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Raise the forest protection bar with FLEGT, urge CSOs

Jul 27, 2021 | FLEGT Policy News, News

A total of 49 NGOs and civil society organisations (CSOs) have issued a statement backing further development of the EU FLEGT initiative as a key tool in maintaining forests and their role in climate regulation.

The eight-page document, Raising the bar; Strengthening EU biodiversity and climate leadership through FLEGT and Forest Partnerships, is signed by bodies from Asia, the Pacific, the Americas, Europe, and West and Central Africa. They range from the Liberian Foundation for Community Initiatives and Kaoem Telapak of Indonesia, to Client Earth, the Environmental Investigation Agency and Fern.

This alliance came together to express their views after the release of initial critical findings from the European Commission’s EUTR and FLEGT Fitness check earlier this year. These raised concerns about the continuing commitment of the EU to FLEGT in its current format, prompting Fern to post the opinion piece  Abandoning FLEGT Licences would harm forest governance and legal timber trade.  It’s clearly the hope of signatories of Raising the Bar that their opinions are taken into account in the final EC Fitness Check conclusions, which are set to be released later this year, and in any subsequent policy decisions.    

The statement opens with the NGO and CSOs’ key action points for the EU to help it deliver ‘policy commitments… to strengthen forest governance and protect and restore forests’. These are to:

  • Use the FLEGT Fitness Check to strengthen the FLEGT Action Plan and the EUTR and address obstacles that hamper their effective implementation
  • Provide tailored support to VPA countries ensuring CSOs, local communities and indigenous groups have the space and capacity to participate, and maintain the integrity of the VPAs
  • Develop ambitious, inclusive and rights-based Forest Partnerships that respond to the partner countries’ needs and support them to comply with new EU supply chain regulations.

Various reports are cited to back the view that the EU FLEGT Action Plan ‘remains a relevant and innovative response to the challenge of illegal logging’

“It has improved forest governance in partner countries and put the issue of illegal logging at the forefront of policy concerns,” states Raising the Bar. “It is strengthening legal and institutional frameworks and increasing multi-stakeholder dialogue and participation.”

Through increasing transparency in [VPA] partner countries, it adds, it has also reduced  demand for illegal timber in the EU, helping create a level playing field for the legitimate timber trade.

“Specifically VPAs have directly and positively impacted forest management and helped timber-producing countries and companies to improve their environmental practices and reputation,” it states.

The statement signatories say they expect the EC’s final evaluation report from the EUTR/FLEGT Fitness Check to ‘provide a balanced, comprehensive assessment of both regulations’ that includes the views of stakeholders, including EU and partner country CSOs.

The EU’s response, they maintain, provides an opportunity to strengthen FLEGT and the EUTR, ‘while maintaining the integrity of VPAs to encourage the legal timber trade and more inclusive socio-economic benefits for producing countries’.

Any lowering of the bar on measures to curb illegal logging and illegal timber trade, says the statement, ‘would send the wrong message to partner countries’.  Any changes made unilaterally would also  ‘compromise the EU’s leadership on climate and the environment and raise concerns among other markets that the EU is weakening its position’.

The statement also makes recommendations for strengthening VPA implementation in individual partner countries and for development of EU Forest Partnerships with supplier countries under the auspices of the European Green Deal.

Its concluding recommendations on FLEGT include that the EU:

  • Continues to invest in VPAs;
  • Keeps FLEGT licensing as a key element of VPAs;
  • Strengthens enforcement of the EUTR to tackle risks;
  • Steps up forest diplomacy and coordination in VPA countries;
  • Promotes legality as the first step to sustainability.