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News in brief June 2017

A new report from the European Academies Science Advisory Council clearly states that bioenergy is not carbon neutral and calls for robust LULUCF rules and forest conservation. The report “Multi-functionality and sustainability in the European Union’s forests,” offers an analysis of the conflicting demands placed on forests, and provides several recommendations to policymakers on LULUCF accounting, bioenergy sustainability criteria, biodiversity conservation and forest management practices. Having been reviewed by science academies in each EU Member State, the report enjoys broad scientific support. Read more on Fern’s blog.

In its May 2017 Conclusions on Indigenous Peoples, the EU Foreign Affairs Council underscores the need for a rights-based approach concerning indigenous peoples. The Conclusions reiterate the October 2016 Commission Joint Staff Working Document “Implementing EU External Policy on Indigenous Peoples,” which committed to developing EU policy in keeping with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It notes that the EU’s rights-based approach to development is the main way the EU can integrate support to indigenous peoples in implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. “The Council also underscores the crucial importance of further enhancing opportunities for dialogue and consultation with indigenous peoples at all levels of EU cooperation, including in EU-funded programmes and projects under all aid modalities to secure their full participation and their free, prior and informed consent in a meaningful and systematic way, and to inform and underpin EU external action policy and its implementation worldwide.”

The EU Foreign Affairs Council adopted the new European consensus on development, on 19 May 2017, in which the EU and Member States reaffirm their support for the conservation and sustainable management of forests, tackling illegal logging and its associated trade. However, a startling omission, (as Fern noted in an earlier version in December) is that no support is expressed for the FLEGT Action Plan. FLEGT is unique in using trade to address illegal logging and its root causes, including corruption and a lack of clarity over land tenure rights. In addition, as stated by CONCORD, development NGOs are concerned about the overall direction of European development cooperation, which is being progressively used to favour migration control, securitisation and the private sector.  

The European Union will have to secure approval from national parliaments in order to finalise a free trade deal with Singapore, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has said, 16 May 2017. The ECJ opinion may have far-reaching consequences: the Singapore Free Trade Agreement is similar in its structure to a host of other agreements the EU has in the pipeline. While the ECJ acknowledged that a large part of the trade agreement does fall under exclusive EU competence, it highlighted that portfolio investment and dispute settlement between investors and the state cannot be established without Member State consent. Dispute settlement mechanisms are a contentious issue that pushed thousands of Europeans citizens on the streets in recent years to stop TTIP and CETA deals. The ECJ decision provides an opportunity to make an even stronger case for forests and forests peoples who may be affected by trade and investments agreements.

Fern, its Congolese partner Forum pour la Gouvernance et les Droits de l’Homme (FGDH) and other civil society organisations in the Congo Basin welcomed the Central African Forest Initiative’s (CAFI)  commitment to engage in regular dialogue with international NGOs, “while recognizing the primary importance of dialogues occurring at the national level.” They were pleased that CAFI is considering linking with international commitments such as the New York Declaration on Forests, the Amsterdam Declaration towards eliminating deforestation from agricultural commodity chains with European countries, and the Marrakech Declaration on sustainable palm oil production in Africa. However, as CAFI makes headway in the Congo Basin, particularly in the Republic of Congo, Fern and Congolese civil society organisations are asking the CAFI Board to strengthen coordination with FLEGT. If CAFI wants to demonstrate its dedication to improving forest governance in the Congo Basin, it should promote stronger coordination with national Voluntary Partnership Agreement processes and incorporate the their transparency and participation principles into the implementation of CAFI programmes.

In its first case dealing with indigenous peoples’ rights, the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights ruled in favour of the Ogiek community, one of Kenya’s few remaining forest-dwelling communities. The decision follows an eight-year legal battle that affected 35,000 people. The complaint alleged violations to the Ogiek’s rights to life, property and natural resources. The Court found that the Kenyan government violated seven separate articles of the African Charter in a land rights case. “Crucially the Court has recognised that the Ogiek – and therefore many other indigenous peoples in Africa – have a leading role to play as guardians of local ecosystems, and in conserving and protecting land and natural resources, including the Mau Forest,” said Lucy Claridge, legal director of the Minority Rights Group who argued the case before the Court. This is the largest case ever brought before the African Court since it began operating in 2006.