Forestry and Poverty Newsletter: Issue 40, October 2012

Norway’s REDD Program Still Missing the Mark

The Norwegian Government has pledged that it will spend around USD500 million on preventing tropical deforestation in 2013, an increase of around 12 per cent on its spending in 2012.  Yet Norway’s spending on tropical forests has thus far been hit and miss, according to its own internal reports.

Norway’s original intent with its wide-ranging tropical deforestation program was to fund avoided deforestation activities in order to offset its own fossil-fuel emissions.

Norwegian lawmakers expected this to occur through an international carbon pricing mechanism that included REDD. However, this has not emerged.

Despite this, Norway undertook a number of bilateral agreements with tropical countries, pledging more than USD 1 billion in return for halted deforestation.

The Norwegian government has since issued a series of country assessments of its deforestation spending through Norad, its overseas development agency that have been at times highly critical of its efforts.

The most recent of these was an assessment of the support it has given to civil society organisationsthrough its grants programs.

One of the largest grants for 2012 was to the Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN), which was granted more than USD 2 million for civil society capacity building. Norad’s assessment notes that it’s not possible to assess the effectiveness of RFN’s efforts – as the data is not available.

Norad also notes that the RFN’s activities rely exclusively on funding on-ground activist organisations.

Yet according to Norad’s own report, it was unable to give an assessment of the performance of RFN’s work – mostly involving support to local groups such as Indonesia’s Walhi.  Walhi has strong organizational ties to political groups such as the Partai Rakyat Demokratik (PRD), which has called for large-scale land appropriation.

These relationships would appear to indicate that Norad’s spending in Indonesia is becoming politicized – something that the OECD has recommended that donors avoid.


Is the FAO losing its way on Forestry?

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) convened the twenty-first session of its Committee on Forestry (COFO 21) meeting in Rome last month.  One of the key questions being asked was whether the organization is now simply being guided by donor interests.

The biennial meeting brought together heads of forest services and other senior government officials to discuss ways of translating the results of the recent Rio+20 Conference into action. A number of key documents were released during the meet.

One of these was a comprehensive evaluation of FAO’s role and work in forestry. The report presented a number of important findings and recommendations. Key among them was the evaluation team’s recommendation against FAO becoming an “implementer of donor projects” that do little for forestry’s contributions towards the goals of sustainable food security and poverty reduction.

The study team also suggested that data quality and the analysis of data need to be improved. In another presentation, it was recommended that the Advisory Committee on Paper and Wood Products (ACPWP) be reformed, and a proposal to renew the Committee was put forward, including suggestions to change its mandate, name and membership. The ACPWP is a statutory body under the Committee on Forestry, composed of senior executives from the private sector worldwide.

In addition, the 2012 edition of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) annual the State of the World’s Forests was released during the meet. This year’s report focuses on the role of forests in sustainable development, noting that the value of woodcraft exports has more than doubled during the period 2002 to 2010 and over 10 million people are currently employed in forest management and conservation activities.


CIFOR, FSC appoint new heads

The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) recently announced the appointment of Dr. Peter Holmgren as the new head of the organization.

Prior to joining CIFOR, Holmgren led the Climate, Energy and Tenure division at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and held various other positions in the FAO since 1998 including leading the Global Forest Resources Assessment. He also took the lead in coordinating the FAO’s contribution to setting up the UN-REDD programme and coordinated the FAO’s preparations for Rio+20.

The concept of climate-smart agriculture was Holmgren’s brain-child. He has also worked in national forestry program development in the Philippines, Pakistan and Kenya, as well as with the private sector developing operational forestry systems. Holmgren is from Sweden and received his doctorate in forestry at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

Unlike his predecessor, Frances Seymour, Holmgren is a trained forester.  Seymour’s background in public affairs and environmental campaigning at WWF appeared to push the institution further towards advocacy and further from empirical research. However, Seymour was one of the first high-profile conservation advocates to broadly acknowledge that the forest industry is not a key driver of global deforestation.

At the same time, former WWF executive Kim Carstensen has been appointed as FSC Director General after almost 20 years with WWF. According to Carstensen’s resume, he is a biologist and sociologist by training and a strong advocate for conservation – which will be interesting news for the economic chamber.


Indonesia: FLEGT delays ‘unacceptable’

Indonesia’s lead negotiator on the voluntary partnership agreement (VPA) with the EU has launched a scathing attack on Europe’s proposed delays on the agreement. According to news reports, the Forestry Ministry’s Agus Harsito claims the delays will mean Indonesia’s exporters will face hefty delays.

