Among the most contentious items on the agenda at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro was the discussion on the global transition to sustainable forest management (SFM). Forests are centers of biodiversity, and play a key role in the hydrological cycle and in carbon storage. They are also vital to the livelihoods of billions of people, as sources of woodfuel, building materials, food and timber.

Government representatives at Rio failed to reach a legally binding agreement on forests, choosing instead to adopt a "non-legally binding" set of Forest Principles and a general chapter on deforestation in Agenda 21, the principal text of the Rio agreement. The challenge since Rio has been for Northern and Southern countries to arrive at an integrated international plan of action on forests.

IISD has contributed to this process with targeted communications products aimed at improving the transparency and clarity of the discussions at a variety of fora. These fora include the Inter-governmental Forum on Forests (IFF) of the UN Commission for Sustainable Development, the World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development (WCFSD), various discussions on criteria and indicators of SFM, as well as other civil society initiatives. As well, IISD served as the secretariat of the World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development.

IISD has also worked at the local level in Canada to help aboriginal peoples identify community values with respect to the forested landscape around them and to articulate these to decision-makers in the provincial government. Current activities include:

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