Minutes from the FLEGT week 2015 in Brussels in March

Minutes taken from the Forestry Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade week, in Brussels, March 2015.  Whilst FLEGT week had always been a meeting of the projects financed by the EU under the EU Action Plan on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) to discuss about the implementation of the EU Action Plan on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT), the setting this year focused much more on taking stock of the FLEGT Action Plan and its elements and a discussion about the future.

Unlike in other years, a lot of participants from industry and from EU governments, governments negotiating and implementing Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) with the EU as well as other governments from trading partners like China were present. For VPA Partner countries (or those countries, where EU projects linked to governance are taking place) one representative from the government, one from the private sector and one from the NGOs were allowed to participate. Obtaining additional seats for NGOs was rather difficult.

One element which was addressed in some sessions are the ongoing review of the FLEGT Action Plan. A website has been set up by the consultants and country visits will take place in partner countries, as well as in the EU or with other trade partners. http://www.flegt-evaluation.org/the-project/

The presentations and minutes from different sessions, with a number of them taking place simultaneously, can be found in the link for the FLEGT week and below is a summary of all the discussions which took place during FLEGT week. I wanted however to share some thoughts about the impressions from FLEGT week with you: http://www.flegtweek.org/

Whilst at the meeting DG Devco, one of the main implementing EC directorates were rather  positive about the FLEGT Plan and its achievements, in a separate event two weeks later they were much more critical about it and the need for an evaluation to see what the FLEGT Action Plan has really achieved – this deepens my worry that the EU FLEGT Action Plan is under threat and partly for the wrong reasons.

The biggest concern seems to be that no FLEGT licensed timber has entered the EU yet. This is true but to reduce the Action Plan and its work down to that is too simplistic. The FLEGT Action Plan, with all its shortcomings and problems has been a first. A first in trying to bring all relevant stakeholders around the table to discuss about legality in the timber sector, a first in trying to address thoroughly the question of good governance and changes in political systems and a first in trying to establish Legality Assurance Systems that can trace back products to its sources and look at legality from different perspectives.

Not all aims have been achieved so far and there is certainly way for improvement in the Action Plan. Work on public procurement and finance has been neglected, focusing mostly on the Voluntary Partnership Agreements. Implementation of changes in the governance systems and multi- stakeholder participation do not always work well and the Legality Verification Systems are not as far advanced as they should be. But then it should not be forgotten, that, apart from all the technical challenges, there are much deeper problems that the FLEGT Action Plan in general and the Legality Assurance Systems are trying to address, including the lack of law enforcement and corruption.

What does this mean for the future? Looking at the comments made during FLEGT week, there are concerns that the FLEGT Action Plan has not delivered or at least not sufficiently. The engagement in some producer countries is getting less, the changes in governance do take more time than expected, and implementation of the Voluntary Partnership Agreements has been difficult, especially concerning the FLEGT licensing schemes. New challenges have occurred over the last decade that were not there, when the process started, including conversion timber, or the increased importance of agriculture as a driver for deforestation. On the other hand, there were many voices calling the FLEGT Action Plan and especially the VPAs as a ground- breaking, one of its kind approach that has helped to build capacity in civil society in producer countries, improve stakeholder involvement in government decisions, especially for local groups and communities but as well for industry, a process that has led to open discussions about governance, its problems and challenges and that has led to improvements. It has furthermore raised the awareness of illegal timber and underlying problems and led to changes in industry approaches to timber sourcing, including support for certification.

Putting together all these reflections, it comes to mind, that despite all the current challenges, the Action Plan has been a crucial tool in addressing legality and sustainability both from a government and an industry perspective. It was perhaps a bit too optimistic from the Commission to think that changes in how a country is run could be achieved over such a short period of time. Fundamental change takes time and a lot of it. Reducing the achievements of the FLEGT Action Plan to the delivery of legal timber to the EU market is however, as already mentioned above, a short sighted view. In addition, over the last years the capacity in the European Commission on FLEGT has been constantly reduced and compared to REDD+ the financing available for FLEGT was very moderate.