Harsito led a delegation to Brussels last month, where European officials requested that the treaty’s ratification be held off until February next year.

The delay in signing means that Indonesian exports will likely be subject to the EU’s new Timber Regulation (EUTR), due to come into effect from March 1.

Previously, the EU had stated that the implementation of the VPA-FLEGT agreement meant that Indonesian exporters that have implemented Indonesia’s mandatory legality certification system (SVLK) would have a ‘green light’ through the EUTR.

Harsito told the Jakarta Post that, “if the EU decides to delay the VPA signing to next February, we can only start exporting our legally certified timber and timber products in July next year because they [the EU] will need further months for the ratification process to implement the scheme.”

According to an EU presentation given in London in July, approximately 200 firms have been licensed under the SVLK system.  These include a number of globally competitive pulp and paper firms, which have come under fire from struggling EU paper producers.


AusAID REDD project under fire from FPIC advocates

In a new briefing note, British NGO the Forest People’s Program has heavily criticized the Kalimantan Forest Carbon Partnership (KFCP) project for allegedly failing to implement the principles of free prior and informed consent (FPIC) for local communities.

Australia has committed AU$30 million to the partnership. The project has been plagued by public criticism. According to a discussion paper earlier this year by Stephen Howes, former chief economist at AusAID, Australia’s REDD project in Indonesia has produced few results and is unlikely to any time soon, with the project area being reduced by around 90 per cent.

One of the key problems identified with the project has been the clarity of land tenure issues in Indonesia. In a Senate committee hearing, Australian Climate Change Department Secretary BlairComley explained that unless land tenure issues are resolved, REDD will take longer to implement in Indonesia.

A recent Independent Progress Report published by AusAID recommended that a second planned, Australian funded REDD project in the Jambi province of Indonesia “may not be the most effective utilization of available funding” and suggested the proposed project be “reconsidered”.


ACI: Forest certification monopoly driving up prices

A new report by the American Consumer Institute’s (ACI) Center for Citizen Research shows that the monopolization of forest certification such as those advanced by an FSC-only approach may be driving up timber prices by as much as 15 to 20 per cent for consumers, creating huge losses for domestic timber industries and undermining environmental and sustainability goals.

The report notes the case of the US where certain policies and environmental groups are pressuring corporations to adopt standards prescribed by the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) even though the vast majority of forests in the US are certified by other  programs. 90 per cent of FSC certified lands are outside of the US.

The report states that the FSC-only approach would exclude the majority of certified US timber to the advantage of competing foreign timber, putting the US foresters in a competitive disadvantage.

Major findings of the study show that FSC certification is significantly more costly than other standards. The study also suggests that adoption of FSC as a regulatory requirement would lead to important consumer welfare losses, estimating an annual loss of approximately US$10 billion for wood products and US$24 billion for paper products markets. Higher prices could push consumers to substitute to less environmentally-friendly materials, the study suggests.


Exaggerations of illegal logging data continue

A new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the international police organization (INTERPOL), repeats the unproven assertion that between 50 and 90 per cent of logging in key tropical countries of the Amazon basin, Central Africa and South East Asia is being carried out by organized crime.

The study quotes most of the figures from ageing reports by the World Bank, Seneca Creek and Greenpeace, claiming that illegal timber trade by organized crime groups is estimated to be worth between US$ 30 and 100 billion annually, accounting for between 10 and 30 per cent of global timber trade.

Citing a previous study (which in turn cites a 2004 Seneca Creek report), the report claims that estimates for the value of illegal logging in Indonesia range from US$600 million to US$8.7 billion per year. Seneca Creek (2004) clearly expresses the study’s limitations, explaining that “none of its estimates are based on hard data or are detailed enough to associate volumes or percentages with specific types of illegal practices”.

These caveats were not mentioned in the UNEP/INTERPOL report. It is clear therefore the contention that illegal logging is rampant is propagated by the use of unreliable data sources, including the use of biased data from environmental groups, when in fact the extent of illegal logging is highly uncertain.

INTERPOL and UNEP are currently running a pilot-project called LEAF (Law Enforcement Assistance to Forests) funded by NORAD to develop an international system to combat illegal logging and organized forest crime. The report appears to be an effort at garnering support for developing and funding a full-fledged LEAF programme.

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