Looking back at 200 issues of ForestWatch

15 February 2016

To mark Forest Watch’s 200th issue, we asked FERN’s co-founder, Saskia Ozinga, to comment on the road that has been travelled since the first issue in February 1996.

Q: How much has changed since the first ForestWatch (FW) issue?

A: What’s fascinating is that the issues that were around two decades ago haven’t gone away, although the emphasis has changed. Forest certification appeared often in Forest Watch 20 years ago, but it has much less priority now. Equally then we focused exclusively on EU policies while now we also report on the impacts EU policies have in tropical forest countries.

Q: Has FERN’s perspective changed?

A:Fundamentally, no. FERN believes now, as then, that concerns related to forests must be seen in conjunction with social concerns and addressed together. Over the past 20 years, and not least because of close working relationships with NGOs in West and Central Africa, the Mekong region and Southeast Asia, FERN has increasingly understood the importance of focusing on strengthening local peoples’ tenure rights as a key condition to keep forests standing and as a right in itself.

FERN’s focus on voluntary company certification in the 1990s has been replaced by a demand for better regulation, focusing on improvements in governance at the country level through the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) process. We are still pointing out holes in EU policies and positions that are counterproductive and actually lead to forest loss, such as the EU’s bio-energy policies and its biodiversity offsetting plans.

Q: How have the drivers of deforestation changed since the first FW?

A:Deforestation is being driven by misguided government policies in producer countries and in the EU, colossal demand for timber and agricultural products and lack of clarity about who owns the land and the resources. The EU Forest Footprint study acknowledges that the EU remains a major contributor to deforestation. It shows that the EU consumes more “embedded deforestation” than China and Japan combined. Among the staggering data in a new report FERN will release in March, is the fact that between 2000 and 2012, every two minutes one football pitch of forest was illegally felled to supply the EU with agricultural products, such as soy and palm oil.

Furthermore EU bio-energy policies lead to direct deforestation of US forests to supply us with biomass for ‘renewable’ energy. Clearly, a lot of work remains to be done. That’s why FERN is exploring how to take the EU’s successes in tackling illegal logging and apply these to the agricultural commodities that lead to deforestation.

Q: What are the most important lessons you’ve learned with FERN about effective campaigning?

A: Obviously, people require information to push for change on important issues. Our readers are, very often, in a position to advance those issues. Awareness – not just of the subject, but of subtleties and counter-arguments – is critical; so is fairness, both in listening to opponents and in presenting information. FERN has learned that to be effective (a) it is essential to understand and address the social dimension of environmental conflicts; (b) strong coalitions are the best way to achieve lasting change; (c) presenting ways forward is more effective than highlighting problems.

Q: How optimistic are you about the survival of the world’s remaining forests and of the people who depend on them?

A: Certain fights will never go away: for instance, transparency and accountability were concerns in the first issue of Forest Watch as they are now – that’s a constant battle and one that will be lost the moment people stop fighting. But I think there have been profound advances since FW 1. We now have FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs), and a Timber Regulation banning illegal timber imports … not flawless, but genuine successes that already have an impact on forests and people. We also have a regulation monitoring ECA involvement in destructive projects and more aid going to forest projects than ever before. Last, the people that have most chance of ensuring forests keep standing are local NGOs and communities, from Liberia to the Republic of Congo to the US and Belgium. What FERN can do is ensure that their voices are heard in Brussels. And as long as local people stay actively involved, and people in the EU don’t tire of listening and are willing to challenge incoherent policies, I remain hopeful – guardedly.

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