Environmental crime has been identified as a priority in the EU’s fight against organised crime between 2018 and 2021, according to the European Commission’s Sixth progress report towards an effective and genuine Security Union, published 12 April 2017. The EU is a “destination market” for products associated with rapidly growing environmental crime, such as wildlife crime and illegal timber, and a hub for trafficking such goods, making illegal timber an important part of addressing the Security Union’s priority area of environmental crime. The Commission has urged EU Member States to endorse the priorities identified in the report before Justice and Home Affairs ministers meet, 8 - 9 June 2017.
Scholars are currently debating whether the Forest Management Plans (FMPs), legally required in Republic of Congo (RoC) and intended to curb uncontrolled industrial-scale logging, truly lower deforestation and contribute to sustainable forest management. One group of researchers argues (Land Use Policy 52, 2016) that deforestation is higher in logging concessions with FMPs than in those without; while others (Cirda, Cifor and the Université de Liège) recently concluded that deforestation is indeed lower in concessions with FMPs and that other crucial factors must be considered. The debate is not merely academic: 69 per cent of RoC’s land area is forested, with a low rate of deforestation, yet more than half the countries’ forests have been allocated as logging concessions. Although most require an FMP, only a quarter possess one. Civil society groups, including Fern partner Forum pour la gouvernance et les droits de l’homme (FGDH), argue that governance challenges are a major obstacle to the success of FMPs – where these exist – as well as to equitable sharing of benefits with local communities. Based on its own analysis and reports from the independent forest monitor in RoC, FGDH is concerned that the government and logging companies sometimes view FMPs as no more than a formality to be carried out before harvesting. By recently agreeing to renew the Voluntary Partnership Agreement and engaging in the REDD+ process, the Congolese Government committed to ensuring that all FMPs are rapidly finalised. Honouring this commitment would give FMPs a chance to be an effective instrument.