More than forty NGOs from all continents are asking the European Commission to maintain its support for Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement (FLEGT VPAs). In a 27 April 2021 statement, they reacted to the preliminary findings of the EU “Fitness Check” that aimed to examine whether FLEGT and the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) need to be revised. As global civil society agrees that FLEGT has prised open political processes previously off limits and has made unprecedented governance inroads, any move to let the programme wither and die causes alarm (FW 264).
NGOs warned that DG Environment’s proposal to revoke VPAs and replace them with vaguely-defined ‘Forest Partnerships’ is the wrong response to a malignant, protracted problem: illegal deforestation in timber-producing countries. Dropping VPAs would not only constitute a blow to the many government, civil society and private sector actors who are working towards the aims and objectives of FLEGT and the EUTR, but also to the EU’s leadership and credibility in championing forest governance and global biodiversity and climate goals.
To avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater, the civil society signatories urge the Commission to tackle obstacles that hamper progress. These range from changing dynamics in the timber trade, to tackling die-hard malpractice and new threats to forests stemming from other sectors.
The statement recommends improving enforcement of the regulations while expanding initial objectives so they can yield stronger socioeconomic benefits on the ground and boost efforts to tackle global deforestation. This can be done by:
- Using the FLEGT Fitness Check to strengthen the FLEGT Action Plan and the EUTR and addressing the obstacles that hamper their effective implementation.
- Maintaining the integrity of the VPAs and providing tailored support to VPA countries, especially to ensure that civil society organisations, local communities and Indigenous groups have the space and capacity to participate.
- Developing ambitious, inclusive, and rights-based Forest Partnerships that respond to the partner countries’ needs, as a complement to the VPAs, not instead of.
Tackling poor governance in the forest sector through FLEGT VPAs was always going to be a far-reaching, long-haul endeavour, and FLEGT has come much further than most programmes in getting at the roots of forest destruction and carving out a real say for vulnerable groups in decision-making processes. Given current climate, biodiversity, and human rights crises, we cannot afford to lose heart now.