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Biodiversity offsetting

Fern’s aim is to ensure environmental protection in the EU focuses on how to avoid damage by highlighting problems related to offsetting mechanisms

Fern’s analysis: The European Commission has recognised the importance of tackling biodiversity loss. However, the tool it is currently considering to tackle this – called ‘biodiversity offsetting’ – relies on the premise that biodiversity lost in one place can be replaced in another, achieving ‘no net loss’. Biodiversity is not an item on a shop shelf: offsetting ignores how unique and interconnected biodiversity is and overlooks the importance of nature for local communities who are negatively impacted when local wildlife is damaged. Worst of all, rules about how we determine land-use depend upon whether a company can pay for an offset, not on what local communities want. This is a paradigm shift for environmental law in the EU, and must be stopped.


Fern’s aim is to limit the EU’s industrial use of wood for energy

Fern’s analysis: Whilst the need to reduce fossil fuel use is clear, some alternatives, such as large scale biomass use can be as bad for the environment, the climate and people. Wood has always been an important source of energy, for local and traditional uses, but in recent years ‘biomass’ has been promoted by the EU on a large industrial scale as a ‘renewable energy source’. This has put an increasing pressure on forests and people in Europe and globally.

The EU is presently considering how it can meet a new target of having at least 27 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2030. Great caution will need to be applied if biomass is to be considered as part of that energy mix. Forests have an important climate function, and wood is a scarce natural resource which emits greenhouse gas emissions when burned for energy. This negative effect is not matched by the climate benefits that the biomass sector claims. Plus, partly because of a lack of EU rules, the sourcing, production and use of biomass currently cause negative environmental and social impacts.

The present EU renewable energy policy drives demands for wood, in an era where land and forests are already under pressure by increasing hunger for natural resources for the production of food and materials. If the EU is to meet its aim of halting deforestation by 2030, it cannot continue to subsidise demand for yet another commodity that drives deforestation: biomass.

Carbon Trading

Fern’s aim is to move the climate debate beyond carbon trading and to support communities faced with carbon offset projects.

Fern’s analysis: The European Commission has described climate change as “one of the greatest environmental, social and economic threats facing the planet”. Fern believes that to attempt to combat such a threat with a market mechanism designed to allow emissions in one place to continue on the back of a claimed reduction in another place is foolish. Reductions need to happen everywhere, particularly in industrialised countries. And they need to happen now. We should not be spending time, money and effort putting in place the infrastructure for a new global carbon trading scheme at the expense of investment in genuine emission reductions and establishing low carbon energy and transport infrastructures. 

Certification and Procurement

FERN’s aim is to advance the debate about the contribution of certification schemes to strengthening forest peoples’ rights and improving forestry practices and legislation. Our work on timber procurement aims to ensure the EU and Member States include forest peoples´rights and responsible forestry practices in their procurement policies.

FERN’s analysis: Whether or not to choose certified products is now an issue many people will have considered, as certification schemes have been developed for virtually every item on sale. Experience with certification schemes related to forest management during the past two decades has however shown the limits of certification in achieving real change in forestry practises on the ground. Certification schemes are often dominated by the forestry sector and, where this is not the case, certification bodies are increasingly certifying operations with poor forest management practices or that don’t fully recognise the rights of local communities.          

Development Aid

Fern’s aim is to improve the quality of EU and Member State aid so it contributes to the protection of forests and the recognition of forest peoples' rights.

Fern’s analysis:The European Union is by far the world’s largest donor. In 2013 the top 12 donors, in terms of the proportion of Overseas Development Aid (ODA) to Gross National Income, were European countries. European ODA increased from EUR 40.4 billion in 2002 to EUR 70.0 billion in 2012.EU ODA commitments for climate change mitigation increased more than four-fold between 2007 and 2011, reaching EUR 0.98 billion in 2011. The European country giving most aid was Norway and Germany was the Member State which spent the most on biodiversity. The element of ODA that went to forest-related projects also dramatically increased between 2002 and 2012, from EUR 130.2 million to EUR 493.2 million, while disbursements identified as biodiversity increased from EUR 74.8 million to EUR 329.6 million. Although this is all positive in principle, the increase in spending has often gone hand in hand with cuts in staff. Furthermore not all spending ensures that the rights of local people are being respected.

