Forest restoration is our secret weapon for achieving the Paris Agreement target of limiting temperature rise to 1.5˚ C.
Fern’s new report, Return of Trees, gives examples ranging from the edge of the Sahara Desert in Niger, to the highlands of Scotland, to community forests of Nepal that demonstrate how restoration can be done in a way that benefits the climate, people and biodiversity. During the international climate negotiations in Bonn (COP23), Fern and Rainforest Foundation Norway also hosted an event that explored a protective approach to restoration. Presentations on meeting Paris targets, negative emissions, restoration and local rights, and options to redirect finance for forests in developing countries are online.
A major legal reform has been passed in Ghana’s forest sector, bringing Ghana a significant step closer to granting its first timber legality licenses under the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance Trade (FLEGT) scheme (see the November VPA update). The Timber Resources and Legality Licensing Legislative Instrument (LI), passed by the Ghanaian Parliament, 3 November 2017, sets out a much more transparent process for allocating logging rights to companies. The reform legally obliges the Ghanaian government to make information about the forest sector publicly available, and requires that all logging concessions have a Social Responsibility Agreement negotiated with communities. Logging companies must also now pay all unpaid logging taxes if they are to receive a FLEGT license and gain automatic access to the EU market. It remains for Ghana to test the robustness of its timber legality verification system before granting its first FLEGT license.
In the margins of the 11th World trade Organisation Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, December 2017, EU and Mercosur leaders made progress toward a trade deal that fails to include safeguards for forests or local communities. The negotiations cover a range of issues including forest-risk commodities such as soy, beef and sugarcane for ethanol. Increased trade between these blocs will inevitably drive expansion of commercial farming, intensifying pressure on land and forests and causing forced eviction of communities. The recently leaked EU-Mercosur trade papers contain no commitments to stop deforestation and land rights’ violation resulting from EU consumption of soy and beef from Mercosur countries. This trade deal should not be concluded unless it creates incentives for the signatories to protect forests, respect communities’ rights, promote sustainable consumption and ensure trade policy benefits for as many people as possible. For that to happen, social and environmental commitments must take precedence over market access and trade and investment rules – or there won’t be any “trade for all".
In 2014, Cameroon’s legislators cut community benefits from logging activities by canceling the 10 per cent Annual Forest Royalties (AFR) reserved for communities. The 2017 Finance Law that restored 6.75 per cent of the AFR was a breakthrough, but not enough. Communities and NGOs continue advocating for full AFR restoration, rejecting the governments’ arguments that communities are incapable of managing these funds. A petition signed by more than 13,000 people demands, at minimum, full AFR restoration in line with Cameroon’s forest policies and legal framework. Communities and NGOs also demand adequate monitoring of RFA payments and transparency of tax payments similar to company obligations in the mining industry. Worryingly, Cameroon’s National Assembly will vote before the year’s end on a draft 2018 Finance Law that so far does not include AFR restoration. It is hoped that oral parliamentary questions will succeed in correcting this omission, which has far-reaching consequences for forest peoples.
Two years after the Paris Agreement was adopted, the EU has missed a golden chance to deploy its forests in the fight against climate change. On 14 December the EU finalised carbon accounting rules on land and forests (known as the LULUCF Regulation). This is a first attempt to amend legislation previously full of loopholes. While the new accounting rules do offer greater transparency, they are marred by a serious lack of ambition. Member States will still be allowed to increase harvesting of EU forests, thereby reducing the forest’s ability to store carbon by up to ten per cent. This however is conditional on emissions being reduced elsewhere. On the positive side, countries will have to account for the climate impact of managing wetlands from 2026.
Against a backdrop of rising global carbon emissions, Kate Dooley attended COP23 in Bonn – the first-ever presided by an island nation, Fiji – to bring Fern a forests-perspective commentary on COP23 outcomes, such as the “Fiji Momentum for Implementation” and the decision to scale up pre-2020 action.