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Switzerland leads global effort to protect forests

More than two million hectares of forest are cut down each year in Indonesia Keystone

Experts from more than 50 countries are due in Switzerland on Tuesday to discuss how they can improve protection of the world’s forests.

This content was published on April 26, 2004 - 16:13

The environment agency says Swiss conservation programmes could serve as models for other nations struggling to halt the destruction of tropical rainforest.

The four-day event, jointly organised by Switzerland and Indonesia, runs until Friday in the lakeside town of Interlaken.

“The workshop in Interlaken will give experts from all over the world the opportunity to exchange their experiences,” Philippe Roch, director of the environment agency, told swissinfo.

“It’s very unlikely that they’ll reach a political agreement, but the meeting will facilitate cooperation between different countries and come up with some proposals ahead of the United Nations Forum on Forests," he added.

The forum is scheduled to take place at the UN's European headquarters in the Swiss city of Geneva from May 3 to 14.

Swiss officials say the country’s woodland has recovered well from a period of extensive deforestation more than a century ago.

"We think that the example of Switzerland could be useful for other countries," said Roch.

Football pitches

The environment agency estimates that an area of forest the size of approximately 25,000 football pitches disappears every 24 hours in the tropics.

“The forest is a real global issue and we all depend on the state of forests in the world,” Roch said ahead of the opening day of the conference on Tuesday.

Swiss environment officials say the fact that central governments own around 77 per cent of the world’s forests is one of the main reasons for deforestation. They are calling for more decentralisation.

Swiss legislation on forests and woodland is coordinated and enacted in conjunction with local and regional authorities.

“When local populations are given greater decision-making powers and access to income from the use of the forest, they are generally more motivated to conserve and manage the resource more carefully,” the agency said in a statement.

Doris Capistrano of the Indonesia-based Center for International Forestry Research says forests can only survive if decisions on how to protect them are taken at a local or regional level.

“Decentralisation is happening in more than 60 countries and in many cases this has led to good results,” she said.

Worrying future?

Switzerland may be hosting the conference, but the international event comes at a time when the country's environment agency is being forced to scale back its own conservation programmes.

The agency is losing almost a fifth of its budget as part of a major round of cuts in public spending agreed by parliament last November.

One-third of Switzerland is covered by forest, but the budget for forestry management is to be reduced by SFr42 million.

International cooperation will also be cut as the agency seeks to refocus its priorities.

Around 20 of its 270 staff are expected to lose their jobs by the end of 2005.

swissinfo

Key facts

Every day an area of forest the size of approximately 25,000 football pitches disappears in the tropics.
The first Swiss forestry law was passed in 1876.
More than 170 people from just over 50 countries, including Indonesia, are due to take part in the conference in Interlaken.
The meeting comes ahead of the United Nations Forum on Forests, which is scheduled to take place in Geneva from May 3 to 14.

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