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News in brief April 2017

As the United Kingdom prepares to leave the EU, NGOs working on forest issues, including Fern, have formed the UK NGO Forest Coalition to ensure the UK continues to work actively on forest issues post-Brexit. On the International Day of Forests (21 March 2017) the Forest Coalition launched their new website: a hub for joined-up action between environmental, human rights and forest organisations to ensure the UK remains a world leader in the fight against forest destruction and biodiversity loss, in promoting sustainable and legal trade in forest products, and in securing jobs and tenure for local people to uphold their rights and reduce poverty. On the site, individuals can follow coalition members’ latest news, commentary and policy developments relevant to global forests.

Tropical forests and the 1.6 billion people who depend on them to survive are under immense pressure from illegal logging, weak governance and large-scale conversion to agriculture. In the March 2017 brief Making VPAs work for forests, people and the climate, civil society organisations across Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America have reaffirmed that the EU’s FLEGT Action Plan and, in particular, its Voluntary Partnership Agreements, if properly implemented, could go a long way to protect forests and the rights of local communities. The brief presents reflections and recommendations on a decade of VPA implementation. Among these: putting greater emphasis on effective governance, human rights compliance reforms, increased transparency and accountability, and improving linkages with relevant processes such as REDD+ and the Nationally Determined Contributions towards the Paris Agreement. Forests are central for the climate, development and people; the VPAs are a unique tool to ensure that their future is not in jeopardy.

Guyana is planning to complete negotiations for a Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement (FLEGT VPA) with the EU by the end of 2017 – this would make it the first South American country to do so. The date represents a delay to the original timeline, and should allow more time for civil society to ensure their concerns are addressed within the text. FLEGT VPAs are the EU’s flagship timber trade deals; at their best they provide a framework for establishing meaningful community and civil society participation in national decision-making, and can begin to embed long-standing governance reforms. It is important not to undermine the high standards established in some VPA processes by rushing others.

As it enters its fourth year, enforcement actions under the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) seem to be gathering momentum. Most recently, after receiving evidence from UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, Ministry of Environment and Food issued injunctions 13 March 2017 prohibiting all Danish operators from placing Burmese teak on the European market. This came after audits at various Danish companies revealed that there wasn’t adequate documentation of the origins of the timber, and whether it was legally harvested. This is not the first time timber from Myanmar has been challenged; recently a Swedish court found that a company importing timber from Myanmar breached the EUTR (FW214, FW221). Follow EU Timber Regulation developments at ClientEarth.

A new report commissioned by the University of East Anglia assesses Civil Society Participation in REDD+ and FLEGT processes in four Africa countries: Cameroon, Ghana, Liberia and the Republic of Congo. The study focuses on participation at the national policy-making level and draws analysis from interviews, questionnaires and secondary research. It concludes that there is growing recognition of civil society’s contribution to national forest governance policy-making in all of the countries. Civil society value their participation positively, and their role was recognised by others such as government representatives in Liberia and International NGOs in Ghana. A conclusion is that across the four countries, the FLEGT processes were much more participatory than the REDD+ processes. The report ends with recommendations both for future policies and for new research that could be undertaken.