Pandemic threatens vital role of forests and forest-dependent people, says Council chair

Highlights for Monday, 9 November 2020
Council chair Björn Merkell opened the first virtual session of the International Tropical Timber Council from his office in Sweden.

Tuesday, 10 November 2020: The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the crucial roles played by healthy forests, indigenous peoples, smallholders and local communities, but it has also increased pressure on tropical forests and people dependent on them, according to International Tropical Timber Council Chairperson, Björn Merkell, who spoke yesterday at the virtual opening of the Council’s 56th Session.

“In addition to being a global health crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected global production, with millions of companies worldwide at risk of collapse,” said Mr Merkell. “Small and medium-sized enterprises are the most affected.”

Global timber supply chains are reported to have been severely disrupted, said Mr Merkell, exposing their fragility; thousands of workers have been laid off and demand has plummeted. Citing ITTO-commissioned modelling, Mr Merkell said that the sector may not return to pre-crisis production levels until 2026. He noted that tropical forests are under increased pressure as people migrate back to rural homes in search of refuge, with an associated spike in the use of forest resources to support local needs for food, fibre and energy.

ITTO Executive Director Gerhard Dieterle, who also spoke on the opening day of the virtual Council session, echoed Mr Merkell’s views on the pandemic.

“There is no question that the evolving crisis will have a deep impact on forest industries, domestic and international markets,” said Dr Dieterle. “Moreover, it is amplifying existing challenges, such as the ever-growing pressure on forests, the difficulty in meeting sustainability standards, the lack of finance for biodiversity conservation, and forest governance.”

Dr Dieterle said the pandemic is the result of a breakdown in the relationship between human and natural systems, and responses to it should therefore encompass the protection of ecosystems and the maintenance of their functions.

Mr Merkell said the pandemic provided further impetus for ITTO to encourage the massive restoration of degraded forest ecosystems as part of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, and also to strengthen its efforts to promote wood as a material of choice for “building back better”.

“ITTO is well placed to assist in the recovery of the tropical forest sector,” said Mr Merkell. He listed the provision of sound information on tropical timber markets, the promotion of success stories on sustainable forest management, landscape restoration and legal and sustainable supply chains, and the funding of country-driven projects as means by which ITTO could help tropical forest stakeholders recover from the crisis.

The 56th session of the International Tropical Timber Council, which originally was scheduled to be held in ITTO’s host city of Yokohama, Japan, is being convened virtually for the first time in the Council’s history due to continuing and persisting exigencies caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In his remarks to the Council, Yokohama Deputy Mayor Hayashi Takumi spoke about the close relationship that has developed over more than 30 years between the City of Yokohama and ITTO and the joint work they have done to promote public awareness about international engagement and environmental protection in tropical forests.

Also on the opening day of the virtual session, ITTO Director Sheam Satkuru reported that the Secretariat has filed a Notice of Appeal to the Supreme Court of Japan as the final step against the party involved in the Organization’s financial impairment, as mandated by Council to exhaust all legal avenues. Third-party notices issued against two former staff members implicated in the impairment are ongoing, said Ms Satkuru.

The International Tropical Timber Council meets at least once a year to discuss a wide-ranging agenda aimed at promoting sustainable tropical forest management and the trade of sustainably produced tropical timber.
Daily coverage of the session by IISD reporting services is available at

Yokohama’s Deputy Mayor, Hayashi Takumi welcomes delegates to the 56th Session of the International Tropical Timber Council.
ITTO Secretariat staff helped ensure that the first virtual session of the International Tropical Timber Council encountered no technical hitches. Photo: R. Carrillo/ITTO
Speaking from Sweden, ITTO Executive Director Gerhard Dieterle said that the pandemic will have a deep impact on forest industries and domestic and international markets.
The 56th Session of the International Tropical Timber Council is being convened virtually for the first time.
The 56th Session of the International Tropical Timber Council is being convened virtually for the first time.