What next? Changes to the FLEGT Action Plan should be made to improve the long- term success of the actions mentioned under it and the new challenges such as the expansion of agriculture commodities need to be incorporated. Certain procedures might need simplification and perhaps some of the objectives need to be assessed to get a “reality check”, not about the sense of the objective but about the time and resources needed to achieve those. WWF has always been supportive to the process and we need to be in the future. Criticism needs to be brought forward where needed but in a constructive way to make the FLEGT Action Plan fit for existing and new challenges, including the need to look at other commodities.

WWF needs to get engaged in the review of the FLEGT Action Plan, showing the importance of this tool and the need for its prolongation but be at the same time critical about what has not worked. I have already shared a draft briefing for the review of the FLEGT Action Plan with some of you. At the moment I am revising this briefing, taking into account the impression of FLEGT week and your comments provided. I will share it with you as soon as it is ready for that you can use it to actively participate in the discussion.

Minutes from FLEGT week 2015 16.03-19.03 2015

Some points that were made during FLEGT which I do think are of importance are the following:

  • FLEGT licensed timber is important but by no means the only indicator for success nor the only one
  • FLEGT is grounded in a good understanding about how policy happens: through political processes, negotiations between different interest groups
  • Despite the slow progress in implementing FLEGT and because of the slow progress, FLEGT has exceeded expectations in transforming forest governance, civil society and community participation was much bigger than expected
  • Serious challenges take time and FLEGT has done amazing things to change things on the ground and to help build capacity in countries
  • Processes like FLEGT have helped changing the mind-set
  • Removing illegal timber from the markets will automatically bring prices up – for the moment there is not enough value put on tropical timber
  • More market space for tropical timber needs to be created, it is harmful if NGOs are always stating that tropical timber is damaging, this will not help the VPAs
  • The EC is importing less tropical timber compared to 10 years ago, other important consuming markets such as China need to be addressed
  • There are a lot of individual company commitments to zero deforestation but companies work on sites and conservation can only be achieved at landscape level
  • After a decade of FLEGT, there are still few formally recognized rights for communities
  • Some NGOs state that the legality definition is sometimes too difficult to implement but there are ways for improvement
  • More focus on anti-corruption measures is needed
  • The small scale industry sector is often not given a priority though it is an important factor that can produce a lot of illegal timber
  • FLEGT with its current focus on legality is a too low barrier, more focus should be put on sustainable sourcing and the role of certification in the future
  • There are new industry commitments that do go beyond certification
  • Approaches to legality should not be EU focused, they need to be multi-national and global
  • Vast amount from illegal timber comes from conversion of forests to agriculture and that needs to be addressed
  • Broader land-use issues need to be addressed
  • The implementation of the EUTR is not the same in all Member States and though there are only few countries left where there are no laws in place, this does not mean that the implementation or the national laws are “good enough”.

Summary of thematic sessions:

1. Governance

  • Governance has the power to  deliver change on the ground
  • VPAs were there driving force for governance processes
  • Despite the slow progress in implementing FLEGT and because of the slow progress, FLEGT has exceeded expectations in transforming forest governance, civil society and community participation was much bigger than expected
  • Transformative, revolutionary, changing the way, politically smart, opening up governance to a wide range of stakeholders as well as important roles for local players
  • Value in democratizing and formalizing governance in certain countries

How can FLEGT be improved?

  • Increased Anti- corruption efforts
  • Law enforcement – transparency and accountability encouraged by FLEGT helped to clean up a dirty industry but much more is needed
  • Domestic markets, artisanal chainsaw loggers and millers need to be more included, needs to be done without creating poverty – in a legalized forest industry

Vision for the future

  • Land tenure reforms – people and communities need to be in charge of their land
  • FLEGT is linked to the climate change agenda
  • Drivers of deforestation need to be addressed, at least have of the world’s deforestation comes from clearance of forests for agriculture products
  • Discussion on whether FLEGT can be used directly for other commodities or not, the approach is certainly relevant to help communities and business and investors to have clearer supply chains
  • FLEGT is a slow process – transformative, slow burning effect needs more attention and respect

2.  Private Sector

  • Majority of participants felt that the private sector was part of the solution, looked at options and ways how the private sector could become a bigger player
  • The market is changing, trade patterns are changing, Africa will become the world’s primary user of fuelwood
  • Share of plantation timber is getting up
  • Market leverage from the EU is decreasing and there is displacement to China and India
  • All over the world the old type concessions are closing down and the land is converted to other use
  • Tropical timber needs to be much better marketed and valued

What is working?

