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News in brief September 2017

The European Parliament is currently finalising both the new land use and forestry (LULUCF) file and the proposal for the Renewable Energy Directive, at a time when the role of forests in mitigating climate change and cleaning the air we breathe has never been more vital. On 28 September, Fern – in collaboration with BirdLife Europe and MEPs Paul Brannen and Benedek Jávor – will hold an event in the European Parliament to explore how the EU’s climate and energy policies relate to forests, and the role they could play in meeting broader EU socio-economic and environmental objectives. Speakers will include Dr William Gillet (Energy Programme Director of the European Academies Science Advisory Council) and Professor Jaana Bäck (University of Helsinki). For more details and to register to attend, visit: http://bit.ly/2yumik2

Members of the European Parliament from the Greens/EFA group have written a letter to the European Commission expressing deep concerns about the recent proposals by President Temer of Brazil to open a large area of the Amazon Renca reserve to mining exploitation and agroindustry. The MEPs urge the Commission to address the controversial proposals in the on-going EU-MERCOSUR trade deal negotiations. “The EU ́s existing imports from Brazil are dominated by primary products, over a quarter of which are mineral products, so the new EU Mercosur Agreement could have a tremendous impact on the rate of resource extraction in Brazil and potentially from this formerly protected region.” They ask the Commission to make the chapters relating to raw materials publicly available and warn that, if the trade deal threatens the Amazon rainforest, they will vote against it.

Funded partly with public money, Development Finance Institutions (DFIs) provide financing for high-risk projects in developing countries – projects touted as being not only profitable but also environmentally and socially sound. Increasingly, such assertions are being challenged. Fern’s new report European Development Finance Institutions and land grabs: The need for further independent scrutiny by Mark Curtis, sounds the alarm that DFIs may in fact be contributing to land grabs, human misery and environmental degradation. Nine case studies involving eight Member State DFIs document numerous project-related cases of forest clearing, livelihoods lost, livestock destroyed, forced evictions and even beatings – and these are likely not isolated cases. The report flags poor due diligence on the part of DFIs, lack of transparency regarding which projects receive funding and lack of accountability when grievances are raised. It addresses recommendations to DFIs, European and national authorities, and NGOs.

As part of its contribution to the debate on the future of the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, the Central African Republic’s (CAR) civil society platform Gestion Durable des Ressources Naturelles et de l’Environnement (GDRNE) issued a statement asking for the acceleration of vital reforms in the forest sector. This includes improving transparency and accountability through effective implementation of the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), and supporting community management of forests, and the artisanal sector. CAR is grappling with persistent insecurity and inter-communal violence, and the ongoing humanitarian crisis deeply affects oversight of the forest sector and livelihoods. Stronger governance and empowered citizens are key to CAR’s future, and rebuilding the country and its economy will require adequate investments in both governance and people. As the EU reconsiders its support to the VPA and sustainable forest management in CAR and beyond, it is important that the voices of communities and civil society in timber-producing countries and Europe are heard, and that governance improves. Read Fern’s submission on the FLEGT workplan here.

Fern’s new briefing “Independent Forest Monitoring: a chance for improved governance in VPA countries? tells the story of how Cameroon, Ghana, Liberia, and the Republic of the Congo tackled poor governance including corruption, fraud and organised crime. Such illegality generates vast sums of money and has helped fuel long and bloody conflicts. Other consequences include rapid deforestation, social disruption and loss of tax revenues. The briefing shows that even countries with good forest laws can have weak implementation and how independent forest monitoring can help. The briefing is also available in French.

In its recent report, In Search of Opportunities: Voices of children on the move in West and Central Africa, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) finds that climate change is one of the drivers of child migration and warns that the impacts of climate change in West and Central Africa will be  severe. The region is set to experience temperatures higher than anywhere else in the world. Environmental shifts could accelerate regional child migration and displacement, and will have longer-term implications for the region, should these movements intensify as demographic pressure builds. Environmentally induced migration is not a new phenomenon, but climate change is likely to further stress livelihoods, food security and health. In forested African countries, this could cause forest peoples to leave affected areas. The work of Fern partners in the Congo Basin shows that industrial logging, mining and large-scale agriculture already cause environmental degradation and displace local communities, depriving them of the forest resources and land that are essential to their livelihoods (see Fern blog).  The question remains: where will populations affected by climate change migrate to?

The Republic of the Congo and the EU have released a joint report outlining progress on their Voluntary Partnership Agreement.  It describes how the timber legality assurance system is being developed, noting particularly that the software for the computerised verification and tracking system has been developed successfully, paving the way for deployment in 2017 – a first, for a Congo Basin country. It also explores how stakeholder engagement, communication, transparency and monitoring will be managed.