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News in brief February 2017

Fern is deeply concerned about the attack on Cercle d’Appui à la Gestion Durable des Forêts (CAGDF) offices in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo (RoC), 25 January 2017. A civil society organisation focused on issues of forest governance, community rights and independent monitoring, CAGDF is the formal Independent Observer mandated by the EU-RoC Voluntary Partnership Agreement to monitor implementation of RoC’s forestry law. Several hooded men entered the premises and tied the guards, savagely wounding one with a military knife. The men took away CAGDF’s computers, laptops, external hard drives, projectors and other equipment, and ransacked the office, searching all office drawers and closets. This is the fourth time that CAGDF’s offices have been looted, and staff fear that they are being ‘watched’. Fern expresses its support for CAGDF, whose tireless efforts help to uncover the numerous governance challenges undermining the country’s forest sector. Fern joins civil society groups in RoC in asking that light be shed on this troubling incident.  

On 26 January 2017, the European Commission issued an update regarding its implementation of the EU Circular Economy Action Plan. Originally presented in December 2015, the Action Plan aims to help the EU develop a more resource-efficient economy, with lower carbon dioxide emissions and concrete targets for recycling. Several areas covered in this plan provide opportunities for NGO engagement on forest-risk commodities, including: securing raw materials, green procurement guidelines, food waste and a review of the EU bioeconomy strategy. In dedicated multi-stakeholder forums, NGOs can make the case for legal, deforestation-free sourcing and draw attention to the limited availability of biomass. As Fern’s analysis further illustrates, significant opportunities for protecting forests and respecting rights also lie outside the Circular Economy Action plan, namely with the Common Agricultural and Trade Policies.

Two months after the UK Government’s December 2016 Global Declaration Against Corruption, in which leaders committed to “expose corruption wherever it is found, to pursue and punish those who perpetrate, facilitate or are complicit in it,” Transparency International EU and Global Witness have released a report calling on the European Commission to integrate anti-corruption principles into the EU’s flagship Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan. The report explains that, as one of the main consumer markets for tropical timber, the EU has a key responsibility to promote and pursue fundamental reforms to tackle corruption in source countries.

Drax, the UK’s biggest power station, can continue destroying forests and emitting greenhouse gases at the taxpayer’s expense, after the European Commission approved millions of pounds in subsidies for the company to burn wood instead of coal. The announcement came one year after the Commission launched its investigation into whether financial support for Drax breaches EU state aid rules (FW 212). The decision means the UK will fund the burning of an extra 2.4 million tonnes of wood pellets at a cost of approximately £1.5 million a day. Fern bioenergy campaigner Linde Zuidema said, “By approving UK government subsidies for Drax, the Commission has effectively issued a license for the continued devastation of US forests and for increasing carbon pollution. This decision also goes against the Commission’s own proposal to cancel biomass burning in electricity-only installations.”

The EU has signed up to numerous commitments to tackle deforestation and climate change, but has yet to define an action plan for how to meet them. Fern’s new report Developing EU measures to address forest-risk commodities: What can be learned from EU regulation of other sectors? looks at measures already adopted or being developed to regulate the trade in timber, fish and minerals and considers how they could be used to address consumption of forest-risk commodities such as soy, palm oil, beef, leather and cocoa.