  • Big companies find it easy to get legal
  • But VPA processes can help SMEs by giving them a voice, it might it easier for them to formaize their bu
  • Governments are

How can FLEGT be improved?

  • Reduce the cost of capital
  • Demonstrate to the investment and banking community how FLEGT helps them manage their business and reputational risk (that would reduce cost of industry)
  • Decrease the cost  of capital and banking services for ofLEGT licensed companies

Visions for the future

  • Revive tropical timber  – removing illegal timber from the trade should rise prices up
  • FLEGT can help revive tropical timber by reducing costs (conflict, corruption, capital) and increasing timber prices
  • If we don’t use forests designated for production we will lose them

3.  Timber legality assurance systems, TLAS

  • TLAS are developed and implemented now in 15 countries worldwide
  • Reflect on other approaches such as timber  legality
  • The different systems are different in approaching legality or how technical solutions are used and how governments are engaged
  • TLAS use independed checks

What’s working

  • Timber Legality Assurance Systems (TLAS) are country specific systems of checks and balances where governance issues remain the key motivation
  • TLAS are learning systems  that are made up as they go and build on continuous multi- stakeholder processes
  • Addressing governance systems remains the main motivation to work on TLAS

What can be improved?

  • Take into account costs , capacity, existing systems and the needs of small and medium enterprises (addressing them has become critical)
  • Enhance cross country  learning, including links to private certification schemes (how can certification and TLAS brought closer together)

Vision for the future

  • Strong governance is the foundation of a culture of compliance which supports and enables investment and simper system control (simplification and streamlining)

4.       FLEGT and drivers of deforestation

  • Discussion did not land on that issue but went rather in different directions

Three main conclusions:

  • Why is forest conversion an issue? There are still problems with conversion timber – timber entering the market now is different than as it was 10 years ago, conversion timber is not very well understood – there is groundbreaking research that many don’t agree with – there is a lot of conversion timber in the market, and a lot of it is illegal and contested, we as consumers drive part of that problem
  • Using FLEGT to address drivers of deforestation
    • Existing FLEGT instruments can address the problem of illegal conversion timber, but we need to use them to that effect (is not necessarily done now), needs to be done at a national level – more law enforcement and cooperation about the legal framework for forest conversion is important
  • Beyond FLEGT (beyond the question of governance, which still needs to be addressed) are development choices :
    • Improving governance is crucial to addressing illegal forest land conversion
    • Approaches and instruments are emerging to secure  forest friendly development
    • Private sector commitments and initiatives (commitments from private sector are driving in the agriculture sector)

§  REDD+

  • Green growth strategies
  • EU policy coherence on deforestation (new action on the part of the EU to address deforestation)

5.       Demand- side measures

  • Demand side measures must take into account broader challenges and the broader picture
  • Discussion around the fact, without the support of the supply side, risk the creation of a two tier market (have those complying and the big smaller sector that cannot supply)

What’s working/lessons learned

  • EU timber regulation (EUTR) recognizes FLEGT licensed timber
  • An obligation for operators to register( as in Germany) helps competent authorities communicate with operators  – importers need to be understood
  • Private sector and civil society play a key role in ensuring enforcement of demand side measures (all have limited resources but there is a rich and diverse stakeholder group)

What can be improved

  • Establish closer cooperation between authorities in consuming and producing countries (implementation of the EUTR is essential – that needs to work)
  • Recognize FLEGT licenses within government public procurement policies (not all Member States have procurement policies but only the UK explicitly recognizes FLEGT timber)

Vision for the future

  • Consumer markets are aligned and take a globalized approach (markets are very different now, the weight of the EU market was different than it is now – need a globalized approach to a global problem, need consistent approach in consumer markets, challenges of Japan and China, those markets need to be taken into account)

Recommendations from the closing panel of FLEGT week :

  • Use FLEGT instruments to address illegal conversion
  • Link to climate change agenda
  • Deliver FLEGT licenses
  • Streamline and simplify systems
  • Align consumer markets and go global
  • Strengthen enforcement
  • Mobilize finance and investment
  • Promote synergies  between VPA and certification
  • Strengthen EUTR implementation
  • Visions for future action against illegal logging

By ANKE SCHULMEISTER , Senior Forest Policy Officer, WWF European Policy Office