News in Brief December 2016

19 December 2016

Malta, who will hold the next European presidency (January - June 2017), is a country with exceptional oceans and almost 200 km of coastline, but it is not known for its forests. In fact it has so few forests, they are referred to as gardens. It will come as no surprise that they have agreed that the outgoing Presidency, Slovakia, will continue to preside over forest issues for another six months, in exchange for the oceans dossier, which Malta led during the Slovakian Presidency. The Maltese have said that security and immigration will be a particular focus, although they will also have a number of climate dossiers to continue work on, if not conclude. It is expected that the Emissions Trading System dossier will be concluded during their presidency.

Most agree that the Paris Agreement on Climate Change was a historic display of determination to tackle climate change, despite the fact that the pledges made by countries will not halt dangerous climate change unless they ramp up ambition. Now it is time to turn words into action. The most recent Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), took place in Marrakech, Morocco, 7 - 18 November 2016. Read Fern’s Comment on the COP 22 to find out what it means for forests. 

In November 2016, MEP Kateřina Konečná of the European Parliament Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, presented a draft own-initiative report on Palm Oil and Deforestation of RainforestsGiven the EU’s significant forest footprint, due in part to its palm oil consumption for biofuels, food and cosmetics, this report is an important contribution to the EU’s anticipated Action Plan to protect forests and respect rights. With Opinions being adopted by the TradeAgricultural and Development Committees on the upcoming report, this policy space represents a good opportunity for presenting proposals to make palm oil imports conflict- and deforestation-free in coming years, and to strengthen the EU’s commitment to place community tenure rights at the heart of its sourcing polices.

Fern’s new discussion paper, Developing EU measures to address forest-risk commodities, examines avenues for the EU to help guarantee customary tenure and use rights, to spur governance reforms in producer countries, and to anchor deforestation and sustainability criteria in mandatory due diligence processes.The EU’s consumption of palm oil, soy, cocoa, beef and leather, and other commodities make it one of the largest drivers of tropical deforestation. To reduce its forest footprint, the EU must regulate European trade in and consumption of commodities driving the often-illegal conversion of forests to agricultural land. With a view to the early 2017 release of the EU feasibility study on options to protect forests and respect rights, Fern recommends that the EU looks towards lessons learned from recent EU regulation in other sectors, such as illegal fisheries, conflict minerals and illegal timber.

Hundreds of decision makers, researchers and civil society activists convened at a meeting of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP), facilitated by the EU in Kigali, Rwanda, from 21 - 25 November 2016.  Their aim was to agree concrete ways forward for Congo Basin forests regarding climate, forest management and local livelihoods. The meeting took place at a crucial time: Congo Basin forests and local communities are facing complex threats, such as conversion of forest for commercial agriculture and illegal logging. Fern supported the participation of Forum pour la gouvernance et les droits de l’Homme and one of its partners, both affiliated with the African Community Rights Network, to help ensure that their views were heard. The region urgently needs better articulation between economic development objectives, forest governance and climate action, including through effective implementation of the FLEGT VPAs – which in turn requires improved possibilities, such as those provided by the CBFP, for civil society to discuss issues that are critical to the communities dependent on forests. The EU’s continued support for meaningful engagement from diverse stakeholders is vital to translate the Kigali recommendations, notably on community participation, into concrete action.

In November 2016, the EU and Vietnam agreed ‘in principle’ on the terms of a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA). Though much of what is agreed is positive, questions remain about the process, the content and how the provisions will work. Despite claims about involving all stakeholders, and commitments to transparency, texts have been shared only selectively. This has made it difficult or impossible for key stakeholders to analyse and present their views on important aspects of the VPA, let alone to have had a meaningful influence over the formulation of the VPA in the first place.  Accepting such flawed participation undermines civil society organisations’ efforts to participate in other VPA countries. Regarding VPA implementation, concerns surround capacity, the ability of more than a million households to comply with the legality requirements, the independence of monitors, what information is to be made public, the obligation of authorities to respond to violations brought to their attention, and the rigour of checks on timber imported from neighbouring countries into Vietnam. In the limited time before the VPA is signed (early 2017), Fern’s partners hope that EU and Vietnamese authorities will address these issues inclusively.

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