is the reduction of subsidies that encourage the conversion of marginal lands that are economically more productive as forest lands into crop or grazing lands.

George Bush, White House Fact Sheet on the President's Proposal for a Global Forest Convention Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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