The relationship between economic development and environmental degradation became a high-profile issue in 1972, at the United Nations (UN) Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. After contentious accusations and debates, the governing body proceeded to establish the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to promote environmental protection.
In 1983, the UN established the World Commission on Environment and Development to accelerate international cooperation. The new Commission developed an alarming report for the UN General Assembly in 1987, which sparked the creation of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). UNCED scheduled the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, in 1992. International representatives, including many heads of state, convened and developed three key agreements:
After the Earth Summit, several European nations considered bans on all tropical timber and related products to curb rainforest destruction. In September 1992, Austria initiated a regulation that required labels on all tropical timber imports and it imposed a stiff import tariff of 70 percent on such products. Tropical-wood exporters, including Indonesia, protested Austria’s unilateral decision to create this misguided eco-labeling law. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) took their protest to the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) and the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT).
At the time, Malaysia and Indonesia were leading exporters of tropical timber. If Austria’s labeling campaign gained traction in other countries, these developing tropical nations would lose jobs and foreign capital. Meanwhile, some of the ASEAN Ministers claimed that developed nations covertly backed the campaign to promote temperate timber by creating trade barriers against tropical hardwoods.
The Indonesian government and forestry producers were under siege. They scrambled to correct misinformation with facts and best practices.
Like most countries, Indonesia has seen the good, the bad and the ugly of natural resource development. Unfortunately, it’s success stories were suddenly overshadowed by its mistakes and the destructive acts of illegal loggers and slash-and-burn farmers. As the caretaker of the second-largest rainforest in the world, Indonesia deserved a place in the global debate.
Crossbow Communications saw an opportunity for Indonesia to create a showcase for the world. Our team suggested that Indonesia host a follow-up meeting to the Earth Summit to specifically discuss the Statement of Forest Principles developed in Rio. Thanks to support from top corners of Indonesian government and global sponsors, including the U.S. Forestry Service, Texaco, the Indonesian Cultural Foundation and the Indonesian Forestry Commission, Indonesia scheduled the Global Forestry Conference in Bandung, Java, in 1993—just eight months after the Earth Summit sparked the latest controversy around tropical timber products. Crossbow’s team helped develop and promote the program. We helped recruit panelists, attendees and media representatives from around the globe.
The Global Forestry Conference created an international showcase for Indonesia’s success stories, while isolating critical issues for discussion and prioritization. Government officials, industry leaders, academic experts and nongovernmental groups from both rich and poor nations participated.
After one week of strategic tours, presentations and one-on-one meetings, Indonesian officials and executives built hundreds of relationships with leaders and influencers from around the globe. The conference shaped new perceptions that had previously been formed in offices thousands of miles away. As a result, leaders crafted the Bandung Initiative for Global Partnership in Sustainable Forest Development. The Initiative called on world leaders, the Secretary General of the United Nations and other agencies to immediately strengthen global partnerships to advance sustainable forestry management. It asked the UN to make forestry the highest priority. It urged all nations to manage forests with the same standards and to lift bans on most tropical timber. Meanwhile, Indonesia confirmed its commitment to ITTO and sustainable forestry.
The media entourage simultaneously generated hundreds of international media placements from the Forestry Conference. As hoped, news coverage was strong and very positive for Indonesia’s forestry practices and products, especially from Germany (a key influencer to Austria and Europe as a whole). The Conference positioned the Indonesian government and forest concessionaires as leaders and responsible partners in sustainable forestry. It helped emphasize the threat of illegal logging and slash-and-burn agriculture and promoted the need to combat those practices globally. Most importantly, Austria rescinded its misguided eco-labeling law and threats of a full-blown trade war ceased.