The EU’s deforestation regulation must strengthen the FLEGT process and producer countries’ own efforts to combat deforestation, says Justin Kamga, Coordinator of Cameroonian NGO Forêts et Développement Rural (Foder).
The goals of the proposed EU Regulation on deforestation-free products are commendable.
A major problem, however, is the lack of consultation involved in drafting it: this was not done in a consultative way, and our national government was not sufficiently involved. In stark contrast to the EU’s inclusive multistakeholder approach that characterised the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) process, the European Union (EU) has taken a unilateral approach with this new Regulation.
This has led to confusion and a lack of clarity over whether it will replace FLEGT, or complement it, and many believe that the FLEGT VPA process has been abandoned in favour of the Deforestation Regulation. Even when the new Regulation exists, FLEGT must continue - and the EU should continue to support it.
The VPA process has stagnated in recent years, but the responsibility for this, must be shared by all parties. Its benefits are immense, and we need to relaunch it rather than abandoning all it has achieved and the hopes it has engendered.
Giving communities and civil society organisations a voice
In Cameroon, the FLEGT VPA has created a space for dialogue between government, civil society, communities and the private sector, while creating a framework that has enabled communities to raise their concerns and defend their rights.
It has strengthened civil society and given us a voice, including by giving us the chance to independently monitor forests, and publicly raising concerns by highlighting potential breaches of our forest laws. If we were to stop everything, it would undermine all the efforts that have been made through the FLEGT VPA , and give our government an excuse to manage our forests in a non-participatory way.
To protect our forests, we must maintain the rigours of the FLEGT process, along with the independent forest monitoring, which has provided a lever to push the government towards more sustainability, and help enforce forest laws properly.
Even if there are satellite images that show deforestation in a specific location, people still need to go out into the field to independently verify the information and determine the cause of the deforestation. Satellite imagery without the use of existing parallel tools makes forest monitoring difficult and sometimes erroneous.
It's vital that independent forest observation by civil society and local communities activities is maintained, and we’re calling for EU support in order to do so, not only through the EU Observatory (satellite imagery) but also by supporting external independent observation, involving civil society organisations and communities.
Another interesting point established by the Regulation will be the integration of sustainability criteria. So far through the FLEGT VPA, a whole range of legality elements have been introduced, but to achieve real sustainability, it cannot just be ecological, but must account for economic and social elements too. As it stands, the Regulation does not yet do this.
Documentary evidence of sustainability criteria may say ‘yes the wood was produced in a sustainable way’, but we have to ensure that the wood has actually been harvested on the ground in a way that can guarantee the sustainability of the source. You have to make sure that the harvested wood has not created an ecological imbalance in the forest. There is also a social aspect: Will the benefits of logging accrue to communities and improve state revenues?
Beyond these specifics however, there is a bigger point for the EU to consider, as the draft Regulation edges closer to becoming law.
Cameroonian civil society, as well as many other producing countries, will continue to work to combat deforestation through various tools and policies. It would be desirable for the EU to be able to engage in a dialogue with producer States in order to make them more accountable.