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Dialogue on differences and synergies of FLEGT and certification 

Aug 21, 2019 | FLEGT Policy News

A conference on “sustainable tropical timber” organised by IDH, the Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative as a part of the International Sustainability Week in June opened dialogue on “the differences and synergies of FLEGT and certification”. The discussion was part of a wider event attempting to analyse the development of sustainable tropical timber imports in Europe and discuss lessons learned from the FLEGT VPA process in Ghana. 

According to an article on the event published in ITTO’s bimonthly Tropical Timber Market Report (p 17 ff), the dialogue on FLEGT and certification involved representatives of FSC and PEFC. The role of “making the case for FLEGT” was assigned to David Hopkins of the UK Timber Trade Federation, reflecting the strong support given to FLEGT by the British federation 

The dialogue provided some useful insights, including that delegates agreed on the “specific benefits of FLEGT, particularly the focus on governance and the development of licensing systems with full engagement at national level in the producer countries, which brings scale into assurance”. There was also agreement that FLEGT and certification were complementary rather than competing, with FLEGT and related reforms making subsequent certification easier.  

Unfortunately, the article concludes, the discussion in Utrecht was too brief to reach any real conclusions on the question if and when FLEGT-licensed timber may be given greater acknowledgement in procurement policies and targets now being promoted for timber products by IDH”.  

Double-standards for timber and palm oil 

This was considered particularly important in the context of IDH – and other European tropical wood promotion programmes and agencies – currently only recognizing FSC and PEFC certified products as “sustainable” timber imports. Preliminary results of a study on the current volume of “verified sustainable” timber trade in the EU market commissioned by IHD and presented during the event took only PEFC and FSC certified timber into account. As a result, it reckonwith a share of just 28.5% of European tropical timber imports being “verified sustainable”. The around 11% of additional imports of primary tropical timber products imported into the EU from Indonesia, with a FLEGT-license, were not included in the calculation. Nor was the fact acknowledged that “all timber products, unlike all other “forest risk” commodities, have been subject since March 2013 to regulatory due diligence requirements”. 

Against this background, the Tropical Timber Market Report article particularly criticizes that the figure of 28.5% was contrasted during the event against a claim that 74% of palm oil imported for food into Europe was “verified sustainable”. In the case of palm oil, RSPO certification, which only requires that “primary forests and those with high conservation values are not converted for new plantations” is considered sufficient by IDH to make it “sustainable”.  

The article callfor a level playing-field in terms of sustainability standards for all “forest risk” commodities, including the extension of regulations like the EU Timber Regulation to other commodity sectors, rather than relying on voluntary commitments. It also calls for continuing dialogue between FLEGT, FSC and PEFC and more cross-sectoral “discussions and sharing of ideas” with other “forest-risk” commodities.  

A new EC Communication on stepping up EU action to protect and restore the world’s forests published on 23 July may provide a basis for such dialogue. 

EC adopts new framework of actions to protect and restore forests 

The Communication observes that “80% of global deforestation is caused by the expansion of land used for agriculture”. It also recognises that “EU consumption of food and feed products is among the main drivers of environmental impacts, creating high pressure on forests in non-EU countries”.  

Consumption of timber products, by contrast, is not listed among the drivers of deforestation, but said to be contributing to forest degradation through “unsustainable exploitation of forest resources e.g. for use as domestic energy”. 

The fact that the FLEGT Action Plan tackles illegal logging and strengthens forest governance, but does not address deforestation caused by agricultural expansion is identified as a critical gap in EU action by the new EU Communication. 

The Communication also recognises that targets set in a previous Communication from 2008, including to “reduce gross tropical deforestation by 50% by 2020” are unlikely to be met and that action must be “stepped up” and the EU “take an even stronger leadership role in protecting and restoring the world’s forests”. Increased action, as now announced, is in line with the EU objective to halt global forest cover loss by 2030 and the strategic long-term vision for a climate neutral economy by 2050 

The Communication does not lay out a firm action plan, as the current Commission’s mandate is drawing to a close, but identifies a number of priorities and proposals for action for the new Commission to decide upon: 

 Priority 1: Reduce EU consumption footprint on land and encourage the consumption of products from deforestation-free supply chains in the EU 

Key actions proposed: 

    • Establish a platform for multi-stakeholder and Member State dialogue on deforestation, forest degradation and on sustainably increasing the world’s forest cover. 
    • Encourage strengthening standards and certification schemes that help to identify and promote deforestation-free commodities. 
    • Assess additional demand side regulatory and non-regulatory measures to ensure a level playing field and common understanding of deforestation-free supply chains.  

Some of the proposed actions, especially number three, give reason to hope that standards for “forest-risk” commodities in the EU market might be equalised and become compulsory.  

Priority 2: Work in partnership with producing countries to reduce pressure on forests and to “deforest-proof” EU development cooperation 

Key actions proposed 

    • Ensure that deforestation is included in political dialogues at country level and help partner countries to develop and implement national frameworks on forests and sustainable forest management 
    • Ensure that EU support for agricultural, infrastructure, mining, urban, peri-urban and rural policies in partner countries does not contribute to deforestation and forest degradation 
    • Help partner countries to implement sustainable forest-based value chains and promote sustainable bio-economies 
    • Develop and implement incentive mechanisms for smallholder farmers to maintain and enhance ecosystem services 


Actions proposed under Priority 2 underline the importance of developing common understanding of how “sustainable production and consumption of wood products” can be defined and achieved at scale. 

Priority 3: Strengthen international cooperation to halt deforestation and forest degradation and encourage forest restauration 

Key actions proposed: 

    • Strengthen cooperation on policies and actions to halt deforestation, forest degradation and restore forests in key international fora 
    • Promote trade agreements that include provisions on the conservation and sustainable management of forests and further encourage trade of agricultural and forest-based products not causing deforestation or forest degradation. 

Priority 4: Redirect finance to support more sustainable land-use practices 

Key actions proposed: 

    • Assess (…) possible sustainable mechanisms to catalyse green finance for forests. 
    • Consider improving company reporting on the impacts that company activities have on deforestation and forest degradation.  

Priority 5: Support the availability of, quality of and access to information on forests and commodity supply chains. Support research and innovation. 

Key actions proposed:  

    • Establish an EU Observatory on deforestation, forest degradation, changes in the world’s forest cover, and associated drivers. 
    • Explore the feasibility of developing a Copernicus REDD+ service component. 
    • Improve coordination of work among relevant research institutes. 
    • Share innovative EU practices on circular economy, sustainable bio economy, renewable energy, smart agriculture and other relevant areas.