On 21-23 June 2017, the European Commission met with stakeholders from across the world to discuss future work on tackling deforestation and illegal logging. The meeting, in Brussels, attracted more than 250 representatives from timber producer and consumer countries, private sector and civil society, indigenous and local communities, European Union Member States, and international organisations.
Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, said in his opening speech that the conference was a major opportunity for international partners and stakeholders to exchange views and provide input to shape future EU action to tackle illegal logging and wider deforestation challenges. Stefano Manservisi, Director-General for International Cooperation and Development said in his opening speech that forests are a global public good and the EU’s efforts to address the challenges forests face — including through the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan — are part of the wider agenda for development.
Tackling illegal logging
The first part of the conference focused on illegal logging, in particular on future implementation of the EU FLEGT Action Plan. Participants shared experiences and lessons learnt in implementing the Action Plan and provided input into the European Commission’s initial thinking on future work.
In closing the first part of the conference, the moderator Frances Seymour (World Resources Institute) highlighted the following main messages:
- All participants recognised the FLEGT Action Plan’s achievements and continue to support its implementation, while recognising the need to address implementation challenges.
- With its innovative approach, FLEGT contributes to creating political and technical partnerships on forest governance, including between EU and partner countries, and among stakeholders. Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) are a cornerstone, but the EU should also continue to support FLEGT objectives through a range of instruments.
- Reinforcing VPAs in a flexible and realistic way is key, but requires further clarity about how ‘flexibility’ can be put into practice and how it could be applied in different contexts. It was stressed that EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) checks can only be avoided with FLEGT licences.
- The participants acknowledged that VPA success is related not only to licences, but also to wider achievements in terms of better governance of forests; it is important to seek ways to enhance other governance-related results.
- The EUTR is a central element of the FLEGT Action Plan, and is positively starting to change operators’ behaviour, and influence other global players. Continued work with other global players, both bilaterally and multilaterally, is essential to amplify the impact of FLEGT and close gaps at the global level.
- Resource availability is critical and financial sustainability should be increasingly considered as part of the joint efforts to tackle illegal logging and related trade. There is a need for innovative financial engineering to attract large-scale investment for sustainable forest management.
- Transparency is crucial to improve credibility as well as to ensure trust. Both the private sector and the civil society are eager to see improvements in this area.
- Participants noted the potential synergies between private certification schemes and VPAs, while also acknowledging limitations.
- Informality of small and medium enterprises is a large-scale problem, and requires specific support.
- Addressing forest conversion needs to take into account rights-based approaches. Addressing illegality in forest conversion is important, but simply reducing forest conversion and addressing sustainability should remain the overall goal.
The second half of the conference focused on the challenges of deforestation, with a particular focus on commodities associated with deforestation, such as soy, beef, palm oil, etc. Participants discussed initiatives from governments, the private sector and civil society organisations to address deforestation and exchanged views on opportunities to step up EU action.
The moderator Frances Seymour (World Resources Institute) highlighted the following main messages:
- Participants called for EU action on the demand and supply side as well as on investment and finance
- Action on these three pillars is needed and mutually reinforcing:
- Demand side signals have an impact on production.
- Supply side actions lead to change on the ground.
- Finance and investment needs to support actions on both the demand and supply sides.
- The EU should be leading the way, but it would be crucial to engage in international cooperation and dialogue with other major importers of commodities associated with deforestation.
- There is a need for policy coherence at EU level by addressing deforestation across EU policies.
- Flexible approaches should be tailored to country needs and country contexts.
- There is a need for a realistic but yet ambitious approach that takes environmental, social and economic factors likewise into account.
- There is a need to strengthen existing efforts by public and private sector, for example:
- Commitments and initiatives by governments of producer countries.
- Various partnerships and forms of collaboration between different stakeholders at local, national, regional and global level.
- Certification, though its limits were clearly recognised as well.
- Sustainable agricultural intensification to reduce the need for forest land while producing the same volume of commodities or even more.
- There is a major need to clarify definitions such as forest, deforestation, deforestation-free, etc.
- Some public and private actors are leading the way and exposing themselves. Their efforts needs to be recognised and ‘laggards’ need to be brought on board by creating incentive for action.
- Transparency is an essential means, not an end in itself.
- Reduction in consumption will be crucial.
- Everybody has a responsibility in this deforestation debate and everybody wants to be part of the solution. Existing actions need to be recognised.
Many more comments were made during the conference, both through participants’ interventions and in writing. The European Commission welcomes the input it received from conference participants.
In his closing remarks, Klaus Rudischhauser, Deputy Director-General at the Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development, thanked participants for their active participation in the conference. In his experience, he said, “new and innovative things never really work if you don’t have all the stakeholders on board.” He added that the European Commission will use the conclusions from the conference for its internal policy development. He closed the conference by asking participants to “keep your commitment to this process.”