The destruction of the world’s forests has many causes. Corruption, failures in accountability and transparency, as well as non-existent or insecure land tenure rights are chief among them. Tackling these issues - and ensuring that forests are managed justly and sustainably - requires structural change. And this means giving a voice to those historically denied one, including forest communities. Specific emphasis must be put on supporting those often denied power within communities, including women, and Indigenous Peoples.

Fern and our partners recommendations

To ensure that forest communities have stronger rights to their forest and benefit from transparent and inclusive forest management practices and processes.

What are we doing? 

Working with partners in tropical forested countries to strengthen forest governance. Our main focuses are: The Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs), timber trade deals, that give forested countries privileged access to EU markets if they reform their forest laws, and implement them properly. And Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the climate pledges countries made under the Paris climate agreement.

What needs to happen to achieve our goals? 

The EU needs to strengthen its resolve to implement the VPAs and support forest governance measures in the NDCs.

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What is FLEGT?

Illegal logging has a devastating effect on communities and biodiversity. It causes vast carbon emissions and can keep poor countries in a dangerous and damaging cycle of poverty and corruption. Despite this, illegal timber and wood-based products are unwittingly bought by consumers and companies, undermining efforts to deal with the issue by making illegal logging financially viable. Illegal logging is however also often an integral part of the economy, providing support for political parties and local communities. The challenge is therefore to tackle the root causes of illegality, which include corruption, lack of clarity about land rights and the excessive influence of the timber industry over forestry policies and legislation.

Legal forest use, when based on laws that are environmentally sound and socially just, can ensure environmental protection whilst providing livelihoods to some of the world’s poorest peoples. The EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, and especially the Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPA) between wood producing countries and the EU, aim to ensure that wood being sold in the EU can be shown to be legal.

VPAs are based on the national laws of each producing country, and to date all VPAs are endorsed by the government, civil society and companies. The law that needs to be enforced is agreed after an in-depth assessment of its relevance, and reforms to address weaknesses are made when they are deemed necessary. They ensure that wood can be traced from tree to the point of export. The result is that people in forest rich (but often poor) countries won’t have their precious resources stolen, and consumers can be more sure that they are not harming people and forests with their purchases.

Watch the Story of FLEGT

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What is a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA)?

Illegal logging undermines responsible forest management, encourages corruption and reduces income of the producer country; it has serious economic and social implications for the poor and disadvantaged. One of the key elements of the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan to tackle illegal logging are Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs). These agreements between wood producing countries and the EU aim to ensure that wood being exported to the EU is legal and that forest governance in the exporting country is improved. VPAs work by tackling the root causes of illegality, which include corruption and lack of clarity about land rights.

Every VPA has been based on the national laws of the timber producing country and has been negotiated in a fully participatory process, with social and environmental NGOs, community representatives, the timber industry and the government around the table. To date, all three signed VPAs have been endorsed by the government, civil society organisations and timber companies.

It is hoped that, once implemented, VPAs will contribute to improved forest governance and recognition of tenure rights of forest communities; help regulate the trade in illegal timber and reduce corruption.

In order to be successful, VPAs must:

  • Be developed by consensus with the full and informed consent of all stakeholders and rightsholders
  • Tackle corruption
  • Recognise communities’ tenure rights over land, territories and resources
  • Set up enforcement mechanisms

Watch the film introducing FLEGT

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How can the EU stop imports of agricultural commodities that cause deforestation?

The EU has already regulated supply chains in other sectors such as illegal timber, conflict minerals and illegal fishing. To reduce its forest footprint, the EU must regulate European trade and consumption of so called "forest-risk commodities" such as soy, palm oil, beef, leather and cocoa.

Fern therfeore campaigns for an EU Action Plan to Protect Forests and Respect Rights. As part of this work we research the supply chains that connect EU consumers to deforestation. We also work with NGOs and companies to see how the EU regulates other supply chains.

Learn more about the campaign to stop agricultural deforestation

May 1998

The G8’s Foreign Ministers launch an “action programme on forests” to tackle the continuing pressure on the world’s forests.

April 2002

The European Commission hosts an international workshop to discuss how the EU should combat illegal logging. 

December 2002

Fern and the Royal Institute of International Affairs presents a blueprint for an EU Action Plan, called Options for Europe. 

May 2003

The Commission presents its FLEGT Action Plan, adopted by the Council in October 2003 with a set of conclusions. 

January 2007

Malaysia and EU begin VPA negotiations.

November 2009

Ghana and the EU sign a VPA.

December 2009 

VPA enters into force in Ghana

September 2010

Gabon and the EU begin VPA negotiations.

October 2010

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the EU begin VPA negotiations.

May 2003

The Commission presents its FLEGT Action Plan, adopted by the Council in October 2003 with a set of conclusions. 

October 2010

Cameroon and the EU sign a VPA. 

July 2011

Liberian and the EU sign a VPA

November 2011

The Central African Republic (CAR) and the EU sign a VPA.

December 2011

VPA enters into force in Cameroon.

January 2013

VPA enters into force in Liberia.

February 2013

Côte d’Ivoire and the EU begin VPA negotiations.

March 2013

The VPA between the Republic of Congo (RoC) and the EU enters into force.

July 2012

VPA enters into force in CAR.

September 2013

Indonesia and the EU sign a VPA.

May 2014

VPA enters into force in Indonesia.

December 2015

Under the Paris climate agreement each party is required to prepare, communicate and maintain successive Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to achieve greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

May 2016 

European Commission publishes an independent review of FLEGT calling it “fully relevant … innovative, comprehensive and future-proof”, while stressing the need to “address new challenges.”

April 2017

Laos and the EU begin VPA negotiations.

June 2017

Thailand the EU begin VPA negotiations.

December 2017

Indonesia – where illegal deforestation was once endemic – becomes the first country in the world to export FLEGT licensed timber, guaranteeing that timber has been harvested, processed and exported legally.

June 2018

Honduras and the EU agree a VPA.

October 2018

Vietnam and the EU sign a VPA.

November 2018

Guyana and the EU agree a VPA.

June 2019

Vietnam’s VPA with the EU enters into force.

May 2020

The Republic of Congo (RoC) and the EU sign a VPA.

Fern’s aim is to ensure EU policies reduce illegal logging and deforestation by improving the way forests are managed and recognising communities’ land rights.

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Marie-Ange Kalenga

Marie-Ange Kalenga

Conseillère en politiques Forêts, Gouvernance et Développement

Alexandra Benjamin

Alexandra Benjamin

Responsable de la campagne gouvernance forestière

Rudi Kohnert

Rudi Kohnert

Responsable de la campagne gouvernance forestière

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