News in brief - October 2015

15 outubro 2015

Fern’s partner in Malaysia, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM), has released a publication on the Penan community outlining the continuing failure of the Sarawak State Government and the Federal Government of Malaysia to resolve indigenous peoples' various land rights and welfare issues. SAM calls for a halt to all logging operations on Penan territories, and urges the gazetting of this land into Communal Forest Reserves. It also calls for the provision of accessible healthcare, education, quality housing, power and a clean water supply and agricultural training.

In past weeks, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), Bangui, has witnessed renewed clashes and numerous deaths. NGOs and the United Nations have been targeted by what some consider to be orchestrated unrest. Fern’s local partner CIEDD is concerned that further insecurity could jeopardise the ongoing reconstruction process and governance reforms supported by the EU. Key among these reforms is the adoption of the new constitution, which recognises the rights of indigenous peoples and the need for transparent management of natural resources, and is scheduled for referendum this October 2015. As the transitional government recently recommittedto putting CAR’s house in order (FW 205), including the forest sector. It is important that this momentum is sustained and that the EU lends strong support to inclusive reforms.

An event in the European Parliament in September, organised by Conservation International and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), heard representatives from Starbucks, the RSPO, DG Environment and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs speak in favour of EU action on deforestation. It is now up to the European Commission to propose an Action Plan on protecting forests and respecting rights that should be developed together with Member States, the EU parliament, as well as producer countries, NGOs and industry. Such a plan, envisaged by the Commission’s Seventh Environmental Action Programme would help it to meet Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15 to halt deforestation by 2020 and honour its own pledge to halt deforestation by 2030. A number of Member States, including Germany, expect a communication in 2016 from the European Commission concerning tackling the EU’s deforestation footprint.

Current due diligence systems required by the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) are not robust enough. A recent Greenpeace report reveals that illegal timber from Cameroon continues to flow into Europe via Belgium, which – followed by Italy – has the highest European imports of Cameroonian timber. This despite the fact that Greenpeace, Chatham House and others have flagged Cameroon as a “high risk” country, where illegal logging is on the rise, corruption dominates the forest sector (2014 Report of the Independent Auditor in Cameroon). Lack of EUTR implementation undermines VPA implementation in countries like Cameroon. To improve due diligence systems, Client Earth has published a first batch of EUTR enforcement info-briefings for France, Romania, the Netherlands and the UK. Similar briefings for Belgium, Germany and Italy will soon be issued.

The United Nations Environmental Programme released a report on 8 September 2015 looking into the causes of increased pressure on African forests. The study notes that a major driver of deforestation is the lack of legal recognition for customary tenure rights, which undermines local users’ incentives to invest in good forest management. It discusses how actions from timber-consuming countries can help resolve the situation, citing the EU’s Voluntary Partnership Agreements for their role in improving governance.

The largest hardwood flooring retailer in the United States, Lumber Liquidators, last week pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Actwhich prohibits trafficking of illegal timber in the US. The company had falsely and knowingly claimed that it was importing timber grown in Europe, when in fact it originated in the Russian Far East and other countries where illegal logging is rife. As well as $10 million in fines, Lumber Liquidators has three months to implement a Lacey Act Compliance Plan or face a ban on importing all hardwood flooring until the Department of Justice deems it to be compliant. Lumber Liquidators’ violations were first revealed by investigations carried out by Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) in 2013. Alongside the EU Timber Regulation, as well as similar regulation in Japan and Australia, the Lacey Act demonstrates a growing recognition that tackling illegal logging requires strong regulatory mechanisms from importing countries across the world.

FERN works to achieve environmental and social justice with a focus on forests and forest peoples' rights in the policies and practices of the European Union.

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