“Zero-deforestation” policies demand innovation in certification
1st September 2017

“Zero-deforestation” policies demand innovation in certification

The need for innovative approaches to demonstrate sustainability of “forest-risk” commodities was a key theme of a conference in Brussels on how to address causes of deforestation other than illegal logging.

The conference was organised by the European Commission (EC) to present an evaluation and future work plan for the EU Action Plan on Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade” (FLEGT).

This discussion originated with an EC study from 2013 which considered just how much, and in what ways, European consumption of resources is contributing to deforestation.

Working through the numbers, the report attributed only 200,000 hectares of total global deforestation of 232 million hectares between 1990 and 2008 to the EU’s imports of wood products.

This compares to 8.7 million hectares attributed to EU imports of agricultural cash crops and livestock products.

The study highlighted that policy measures in consuming countries targeting only the wood trade – whatever their merits in improving environmental and social performance in other areas – can play little or no role to prevent or slow deforestation.

The study led the EU to commit, in the Seventh Environmental Action Plan, to consider an Action Plan on Deforestation and Forest Degradation. It also encouraged, in December 2015, the Amsterdam Declaration towards eliminating all deforestation from European commodity chains by no later than 2020.

The Declaration, which was endorsed by the governments of Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK, places a strong emphasis on more responsible private sector management of supply chains and trade.

The Amsterdam Declaration parallels the New York Declaration on Forests released at the UN Climate Summit in 2014 which has encouraged 415 companies to make more than 700 public commitments to address “embodied deforestation” in their supply chains for four “forest risk” commodities; palm oil, soy, cattle and timber.

These commitments, alongside the UN SDG 15 on deforestation, are focusing minds on methods of verifying sustainability for a wide range of “forest-risk” commodities which are cost-effective, equitable and not in conflict with one another. It makes no sense, for example, to require tough standards for sustainable timber production if weaker standards are recognised for sustainable palm oil, cocoa or soy.

This would send out mixed signals and could even encourage more conversion. Furthermore, a lot of commercial cash crops in the tropics derive from smallholders and frameworks need to ensure these operators are not excluded from certification frameworks.

At the Brussels conference, a potential solution to these various challenges was identified in so-called “jurisdictional certification”.

Frances Seymour, who chaired the conference, has been a keen advocate of this approach in her role as a Senior Research Fellow at the World Resources Institute, and she argued cogently that it should be given serious consideration in future forest policy development.

The aim of “jurisdictional certification” would be to link implementation of corporate commitments to efforts to reduce deforestation at the scale of political jurisdictions – districts, states, provinces, or even entire countries.

Multiple stakeholders—including companies as well as government agencies, smallholders, indigenous and civil society groups—would come together to agree on goals for better land-use, and how to achieve them.

Performance standards (such as “no deforestation” and “no exploitation”) would be then applied at the scale of entire administrative units rather than at the level of individual farms, plantations, or concessions. All “forest-risk” commodities from that region would then be recognised as “sustainable”.

“Jurisdictional certification” would better accommodate competitive interactions between land-uses than existing certification systems that focus on single commodities. It would be much more equitable for smallholders and the chain of custody would be greatly simplified as products need only be identified to region of origin rather than to individual management unit.

The jurisdictional certification concept could integrate well with the EU’s FLEGT licensing approach – which can be regarded as a type of national-level jurisdictional certification. There should also be opportunities for linkage of this form of certification to payments for ecosystem services such as carbon storage and watershed protection.

There are many obstacles to widespread adoption of this approach. Many operators, service providers, and NGOs have invested heavily in existing certification frameworks and may resist moves perceived to undermine their market position.

However, the EU’s June conferences at least highlighted that there is growing recognition of the limitations of existing certification frameworks and of the need to find innovative solutions that more effectively target deforestation and are more equitable for small nonindustrial forest operators and smallholders.

This article is taken from the ITTO TTM Report 1 – 15 August 2017