What Fern is doing: Fern has been working on this issue since 1995. Successes include ensuring that country environmental profiles (reports analysing the country's environmental situation) must now guarantee all aid programmes take ecological considerations and the rights of local communities into account. More recently our work has focused on effective implementation of the EU FLEGT Programme, funded by the European Commission and EU Member States (see

EU Drivers of Deforestation

Fern’s aim is to ensure that EU policies tackle the agricultural drivers of deforestation through reduced consumption in the EU and recognition of local communities’ tenure rights in agricultural commodity producing countries


Fern’s analysis: Almost 70 per cent of deforestation in the tropics is for commercial agriculture, and in countries such as Brazil, up to 90 per cent of this has been shown to be illegal. The EU has committed to halting deforestation by 2030, but their own forest footprint study shows that the EU is one of the largest drivers of deforestation in the world. A footprint this large can’t be tackled by positive individual diet and lifestyle changes alone, success will depend upon changing existing EU policies and developing new ones. Areas such as consumption, production, energy, agriculture, trade and investment, and finance all need to be looked at. The big challenge is how to ensure that EU action addresses the root causes of conversion rather than pushing the market elsewhere. The key lies in supporting land use processes in producer countries that recognise and strengthen the rights of forest communities.

European Forests

Fern’s aim is to push for forestry practice and conservation in Europe which halt biodiversity loss and protect important habitats.

Fern’s analysis: Of all ecosystems, forests are home to the largest number of species on the continent and provide important environmental functions, such as the conservation of biodiversity and the protection of water and soil. In the EU, forests and other wooded land now cover 155 million ha and 21 million ha respectively (more than 42 per cent of the EU land area). The majority of these forests consist of semi-natural stands and plantations and only about 5 per cent of the forests are “natural or undisturbed by human activity”. Thirty per cent of pan-European forests are now dominated by one single tree species, 50 per cent are forests of 2 or 3 species. About 87 per cent of European forests (excluding the Russian Federation) are even aged (MCPFE, State of European forests 2007).

Export credit agencies

Fern works towards EU trade and investment policies that do not subsidise climate change and ensure strict financing rules are in place for institutions such as Export Credit Agencies. 

Fern’s analysis: Despite the EU’s claim that it is a leader in halting climate change, its trade and investment policies are in fact worsening the situation. Among the most damaging institutions supported by EU policies are Export credit agencies (ECAs) and the European Investment Bank who continue to finance destructive activities and the fossil fuel industry to the tune of millions. Nearly 10 per cent of world exports are supported by ECAs, approximately twice the world’s total overseas development assistance.

Finance and trade

Fern wants EU financial institutions to stop funding forest destruction and human rights abuses.

The financial sector plays a crucial role in enabling activities that lead to forest loss and unfair treatment of forest communities, including providing project finance and financial services that enable forest loss. The EU financial sector’s role in funding and facilitating the expansion of large scale environmentally and socially destructive agriculture is significant.

Fern works to curb this negative impact by strengthening the framework of laws, rules and accepted practices governing how EU banks and Financial Institutions handle investments and transactions relating to forests and forest communities, especially land tenure. We research ways that Anti-Money Laundering rules can be used to tackle illicit money flows related to illegal logging.

Forests, land use and climate

Fern is campaigning for strong EU climate ambition in all sectors, including land use and forests.

Fern’s analysis: To keep global warming to below two degrees centigrade, emissions must be reduced in all areas. Phasing out fossil fuel emissions is of urgent necessity and is a priority, but it is not enough. The planet’s carbon carrying capacity – its land and forests – are rapidly disappearing, and their loss makes up 25 per cent of global emissions. Recognising this can help reverse the trend and encourage the restoration of degraded ecosystems.

In other words, we must both stop burning fossil fuels and stop degrading ecosystems, not one or the other. Land based sequestration can therefore not be considered as a way to offset industrial emissions. There are key differences between carbon emitted from combustion of fossil fuels and carbon sequestered in land and forests (terrestrial carbon) - this means they cannot be considered interchangeable. Sequestration of carbon in land and forests is not permanent, is hard to measure and has high inter-annual variability, unlike fossil emissions. Land and forests also provide homes and livelihoods to millions of people, and protect biodiversity.

Illegal logging

Illegal logging is directly connected to corruption, weak and unclear laws, compromised officials, feeble government institutions and fragile civil society. It devastates communities, destroys the environment, denies tax revenue to governments and can trap countries in a cycle of poverty.

Laws can also however forbid small scale logging despite it often being both sustainable and an integral part of the local economy, supporting political parties, small companies, and local communities. This is why just clamping down on illegal activities doesn’t get to the root cause of the problem.

It will only be possible to tackle the root causes of illegal logging if:

  • It is possible to see and record what is happening (transparency),
  • People are being held to account for upholding the law (accountability),
  • People have the skills, time and resources to monitor logging activities and point out any problems (capacity), and
  • Relevant laws support, not undermine, local communities’ rights (just laws).

A capable and well-informed local, national and international civil society can help to achieve these changes, by demanding transparency, holding institutions and individuals to account, challenging the excessive influence of the timber industry over forest policies, and campaigning for legal reform.

To ensure that attempts to end illegal logging are successful, ‘just’ laws need to be in place to ensure that the legal system supports communities, instead of penalising them. This means that the people affected by forestry operations must have the power to influence legislation and policies related to forestry, and be able to campaign for effective enforcement.